Customers buy our products and services to solve a problem they are having. Problems may be transactional such as getting from one location to another when a consumer buys a train ticket. Problems may be emotional such as making a maintenance manager anxious about their career prospects look good by innovatively reducing maintenance costs.

For our business to be successful, we have to know what problems to solve. We have to understand our customer needs, whether those customers are internal or external.

There are six basic types of customer need.

  1. InformationCustomers need information at all stages of their buying process from the moment they are stimulated to buy something until they have completed the purchase and are satisfied or are undergoing buyer’s remorse.
  2. ChoicesCustomers need choice whether it is in the range of products and services or in finding solutions to problems they are experiencing in dealing with us.
  3. ControlCustomers need to feel that they are controlling their buying process, not that we are controlling them through our sales process.
  4. FairnessCustomers want to get fair value and feel that they have been treated fairly relative to other customers.
  5. FriendlinessHumans want to be welcomed and to belong.
  6. EmpathyCustomers want us to prove we can “Walk in their shoes”.


Two ways of understanding customer needs are interviews and surveys.

Customer interviews

Customer interviews about our service may be undertaken with or without completing a draft moments of truth mapping from our understanding of the customer’s key interactions with our organisation.

The advantage of completing a moment of truth map is that we can concentrate our questions on the moments of truth, getting greater detail.

The disadvantage is that we may condition our questions and the customer’s responses to only the moments we think are important.

There are five simple questions which will get us most of the information we want if we actively listen and use paraphrasing and summarising techniques. They are:

  • “Take me through a typical interaction with our organisation. From how you first ever thought about contacting us until you paid the bill”
  • What were the most important elements of those interactions to you?”
  • “What did we do well?”
  • “What frustrated you? What was it about the interaction that frustrated you?”
  • “What would you have done differently if you were us to make you feel we delivered excellent service?”


Customer interviews give good quality qualitative data. Take care however, of acting on a “sample of one” even if you are determining what is important to a large business-to-business customer. You must interview as many people as you can to get as wide a sample of interactions as you can.

Customer surveys

Customer surveys are useful in determining customer needs and can be delivered in person, by telephone, by email or over the web or a combination of these methods.

There are pros and cons about using customer surveys to understand customer needs which you should be aware of.


  • Quick.
  • Relatively cheap, especially web based.
  • Easily provides quantitative data
  • Can present a useful trend line to management.



  • Sampling Bias and Errors
  • Populations being tested do not represent the population
  • Response Bias
  • Survey sample is vastly different than the actual population
  • Problems of Motivation:
  • Highly satisfied customers are much more likely to respond to survey requests than merely neutral or even dissatisfied customers.
  • Wording and Execution Biases
  • Questions may bias the results.
  • Rigged Processes
  • Employees often skew their own survey results.
  • Pressure to Produce Good Results:
  • High motivation for customer loyalty leads to high motivation to produce positive survey results.
  • Wrong Conclusions:
  • Surveys measure what people say, not what they do
  • Meaningless Data:
  • Questions may be important from a management standpoint but are not with customers