David Maister - Professional Business, Professional Life
David’s ResourcesAbout David
NEW! Browse my materials by topic of interest:StrategyManagingClient RelationsCareersGeneral

Passion, People and Principles

What do THEY want?

post # 73 — May 11, 2006 — a Careers, Client Relations post

One of our biggest problems is that we love putting people in categories, so that we can use short-cuts in figuring out how to deal with them. We’re always looking for general rules.

I remember wasting a lot of my adolescence and my 20s trying to answer the question “What do women want?”

Eventually, I grew up and realized it was pretty silly trying to make a generalization about a half of the world’s population. What I needed was not a theory about what women (in general) wanted, but an ability to detect, as quickly as possible, what the human being I was with wanted.

The very act of generalizing was what was getting in the way of me paying attention, getting close, and forming a bond with the other person.

People (even women, it turns out) do not want to be treated as a member of a group, or class, or market segment, or subset. They want to be treated as individuals.

The same, of course, is true in all aspects of human life, business as well as personal.

Any sentence that begins “What clients want is…..” is bound to be wrong. The essential lesson is that there is no one thing that all clients want.

The business challenge is this: how quickly can you or your organization find out what the specific client wants and adapt to that clients’ individuality? How well do you truly listen, adapt and respond?

Really great client service doesn’t mean figuring out a bunch of neat things that most people like and then doing those things to everyone. Client focus means being good at figuring out, in real time, what each client would prefer, and adapting as much as you can to those preferences.

Notice that we do not, in personal life or business life, have to adapt completely. People understand that there are constraints and limitations (after all, I’m just a male and there are limits to how flexible I can be.)

However, people really respond well in business and personal life when they see we are TRYING to treat them as specific human beings, not just as a category member. It’s so rare that they repay us with their commitment and loyalty.

1 Comment

Nick said:

The best way to know what someone wants is to ASK about it:)

posted on June 6, 2007