Stop giving customers what they want

stop-sThe first two years after our eldest son was diagnosed with Aspergers were tough for my wife and me. What we really wanted was for some professionals to step in, to spend lots of time with him, to see what he was like, the problems we faced, and to work directly with him to improve things.

Instead, the professionals insisted on spending time with the two of us, listening to our description of the problems, and suggesting things that we could do to improve things ourselves. It was really frustrating. But I can’t deny that it was incredibly effective. The fact that a recent study has backed up their approach completely, came as absolutely no surprise to either me or my wife.

What we needed was to find solutions that worked for us and for him. What we wanted was for someone to come in and solve it all for us. Luckily, what we got was a bunch of experts who understood the difference between those two things, and made sure we got the right one.

How often do you find yourself in a similar situation with your customers, clients, funders or commissioners?  And how effective are you and your people at getting past the “want”, drawing out the real “need”, and confidently and compellingly moving them to a far better solution than the one they might have had in mind?

There’s a huge amount of pressure in the sector right now to be more competitive, more customer focused, and more compliant to a funder’s processes, specifications and conditions. And there’s a real danger that you start to forget that you are the experts in your field. I’ve worked with an extraordinary variety of organisations, both inside and outside of the sector. I would no more expect them to tell me what methodology to use in helping them develop their strategy, income streams or capabilities, than they’d expect me to tell them how to treat an injured animal, or help someone recover from addiction.

I understand the commercial pressures that charities are under, but the day any of us find ourselves so concerned about losing a contract, that we’re unwilling to tell the potential client she’s dead wrong, is the day we need to move on. It’s our job to understand what the client really needs, not to simply do what they want us to do, and when those two things are different, we need to assert our expertise or refer them to a provider with fewer scruples.

The professionals that my wife and I encountered all those years ago were purely focused on getting the best long-term outcomes for the child, fully aware that it could make for a pretty awkward relationship between us to begin with. They were in the autism support business, not the “making parents feel good” business. Likewise, I’m in the performance improvement business, not the “making clients feel good” business.

Just make sure your people aren’t drifting into the “making commissioners feel good” business.

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