Should we strike a balance between giving customers what they want and giving them what they’ll come to value?


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Giving customers what they want the way they want it often does them no favors. In particular, providing customers immediate gratification often comes at a cost to actual value delivered. Customer empowerment complicates this issue. Not that I would ever say a bad word about customers (or clients), but they can be incredibly short-sighted at their own expense. Nonetheless, they’re really feeling their oats, and many take an “our way or the highway” stance.

Should we strike a balance between placating/satisfying and delivery maximum value?or go all one way or the other?

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. You ask an interesting question Dick. I’m a proponent of solving the customer’s need better than anyone else. More is not always better. If delivering immediate gratification or ‘delight’ goes beyond solving the customer’s initial need, the problem that triggered them to seek out my solutions, then I’d say no we shouldn’t be seeking to deliver “maximum value” as you’ve described it.

    After all, it’s not what customers will accept (or even appreciate in the moment) – it’s what they’ll pay for that matters most. That’s the ultimate definition of value from the customer’s point of view.

    Let’s focus on solving the customer’s need better than anyone else, and then being sure we’re ready to meet the new needs as they evolve.

    What side of the question do you land on? LCI

  2. Linda – I go back to the Henry Ford quote, “If I gave people what they want, I would have invented a faster horse.” 🙂

  3. In all seriousness, this is a real issue at our company. Our client base runs across three or four dozen different industries, with differing levels of market knowledge, know-how, and “chutzpah.” Sometimes, there’s simply no possible way to justify a product enhancement for a single customer that has no merit outside one tiny, little use case.

    But at the same time, we can’t ignore those “small use cases” either. The danger is if you ignore one, when do you stop ignoring them?

    If one niggling problem doesn’t cause a client to lose faith in your product or service, then what about three? Five? Seven? At what point are the “niggling problems” collectively more pain than we’re worth to our clients?

    Just today in management meeting, our CEO outlined a new process for evaluating customer requests and needs, and then implementing them directly into our products, so I know he’s hearing the message . . . but I have to agree with Dick, sometimes it’s better to just say, “Well, no offense, but we know better, and deep down, I think you know that we know better.”

  4. Dick

    I have often heard the Henry Ford quote, taken, as in this case, out of context.

    Despite pioneering the production line and vertical integration, Ford was out of touch with customers and soon lost his hegemony to General Motors’ Alfed P. Sloan who offered “a car for every pocket and purse’.

    Perhaps ypu would be better off quoting Sam Walton who said, “Customers have all the best ideas; And they have all the money”.

    Once a company becomes so arrogant that it thinks it knows better than its customers, it is doomed to ultimate failure. Or at least a near death experience.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  5. Andy – on the B2B side, we’re seeing lots of buyers saying “I want it my way” without understanding the implications. And they have the power to get away with it unless enlightened sellers are willing sit down and help them anticipate SCOs (successful customer outcomes) and show them how they can best be achieved.

  6. A basic confusion surrounds our sometimes-unreliable assumption that our prospects and customers know and understand they outcomes they desire. We get further confused, thinking they also understand the best way to achieve those outcomes. Social media experts have embedded the confusion even further, by saying that shifts in information power have put knowledge in the hands of the buyer (full disclosure: I’ve said it, too.)

    But that’s only a little true, not a lot true. For the most part, the shift in information power has put more information in the hands of buyers–not necessarily more knowledge, insight, or understanding. The pendulum might have swung too far, and people are thinking “just let the buyer design everything, since they know everything.” I think it will swing back.

    This discussion came up last night at a meeting I attended about RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). A person I spoke with told me that customers don’t want to know the minutia of the technology. “Just tell us what we need!” That sentiment is completely consistent with what I’ve experienced with other technology products and services. It doesn’t sound as much like an “empowered” buyer as a pragmatic one.

  7. Dick: In the ’80’s, the situation you described occurred many times with prospects when buying packaged application software. “We need a custom modification. What you’ve shown us just won’t work for us.” Often, money was spent, but the customer became unhappy, and requested to revert to the original packaged application design. Many times I felt the need to provide a disclaimer.

    Should a vendor simply accept the customer’s request to “do it their way”? Should vendors be resolute, insisting on the status quo, knowing that in certain cases, customers are highly likely not to be satisfied with a modification? The answer, of course, depends on the situation. Unfortunately, I have seen some vendors that are eager to help customers spend their money, trading off the important service of providing knowledgeable guidance. I think that’s a mistake.

    Vendors can distinguish valued needs from tenacious resistance to change. When collaborative vendor/customer teams examine what provides customers proprietary advantages in their markets, those capabilities are worth developing and/or preserving. If there isn’t any value add other than “that’s how we’ve always done it,” some well-intentioned guidance for change would be useful for the prospect.


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