In a recent post, I listed valuable quotes from Steve Jobs. Here’s one of them:
You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.
Jobs seems to be saying that you shouldn’t bother listening to customers. Is that what companies should do?
My take: No. Companies should not stop listening to customers. But they do need to understand what they’re listening for and recognize the limitation to some listening systems.
To start the discussion, here’s a basic loyalty model that I like to use. It’s based on defining a simple hierarchy of customer needs:
- Expectations: What customers think they’ll get from a company, which is heavily based on their perception of the company.
- Core needs: What customers want from a company, which is heavily influenced by their perception of what is normal and mainstream in an industry.
- Desires: What customers really want, which is not based on any company or industry activity and is often difficult for them to articulate.
As companies meet these needs, they build stronger emotional connections with customers. At the highest level, when they meet customers’ desires, companies end up with engaged customers — the raving fans that will promote and defend the brand.
Going back to Jobs’ comment, I agree that you can’t rely on simple customer feedback to identify their desires. Consumers weren’t telling Apple that they wanted a new MP3 player, iTunes, an Apple phone, or even Apple retail stores. Those “breakthrough” experiences came from understanding what customers really desire. In technology, desires can be even more difficult to articulate because people can’t even imagine the possibility of future capabilities.
Most customer listening efforts, which are often part of voice of the customer programs, can uncover expectations and many of customers’ core needs. But they are weak at uncovering desires. To grow the number of engaged customers, companies need to think of less traditional ways of getting customer feedback to uncover desires, like ethnography. It also helps to have a visionary like Steve Jobs who can envision the potential of technology and the evolution of consumer desires.
Unfortunately, most companies don’t have someone like Steve Jobs to rely on.
The bottom line: if you listen to customers, you might not hear their desires