Don’t Listen to your Customers – Watch Them!

In order to be successful in today’s business arena, companies like Apple have combined innovative products with an intense attention on market behavior. They have become the global technological powerhouse that they are by envisioning new products that users themselves couldn’t even envision.

Steve Jobs himself famously said, “It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.” In the case of Apple, for example, Jobs believed that consumers have no way of knowing that they want, or need, a phone that gives them directions until such a thing actually exists.

Look, Listen, and Proceed

Keeping in line with this way of thinking, it can be advantageous to watch your customers rather than simply listening to their verbal feedback. While verbal feedback can help you refine your existing products and services, observing buyer behavior can help you design entirely new products and services that will keep your company ahead of the competition.

In the case of the dating site Zoosk, cofounder and co-CEO Shayan Zadeh says they’ve observed a significant gulf between what people say they want and what their behavior reveals about what they really want. In any case, the art of watching what customers do, rather than just listening to what they say, seems to be more and more essential to running a successful business.

In the case of Zoosk, this principle is easily exemplified. We can imagine a male user who, when asked, will voluntarily offer an opinion that he prefers to date blondes only. However, when analyzing the same user’s activity on the site, we might find that he actually makes an exception from time to time, and that those exceptions actually contributed to his positive experience on the site.

For a dating site like Zoosk, the application is relatively simple. The site tracks user behavior and feeds this data into an algorithm that will enable them to make a more educated guess the next time it is asked to serve up potential matches.

Applications for Observed Buyer Behavior

For other businesses, the applications might be a bit more complicated, but the principle of finding value in observing buyer behavior will largely stay the same. Because buyers can rarely dream of all the possibilities of products and services your company could offer, they won’t be able to provide verbal feedback that helps your company move forward with your next great product or service.

On the other hand, observing buyer behavior can give you significant insight into the types of products and services that your customers need. Coming back to the example of mobile phones, the buyer might not be consciously aware that he or she is in need of a “go anywhere, do anything, indestructible” phone. However, by observing the thousands of people that bring their phone in to be replaced because of water, impact, or any other type of damage, you can easily assert that certain people would be interested in such a “life-proof” phone, if it were available.

In other words, it pays to watch for areas in which there is consumer need, rather than simply listening to the needs that customers verbally express!