I had an interesting discussion with my friend on this topic – “Sell your customers what they need and not what you want” – the one that I shared a few weeks back on my blog. He chose to disagree with me on this by referring to the quote
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford
Customers know what they want, but don’t know how to articulate it.
In fact, customers would probably have told Ford exactly what they wanted — a faster mode of transportation. Customers might not have mentioned the need for a combustion engine, but that’s part of the art of understanding customers. They may not be aware of the options available to them but they often understand their problems.
Ask specific questions that allow you to gain insights into their business problem. Avoid feature-based questions, because customers aren’t thinking about technology features. They are worried to save costs and time in these tough times.
At the same time, avoid multiple-choice questions. Giving a customer too many choices often nets you poor feedback, but it’s also important to give them the opportunity to bring up something you haven’t anticipated.
While the quote might have been embellished over time or even misattributed to Ford, I think we need to stop using the phrase outside of its specific context. It doesn’t mean that the customer is wrong. It means we need to synthesize what they say and think more broadly about where it might take us.