When The Customer Isn’t Right

Steve Jobs was a prolific leader, a gifted innovator, and a charismatic speaker. He was also sort of a jerk. He was an advocate of the idea that customers had no idea what they wanted. He felt that it was his job to tell them. Doesn’t that concept offend you a little? It offended me when I first heard it. But I’ve done some study, and it turns out that his opinion had some logical backing. So here’s my take on it.

“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

– Steve Jobs

Imagine your company is plagued with a problem. You’re hemorrhaging money through your inventory system. What do you do? This is a problem that I’ve seen at many companies, so I decided to tackle the solution. I was going to build a software system that would make inventory tracking simpler. I felt that if inventory wasn’t such a complicated thing, companies would lose far less money in that area of business as a result. So I asked questions and got a wide variety of answers. The data boiled down to one point: counting inventory was too hard, and people don’t like doing it. They wanted a way to make it simpler.

Had I gone with that answer, I would have invested several hundred thousand dollars creating an inventory system that already existed and didn’t solve any of the money loss problem. I did further research, found out the real problem, and I plan on unveiling it in the (hopefully) near future with a friend of mine and a few other colleagues. So I can’t offer the real answer, but suffice to say that the initial research was far off the point.

The reason is simple. When faced with a problem, people get an idea of what they think will solve the problem. If you ask them what they want, they won’t tell you the problem they want solved. Instead, they’ll tell you they want the product or service they think will solve it. If that’s what you deliver them, you haven’t solved their problem, and they’ll blame you.

Ok, that’s sort of a vague example. Here’s a better one. Malcolm Gladwell offers this awesome talk about how his friend, Howard Moskowitz, changed spaghetti sauce in America. It gives much more clarity on the subject. Enjoy!

Image by Jacob Bøtter

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About the author:

Michael McNew
Web developer, marketing innovator, technology enthusiast, and founder of Visceral Concepts, Michael McNew has developed a passion for delivering value to small business, turning his creativity towards image and reputation building for small business owners.