Try this exercise. First, draw a circle.
Imagine that this circle is all human knowledge. Now, add a wedge to represent what you know. Most people add a visible wedge. I usually add a single line since, by the time I started drawing the line and the time I’ve finished drawing the line, the whole of human knowledge has expanded beyond my ability to keep up with it.
So we know very little. And every second, we know less and less. How can we possibly build a product or service that our customers will love if we don’t know anything?
We learn. Continually. We can never stop learning.
We learn by observing. We learn by asking. We learn by giving them a nascent version of the product or service and let them play with it.
Above all, we need to involve our customers in the process.
For example: take a bank. Banks want to sell checking accounts, savings accounts, mortgages, brokerages, and money management services so that they can charge fees and/or hold your money for a period of time so that they can invest it for a return.
What do bank customers want? They want to be able to live a comfortable life. They want enough money in the bank to pursue whatever makes them happy. They don’t want “accounts”; they want to “be happy.” They don’t want a “mortgage”; they want to live in a nice house that suits their lifestyle and personality. They don’t want to trade stocks; they want to make sure that their money will help them reach their goals.
There is a fundamental disconnect between what the bank provides as a product and what the customer wants. Let’s extend this example even further:
Let’s say that the bank customer loses their job due to the pandemic. What can the bank do? Well, it can reduce or eliminate fees, but that isn’t sustainable. It can do very little to help the customer. In fact, if anything, it can’t help the customer at all. In some cases, it may even hurt the customer by eating away at the customer’s cash through fees.
But what if the bank helped the customer to get a new job? What if it provided career counseling and placement assistance? A bank of today wouldn’t do that, even though, in this case, that is exactly what the customer needs. But the bank fails to help the customer.
Even if you are not a bank, you fail to meet your customers’ needs and wants every day. Every company but the most responsive do this daily. And they wonder why customers hate them!
No, we need to step it up. Our customers have needs, and we are not stepping up to fulfill those needs the way they want them to be filled. To paraphrase the immortal Wayne Gretsky, we need to stake to where our customers are planning to be, instead of where they are.
And the only way to do that is to ask questions, listen and watch.