Customers have a lot to say, and, for a long time, businesses have been coached to listen closely… until now.
What might happen to a business if it decided to ignore client feedback, to turn a deaf ear to customers' expressed wants, needs, and wishes? Surely, this would be the path to bankruptcy—if you believe in conventional wisdom. If you're truly daring and willing to run counter to the written rules, you might find a new level of success when you stop listening to your customers and start watching them instead. Your ears won't believe what your eyes will see.
Jobs challenged his own company to stop listening to customers' words at any given moment and, instead, listen for their needs
Who says it's wise to ignore what patrons say?
The premise of this proposition might seem preposterous: ignore customer feedback—that's just crazy talk from someone who doesn't understand the first thing about business success. Is it, really?
"You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new." —Steve Jobs, Apple Computers
There's no denying Jobs' credentials in business, innovation and customer satisfaction. Wouldn't we all love to have customers waiting days in lines for our next product release? But whereas it was once considered "out of the box" thinking to enlist customer input to influence your products and services, Jobs challenged his own company to stop listening to customers' words at any given moment and, instead, listen for their needs—something they often have difficulty expressing.
Take care in what you ask
To drill into what customers really need, you first need to carefully craft how you'll ask questions of your customers. Often, this means not asking anything at all but, rather, setting up a situation and observing how customers respond.
Marketers have spent their professional lifetimes observing customer behavior—in physical store spaces, through direct-response messaging, and in online targeting and tracking. What the customer wants can often become plainly evident when you monitor what they do, not listen to what they say.
Forget their wants, understand their desires
Create engaging messages that speak to your customers' emotional dreams and desires and not so much to their utilitarian expectations
Of course, it still makes sense to ask questions of your customers, but you'll need to ask the questions in a way that will help shoppers clarify what it is they really want. So, rather than ask what they want, ask what problem they're trying to solve.
Of course, when shopping for indulgent goods, they might not consider it tied to any problem, but there is some sort of measurable level of fulfillment they're trying to achieve that, perhaps, they haven't achieved before or elsewhere (and that is the "problem" you're trying to uncover). By this approach, you'll get to the core of what is motivating customers while also discovering the limitations of typical customer feedback mechanisms like surveys.
To get to those core motivators—the desires of your customers—you'll need to ask a little, then observe a lot. Create product displays in different ways, online or in a physical setting, and monitor the response. Create engaging messages that speak to your customers' emotional dreams and desires and not so much to their utilitarian expectations.
When you take this approach, you'll get closer to understanding your customers' decision-making processes, learning why they prefer a product when presented in a certain manner. There's no magic answer here. It takes close observation and careful consideration. The requirement, though, is to commit to observing over just listening.
Getting to 'innovation'
While Jobs' thought is suitable for a modern audience, his notion isn't necessarily new. A quote that has been attributed to the creator of the automobile assembly line, Henry Ford, goes like this:
"If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse."
Indeed, Ford was an early industrialist who knew when to discard what customers told him, and elected to observe and act instead. Comparatively, Jobs likely wouldn't have heard that customers wanted an iPhone, iPad and all the rest. Those products and concepts didn't exist until he created them.
Any setting where you seek to attract and entertain customers is an opportunity to understand why they decided to shop with you
What both men, separated by generations, understood was how to watch customers, identify problems and opportunities based on what they saw, then proceed to innovate a new product or solution.
Of course, both men needed to hear what their customers were saying, yet they took action not on the literal suggestions given but on the implied needs and desires that were revealed. Ford's customers would have been happy with a faster horse but likely wouldn't know to express that the horse was chosen as a matter of affordability. Careful observation revealed that a mass-production operation could lower the cost of innovative transportation for everyone.
Similarly, Jobs' customers were happy to have computer services where they worked and lived, but discovered they seemed to want that same access wherever they went without cumbersome cables and hard-wired connections. Like Ford, Jobs listened, observed and then acted.
Can you innovate in the same manner as Ford and Jobs? Of course you can because any setting where you seek to attract and entertain customers is an opportunity to understand why they decided to shop with you, and learn what it is that they're truly seeking.
Sure, you need to listen to what your customers say, but you really need to hear what it is they don't say. By watching their actions and deciphering their decisions, you'll discover what your customers really want and why it makes sense to sometimes ignore their words. Yes, it's still true: Actions do speak louder than words.