This week, I was writing about fulfilling a customer’s needs and probably ended up rambling a bit too much. However, one notion took up residence in my head and is refusing to vacate. I’m hoping that by sharing here, it might leave me alone for a little while.

Our customers are looking for solutions to their problems and fulfillment for their desires. Your product or service is irrelevant outside this framework. A customer doesn’t decide to hand you money simply because you added a new feature. They do business with you because you solve their problems or meet their desires better than any other options they currently know about. So, those problems and desires need to be at the front of your every thought.

Nuanced in this expression, is the idea that “meeting their desires” often involves helping a customer fulfill their image of themselves. I don’t buy Nike shoes because they protect my feet any better than a New Balance pair, but because I like to think of myself (or perhaps, want others to think of me) as the type of person who wears Nike.

And for their part, Nike understands this perfectly. They don’t advertise the technical specs of their newest sneakers. Hell, they don’t even show their shoes in half their ads. They understand perfectly the need that they are fulfilling.

Try telling me they’re selling shoes…

The overused and annoyingly cliched example from the tech-world is “No one really wants to buy a 1/4 inch drill bit, they all want to buy a 1/4 inch hole“. You might make the best drill bit in the entire world, but if someone came along selling 1/4 inch holes, you’d be in trouble!

You’ve probably experienced what happens when organizations lose sight of their customer’s needs – eroding customer service is a pretty obvious sign, but a lack of commonsense is worse! Nothing is more cringe-worthy than: “I’m sorry, I’d love to help, but company procedure tells me I have to do it this way.”

So… stop it! Stop thinking about your organization from your own shoes. Get yourself and every employee closer to your customer and help remove the sterilizing barriers that prevent your folks from really understanding your customers and their desires. There’s no excuse for an engineer who’s never seen their product in action (not just in the lab!) or for a salesperson who’s never experienced the whole cycle from the other side. Freud would be proud – even calling it the “other side” shows the implicit bias of viewpoint we carry around.

So, take off your Nike’s and put on whatever pair your customers are walking around in. Relentlessly pursue an understanding of their problem and bust your butt to solve it.