What a Customer Needs May Not Be What He Wants

The owner of an IT services company recently presented his new reporting system to his peer board. They had provided substantial input as to what they, as customers, would want to see from their technology provider. Per their advice, he provided two monthly reports. The first was a one-page, high level, graphics-laden overview of system performance and threats in the prior month. The second was a longer (30 or 40 pages) printout of the details.

Computer securityThe overview showed a dashboard with all green lights, indicating that the critical areas were at 90% or better of ideal performance. Employee usage of the system, for example, clocked 98% appropriate. On further questioning, the 2% shortfall was due to a couple of employees who were using the Internet inappropriately (one viewing pornography, the other visiting gambling sites.)

The board, acting as his focus group, was thoroughly critical of what they felt was a misleading statistic. Two employees using company time and equipment for illegitimate purposes was not a “detail.” It was a problem that should be escalated to the attention of upper management immediately.

There is a difference between what a technician identifies as a problem and what the customer thinks is wrong. The technician sees scores of businesses, and the issue of two employees’ Internet misbehavior may seem minor compared to one who is watching perfectly innocent streaming videos but dramatically slowing server response time for an entire company. How is the tech supposed to decide what is most important to the customer?

The high level summary coupled with the detailed report was supposed to address this issue. What the group realized is that importance lies entirely in the eye of the beholder.

Does your customer prefer fast delivery of an order that is 90% filled, or a 98% fill rate with a week’s delay? Is it better to provide a product that fails 1% of the time, or one that fails 5% of the time but is half the price? Does your customer want a service that he or she can delegate and forget, or the details of everything you’ve done?

The answer, of course, is that it depends on the customer, not on the product or service you provide. If you know your market, you are likely to be successful when filling most of the needs of most of your prospects. Real success come when you shift from delivering what you think your customers need to knowing what each customer wants.

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