Whose problem are you solving?

Your customer buys from you when you offer the product or service that meets their needs better than any alternative available to them. I started a previous post with this same statement and then asked the question: Do you really know your customer? Now I want to ask a new question: when you think about your products and services – are you really meeting their needs or yours?


Is your business focused on “organisation-centric” questions like:

  • What can we sell the customer?
  • How can we reach customers most efficiently?
  • What relationship do we need to establish with the customer?
  • How do we make money from the customer?

If you are, then it sounds like you are solving your own problems.

Perhaps it’s time to turn the questions on their head and to ask “customer-centric” questions like:

  • What are our customers trying to achieve?
  • What things are our customers trying to do?
  • How can we help the customer achieve their goals?
  • How would the customer like to engage with us?
  • How can we best fit into their routines?
  • What does the customer really value and is prepared to pay us for?

When you shift your perspective like this it becomes much easier to create value for your customers and move ahead of the competition.

Take the case of the Apple iPod. Apple understood that people were uninterested in digital media players. Other companies had previously focused on the player had failed to penetrate the market beyond the novelty geek buyer. To use their products meant that the user had to source the music, store it somewhere digitally and then transfer it to the device – for the average user this was too complicated.

Apple perceived that they customers wanted a seamless way to search, find, download and listen to content and were willing to pay for this. Apple created a seamless experience for customers, integrating the iTunes on-line store, the iTunes software and the iPod. With this Value Proposition at the heart of their business model, Apple went on to dominate the online digital music market.

When it comes to how you solve your customer’s problems, listening to the customers themselves may not be the answer. Henry Ford famously said “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘a faster horse’.” In his case his customers knew what their problems were but didn’t know the best solution.

Another challenge is choosing which customers to solve problems for, some times it may be better to ignore existing customer segments and to explore the unmet needs of new customers. Easy Jet did this by making air travel available to lower- and middle-income customers who rarely flew. And Zipcar allowed city dwellers to eliminate the hassles of owning cars in large cities.

So, whose problems are you solving?

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