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How to Discover What Your Customers Really Want

You might think you already have this figured out. But take a step back: Is it what your customers want, or what you want? Alternatively, is it what you expect your customers to want?

From any of these viewpoints, you may have missed the mark, simply because customers themselves might not be sure what they want! As Daily Egg contributor Joseph Putnam says,

there is a difference between what people think they want and what they actually want”

This belief fueled the late Steve Jobs’ distaste for market research. He was inventing products that consumers had never seen or imagined before, so how could they possibly know that they wanted these things?

However, once a new device like the iPhone or iPad hits the market, Apple enters full-on customer feedback mode. Check out the Support Communities over at Consumers know how to ask for help. Their queries instigate changes that improve products.

So skip the assumptions:

  • “My customers don’t know what they want, so I need to use my own understanding of their lifestyle/ personality/demographic to create a want.”
  • “I use my own products/services and identify with my customer base, so I should know what my customer wants.”
  • “Nobody knows what they want, so I’ll just throw out a totally radical product/ service onto the market and wait for the feedback in order to make it into something my customers want.”

All of these assumptions hold you back from actually communicating with your customer.

To discover what your customer really wants, you need to get their feedback. You can do this in several ways:

Connect with your customer service representatives

They deal with your target audience on an often routine, familial level. Customer service representative get the complaints and questions. Chat with them to discover the “gaps” in your products or services. What complaints/questions are repeated again and again? These are opportunities to improve your product or service, or work towards something more valuable for your customers.

Check email inquiries

If you don’t have customer service representatives, oftentimes the “Contact Us” email box on your website will handle the job on a one-way level. Complaints and questions (and even positive feedback), filter through your website email inbox, especially when the email page is welcoming and easy to find on your site. Scourge your email inbox for constructive suggestions and trends in their complaints/comments. Here, your customers communicate what they really want. You just need to read between the lines.

Have constructive conversations with your customers

As a business owner/operator, you might not get as much face or telephone time with your customers as some of your employees do. How can you be expected to “know” your customers without actually knowing who they are?

Get in the car and drive to them. “For consumer facing industries, it’s time to go find your customers,” says contributor Kate Morris. Arrange for Skype chat if face-to-face is not feasible. Take a few days to have conversations with your customers.

“Don’t come to the meeting[s] with questions prepared,” suggests Morris. “Ask about their days, lives, and how your company fits in there,” she adds.

This is the time to target problems with your current products or services. Putnam says to ask, “What’s your biggest frustration with our product/service?” and “What are you struggling with the most?”

It all filters down to a simple question: “How are we doing?”


Your customers know your product or service very well; their feedback provides the most valuable articulation of what they want from your business. Feedback is based in experience, and today, we are all in the business of creating positive consumer experiences.

And while we’re chatting about feedback, how about sending some my way in the comments section below? I’m keen to hear if you find this blog useful, and your ideas on what would make it a better experience for you!

See Also

5 Ways to Reward Your Existing Customer Base Online

Morris, Kate. “Generate Great Ideas by Connecting with Customers.” 6 August 2012.
Putnam, Joseph. “How To Do Product Research Like Steve Jobs.” 17 September 2012.

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