Why you shouldn’t listen to your customers

Listen to your customers! Want to know what to do to have satisfied customers? Just ask them! That is the opinion of many self-proclaimed gurus of customer satisfaction.

Have you ever crunched the number of what it would mean if you could do what customers ask?

Do we all become completely unreasonable when we are in a position of the customers?  Of course not. Customers do not need to make any considerations when they tell you what they would like. You however can spend every dollar only once, and you do this best on those things that really matter.

Especially when you consider innovative interventions, customers are rarely a reliable source of information. You can hardly blame them that they cannot imagine what you’re cooking up. You may be familiar with the quote attributed to the late Henry Ford: “If I had asked what they wanted, to my clients than they had said a faster horse.” It is far from certain that Ford has really made ​​that statement, but he could have, and admit it, it makes a good story. You can perfectly satisfy a requirement the customer does not even realize he has.

It really pays to think carefully about where you want to excel. The interesting possible focal points of your service concept can be found there where your own strategy meets the concrete – but not necessarily explicit – customer needs. If the customer need(s) that you cover have not been addressed by other players in the market, then you really have an asset. Your customers should be able to articulate your strategy based solely on how they have experience your product or service.  Communicate very explicitly why customers should choose for you. That way you implicitly communicate what not (necessarily) to expect.

The latter is very important. Although there are some discussion among experts, causing (a little) pain would emphasis the pleasure of those things in which you excel. Through this mechanism, the new iPhone slightly cooler if you spend the night in line to get it, are members of a club more loyal when it takes effort to get in, and is a handbag more valuable because it cost more (and not the other way round).

But there is a more pragmatic reason to deliberately choose not to excel in everything: the attention and the resources that you spent on the elements of your services that are less distinctive, can’t be spend on your focal points. As a result, you reduce the contrast with others and become a grey mouse.

If a quick service is not your priority, do not invest in it. Just make sure you stay out the of the unacceptable zone. If you having a fast service is one of your focal points, than be the fastest and deliver on that promise every time, without compromise. Colruyt is the cheapest. Always. Would you like a pleasant shopping stroll, then there are better options.

It has also been shown that ending your customer interaction on a high note pays off. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman exposed that mechanism in his search for happiness and wellbeing1. People seem remember experiences with a pleasant ending better².

1Kahneman, D., Diener, E., & Schwartz, N. (1999). Well-being: the foundations of hedonic psychology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

2That ending does not need to be spectacular. As long as it’s better than the rest of the experience it will make the whole experience seem more positive in our memories.

Horst Remes