What do My Customers Want?


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I’m sure that you’ve heard it, maybe even said it.

What do my customers want?

Sadly, it’s a refrain that I hear often. I hear it from sales, support, professional services, finance, management, entrpreneurs…

People feel like they’re doing everything for their customers. But, they’re frustrated when they find out that those same customers are dissatisfied, unhappy, angry or have simply gone. At first glance, it doesn’t seem to make any sense.

Ask Them?

When we start looking at this issue, the obvious answer seems to be “Ask them!

So we implement surveys, focus groups, send people out on tour, etc. And, what do we get? More confusion!

Our customers either say “Everything’s fine” or “Here are some minor issues where we’d like to see improvement” or even “I want this!”

But, they continue to be dissatisfied and they continue to leave…

Now, we’re really confused!

Do our customers even know what they want?

Ask the Right Questions

But are we asking them the right questions? Doubtful.

Customers often know what they want but is that what they need? If your product/service gives them what they want but doesn’t solve the business need behind it, what happens? Delayed projects, cost overruns, unhappy end users, bad performance reviews, etc. The list goes on…

Your customers may not even consciously associate the root problem to you or your company but they’re still frustrated.

Now, we aren’t here to psychoanalyse our customers or help them through therapy to get them to recognize the root cause of their unhappiness. Most of us just want to make money while helping our customers.

So, what’s the right question?

You may have guessed “What do my customers need and how can I help?”

Try it; it will help but you’ll soon find that it isn’t enough.

Changing Habits

If you’ve tried asking your customers what they need, you may have noticed that they give the same answer as when you ask what they want. Whoa! We’re going in circles here!

Our customers aren’t used to being asked for what they need so they answer as if we’ve asked them what they want. Often times, the business need has been so transformed within the customer’s own organisation that he/she doesn’t even know what need the solution is supposed to solve.

We need to have a discussion with our customers and it has to be open and frank. It also takes time; there is no quick fix or quick sell.

We need to dig down and find what the original business need is. We need to ask “Who, what, where, why and how” and we may need to do it through multiple iterations and in different ways.

We can even tell the customer what we’re doing but, be careful. The habit of answering the question with our wants is so ingrained that they may actually resist. We might be better off simply having an informal chat, or more than one.

Offering a Solution

Once we’ve identified the business need, we can start looking for an optimal solution. But remember, serving your customers well means that you’re looking for their optimal solution! Not your short-term sales target.

When working with your customer on finding a solution, keep the following possibilities in mind:

  • Changes in process
  • What they initially wanted (yes, it happens!)
  • A completely different product or service
  • A competitor’s product or service

I hope I didn’t lose you with the last one…

Sometimes, we don’t have a solution to our customer’s business need. However, we should know the competitive landscape that we work in well enough to know if another vendor does. Imagine suggesting that your customer should use a competing product in a totally different way? Who looks like the expert?

We can also decide to develop the solution. Just don’t make your customer wait in the dark. Go ahead and say “We don’t have a solution but we’ll develop it and it will be ready in X days/months/years. If you can’t wait until them our competitor has a partial solution that you could use.”

So, what do you think? Am I crazy? Stating the obvious? Forgot something important?

Please add your comments. I always appreciate them and we’re on this journey together.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Eric Jacques
Customer Excellence Blog
Customer Service Excellence Advocate -- working as a Client Satisfaction Manager


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