When we encounter a situation or problem, we always have an intuitive response to it.

You start a business, our intuitive approach is to ask the customer what they want.

This is because many of the decisions we make involve other people as our customer – e.g., decisions we make within our companies that impacts our customers, consulting advice we give to clients, and other help/advice we offer to friends or family.

“Ask the customer” does not always translate literally to asking the customer what they might want. It involves really understanding the person/organisation we are creating a solution for.

The best illustration of this is from an excellent TED talk by Rory Sutherland:

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“Here is one example. This is a train which goes from London to Paris. The question was given to a bunch of engineers, about 15 years ago, “How do we make the journey to Paris better?” 

And they came up with a very good engineering solution, which was to spend six billion pounds building completely new tracks from London to the coast, and knocking about 40 minutes off a three-and-half-hour journey time. Now, call me Mister Picky.

I’m just an ad man … … but it strikes me as a slightly unimaginative way of improving a train journey merely to make it shorter. Now what is the hedonic opportunity cost on spending six billion pounds on those railway tracks?

Here is my naive advertising man’s suggestion. 

What you should in fact do is employ all of the world’s top male and female supermodels, pay them to walk the length of the train, handing out free Chateau Petrus for the entire duration of the journey. 

Now, you’ll still have about three billion pounds left in change, and people will ask for the trains to be slowed down.”

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We are wired to think of situations from a point-of-view that is recently available to us.

I hesitate to even call it our point of view because, sometimes, we take advice we receive too literally and forget to filter it to suit our own style.

In short, our intuitive responses make us inadequate givers or takers of advice.

So, the next time you are making a decision that influences a customer, take a moment to reject the intuitive response.

Take a moment to think about how the customer behaves, ignore what they say and listen what they do.

Sometimes it is not enough to just ask the customer what she wants, look at what she does.

It is likely you will be closer to an answer that will work within that context.

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