Does The Customer Really Know Best?

I have written and presented extensively that you cannot guess about value. You have to ask. You also can’t be satisfied with the easy answers. It is also commonly recognized that what the customer wants may be different than what the customer needs.

The flip side of this equation is the customer’s unwillingness to allow you to determine the value with their assistance. The phrase “customer knows best” might apply to knowing what they value, but not necessarily how to get it. When I go to my massage therapist to take care of old sports injuries, what I WANT is for her to go to work on the sore muscles. What she as a trained professional knows that my body NEEDS is for her to diagnose why that muscle is sore in the first place, and apply the proper therapeutic techniques. This often means working on the opposing muscles so that the tense muscles can finally relax.

I may be the customer and believe that I know what I need, but I now know better than to prescribe to her how to do her job. She is the expert and knows far more about how this complex system of muscles and tissue actually work than I ever will. As an expert in your field, you likely know more about what is required to deliver value to your customer, once you understand the desired value. The key element in what you do or what the therapist does is determining what the customer values in terms of results, before beginning to identifying how you will provide those results.

In my example as a customer, what I do need to do is articulate the end result that I am seeking. Do I simply want to be relaxed in which case an overall spa type massage may be appropriate, or do I want to have an injury repaired (in which case deep and sometimes painful techniques are used involving thumbs and elbows digging in to sensitive areas of my shoulders and back). Similarly your customer needs to articulate the results that they seek, and then you determine how best to deliver those results. Equally similar is the fact that sometimes arriving at the desired state can often be a painful process, particularly if the patient or customer resists or insists on skipping steps.

I sometimes imagine what it would be like if I referred an unsuspecting spa-going type client to my massage therapist with the instructions to ask for “a good massage like Wayne gets.” If the therapist was not skilled in understanding value, she might be reported to the police for brutality! Likewise if an aging weekend warrior like myself received a milder relaxation massage, they would likely feel that they wasted their time and money as they hobbled back to their car, not one-step closer to recovery.

If I were to insist on prescribing the activities of the therapist, then this scenario would not be much different than the business units that waste their money on written reports or generic training sessions that they thought they needed, when perhaps they could benefit much more from the assistance of someone skilled in integrating the lessons from the business unit’s own past projects and experiences. Maybe there are other techniques that are more appropriate. Begin by diagnosing the situation, not by jumping to solutions.

About Wayne McKinnon

Wayne McKinnon works with organizations to change their course of evolutions from extinct to distinct
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