, by  Tom Simnett

The customer isn't always right

How we make sure you get what you really need.

‘The customer’s always right’, an age old adage that I’m sure most of us have used as leverage at some point in our lives as consumers and may have been the diplomatic, lip biting recipient of as business owners.

For many years this was true and often a motto used by businesses and their staff to embrace the customer into a feeling of best practice, value and trust. We’ve seen the b2c customer journey change dramatically over the past decade with consumers engaging in the sales process at a much later stage in the funnel with highly informed purchases. To a certain extent this works for business purchases too but in our experience... customers almost always don’t know what they want!

At first read, we’ll admit that sounds somewhat blasé and could be considered a little arrogant, so let me clarify things a little.

Most customers know what they want to end up with; they just don’t always know what is needed to get them there. Our role is to help them to understand what is involved in getting from where they are now to where they want to be.

Theodore Levitt, the Harvard professor, famously said that people don’t want to buy a quarter inch drill, they want quarter inch holes. They buy the drill bit (and possibly the drill if they don’t already have one) in order to get where they want to go.

It is the same for any purchase, whether it’s:

  • Drill bits – I want a hole
  • Cakes – I fancy a treat
  • Websites – I want my target audience to find me online
  • Lawnmowers – I want shorter grass
  • Web apps – I want a more efficient business

For some of these, the process of getting there is very simply a retail transaction. For others, it is more complicated and requires time, effort and expertise to resolve.

Let’s stick to business purchases from now on, and investigate this a little more.

For some businesses a decision is made purely on price. They want a solution and the one they are considering is the cheapest, or at least the cheapest right now. Over time this may not be the case. Our role is to make the customer think about lifetime costs, about lifetime value and the return on investment.

So what are the steps the customer needs to take to understand this fully?

  • The size of the current gap: what is the difference between where they are now and where they want to be? Generally, the bigger the gap, the bigger the necessary investment, but not always.
  • The number of people involved: how many people are actually involved?
  • Who are the stakeholders, the influencers, the customers and the deliverers? You may not be able to please everyone but they must all understand the reasons for change and accept that change needs to happen.
  • How many steps need to happen: what needs to happen? Do 3rd party applications need to be integrated?
  • How much time needs to be invested in the user experience (particularly for external facing issues).
  • What is being moved – data? Product? People? – and many more steps…
  • What are the priorities?
  • Can this be done in stages?
  • What are the implications of not doing something?
  • What is the value of additional functionality?
  • What are the costs of each stage?
  • Is there budget for all, or just some?

There is one other big reason for taking customers through all of this. They have come to you because they believe you know the answer. Whether they were referred or they simply found you independently, they want the end result they want. They are trusting you to help them get that end result and whoa betide you if the end result isn’t what they expect.

If you let them buy what they think they need, and it doesn’t deliver the desired end result, you know who they will blame – and it won’t be themselves!