Identifying the Differences Between Customers’ Wants and Needs

In many cases, there may be great differences between a customer’s wants and a customer’s needs; but sometimes there may actually be only very little difference. It all depends on the specific customer. However, the way in which you manage each customer relationship will ultimately make the greatest difference with respect to your prospects for gaining customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Typically, the more knowledgeable customers are about the equipment they are using, the more their wants and needs are likely to be the same; however, less knowledgeable customers may not really have a clear idea of the distinction between the two.

For example, a copying machine customer may want you to clean the equipment while you are on-site if they had been noticing black marks or spots on the copies coming out of the unit; when, in fact, the main reason for the black marks may have entirely been due to a worn-out roller or other part that needs to be replaced. In a case like this, what the customer really “needed” was clean copies coming out of the machine; however, what they thought they “wanted” was simply for the machine to be cleaned.

If you had listened only to the customer, you might have embarked on a faulty corrective action with respect to satisfying their needs. Remember, when it comes to repairing the machine, you are the expert – not the customer!

Similarly, a customer may want you to take the machine apart and put it back together again, or replace a part that is not really defective, simply as an exercise to ensure that the copier continues to run “smoothly”. However, what the customer may really need is a more effective preventive maintenance schedule for the equipment that would otherwise negate the need to actually have to take the machine apart or perform a parts swap, etc.

In this case, what the customer “wanted” was for you to take the machine apart and put it back together again; however, what they really “needed” was a machine that would not break down in the near future as they were preparing for a major copy run. Properly scheduled preventive maintenance would have accomplished this, making any further corrective actions entirely unnecessary.

The best way for you to understand the differences between customers’ wants and needs is to help them to understand the differences in the first place. It all goes back to the “Listen, Observe, Think, Speak”, or LOTS, approach. By listening to the symptoms that the customer is describing once you arrive on-site, and the problems that they tell you they have been experiencing until you got there, you will probably already be in a good position to surmise what is needed. However, upon further observation with respect to the machine, you will undoubtedly have an even clearer picture. In fact, by this time, you should probably already have a good idea of exactly what the customer “needs”.

This would also be a good time to explain to the customer what the initial diagnosis is, what you plan to do about it, and the anticipated amount of time it will take for you to repair it. By providing this information early, you can avoid running into situations where the customer is telling you they “want” one thing and being forced to tell them they really “need” another.

In other words, the best way to avoid a “debate” about what is “wanted” vs. what is “needed” is to identify the problem and appropriate course of action as soon as possible, keep the customer informed on an as-needed (or as-requested) basis, and let them know what they “need” upfront, before they feel compelled to tell you what they “want”.

Of course, it may not always be this easy. There will always be situations where what you feel the customer needs is not what the customer wants. This is where an ongoing educational process between you and your customers needs to take place. This does not mean to say that the two of you need to sit down, read the equipment manuals together, compare notes, and enter into “philosophical” discussions about equipment maintenance; but, rather, that a series of ongoing, brief discussions should take place every time you are on-site to repair the equipment to ensure that the customer understands why the machine failed, what they could do to lessen the chances for failures in the future, what the recommended “fix” is, and why your way of addressing the situation is better than their way. Sometimes, the solution may be as simple as upgrading to a newer unit.

Basically, what the customer really wants is a piece of equipment that is always up and running, ready to use, unlikely to fail, easy to repair, easy to manage, and easy to use. The details with respect to how each of these is accomplished should really be of no consequence to the customer – although they usually are!

Your role, over time, will be to make sure that you always communicate to the customer about what is “needed” to the point where they have full faith in your knowledge and experience, and are willing to defer to your judgment. The more communications there are between you and your customers, the quicker they will get to the point where they will defer to your recommendations, and the quicker the distinction between their “wants” and their “needs” will disappear.

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One thought on “Identifying the Differences Between Customers’ Wants and Needs

  1. Tricky Business: Matching Services to a Customer's Total Support Needs

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