Earlier this week, someone asked me which firms in the CXi do the best job at meeting customer needs. The three top scorers on that criterion were:

  • Marshalls (93%)
  • Courtyard by Marriott (92%)
  • Lowe's (92%)

Interestingly, all three of these companies saw big jumps in their "meets needs" scores versus 2012. Marshall's went up 10 percentage points, Lowe's went up seven percentage points, and Courtyard went up six percentage points. Why, you ask?

While Marshalls declined to participate in our research on how companies improved CXi scores in 2013, a quick scan of parent company TJX’s 2011 annual report surfaced a clue as to what might be going on. According to that report, “One of our major areas of investment in 2012 . . . will be in supply chain precision. As effective as our supply chain is, we believe we can become even more precise in delivering the right goods to the right stores at the right time.” If the company succeeded in improving alignment between customer interest and store stock, we’d expect customers to feel that the chain was better at meeting their needs.

Courtyard by Marriott's improvement was likely driven in part by the brand’s continued rollout of a lobby redesign program it started in 2008. By April 2012, Marriott had completed the transformation in 500 of its Courtyard properties, which according to the company’s website represents about 60% of the total portfolio. Assuming the customer research behind this redesign was accurate, we'd expect guests who use the new lobby to feel as though it better meets their travel needs.

In May 2012, Lowe’s announced the creation of a centralized customer experience organization headed by Gregory M. Bridgeford, its new chief customer officer. While that change was likely too late to have much of an impact on this year's CXi scores, other moves by the company may have contributed to this year's performance. For example, in Q4 2011, Lowe's launched the myLowes website to help customers navigate the world of home improvement. The site lets customers ask questions of store associates without having to drive anywhere and remembers what you bought in case you need more of it.

What if your company doesn't score as well on "meets needs" as these companies? I have one piece of advice for you: Stop assuming you know what your customers need.

Most companies mean well. They want to meet customer needs. But they make assumptions about customers that are almost always wrong. It's not that employees aren't smart or experienced. It's actually because of that experience that they struggle. By virtue of the fact you work in an industry, you know too much to think like a typical customer. You can't unknow what you know, so instead you have to check your assumptions at the door and do the kind of primary research that Courtyard by Marriott did before it spent millions on construction costs.

Use your primary research to create customer personas. Share those personas with everyone. That one step will go a long way to making sure that your well-meaning employees spend their time developing products, services, and features that will resonate with the people they're trying to serve.