What Customers SAY They Want

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What Customers SAY They Want

There once was an independently-owned supermarket with a clever and effective management team. They regularly met with customers and received feedback.

Proactively talking to customers and determining what they want. So far, so good.

During one of the meetings the customers overwhelmingly said they wanted more fresh fish. So the supermarket went into overdrive, getting up early in the morning, running to the dock, purchasing the freshest fish they could find, rushing it back to the store, cleaning the fish beautifully and neatly wrapping it and proudly displaying it as "FRESH FISH", which it was.

Giving customers what they want. So far, so good.

The management team checked the sales figures after a while expecting to see a huge surge.

They saw nothing. Sales, even those of the fish, had remained flat.

After screaming a few "WTFs?", the team went back to the customers and talked to them again. "We gave you fresh fish, just like you wanted. What's the deal?" The answer they received was interesting.

"That fish isn't fresh," the customers said.

"What?" the team responded, "Yes they are. They're fresh from the docks. We have guys down there at 4am getting that fish. We even have signs that say "FRESH FISH."

"It doesn't look fresh," the customers said, "The fish is too neat and clean and wrapped and nice. Fresh fish are kinda dirty, just laying in big piles on ice, like at the fish market."

So the supermarket changed things around a little. Every morning they still ran down to the dock to grab the freshest fish and bring it back to the supermarket. However this time they stopped wrapping the fish. They also didn't clean the fish very well, and made sure the fish looked a little more "raw". Instead of wrapping the fish nicely, they just got some big white plastic crates, filled them with ice, and flopped the fish on them in an almost haphazard fashion. Just like a real fresh fish market down at the dock.

Sales of fish skyrocketed. The supermarket was happy. As were their customers.

You have two never-ending problems in business:

1. You don't know what your customers really want.

2. Your customers often don't know what they really want.

The only way you solve problem number one is by proactively asking customers what they want. It's amazing to me the number of business owners and salespeople who never do this.

However asking is only 50% of the battle. Many times customers are not going to be 100% crystal clear on what they want, even if they clearly tell you what they want. Or what they think they want. Or, in the case of the supermarket, the type of buying experience they want to have. The only way to solve this problem is by testing.

Only by asking and testing can you get to the bottom of what your customers really want. Not just what they say they want.

This article was originally published on August 26, 2012