Indian Management|October 2019
What business are you in? I’m not asking what sector of the economy you serve (for example, healthcare, retail, financial services). I’m asking if you are in a product-focused business, a service-centric business, or something else?
I’ve been fortunate to work with leaders at Starbucks and write two books about the company (The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary and Leading the Starbucks Way: 5 Principles for Connecting with Your Customers, Your Products, and Your People). At the time of those writings, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz shared a somewhat unexpected perspective on his company: “We are not in the coffee business serving people; we are in the people business serving coffee.” By emphasizing the rich “human” experience at the core of Starbucks, Howard reinforced an enduring principle of success: “All business is personal.”
Given that you picked up this book, I’ll assume you already see yourself in the “people business” and appreciate that Airbnb can offer insights on interpersonal connection. You likely understand that sustainable success involves creating value for the people you call customers by providing value to the people you call colleagues, team members, or employees. To be effective in business as well as in life, we must develop skills to understand, meet, and even exceed the needs of those we serve.
Despite the importance of determining the motivations, wants, and needs of others, many business leaders only seek to offer practical benefits through the features and attributes of the products and services they provide. In the process, leaders often neglect the unconscious, emotional, psychological, and social needs of the customers and employees they serve.
In an Insights Association article titled “Why Business Doesn’t Understand Consumers,” Mark Ingwer, founder and managing partner of the Insight Consulting Group, cites studies that show 80 to 90 percent of new products or services fail to achieve sales projections despite “satisfaction” with those products. Mark adds, “The consumer may have appreciated the product, but if his or her unarticulated emotional needs went unmet, the appreciation means virtually nothing for a business trying to form a base of loyal buyers. This is a problem for businesses using a logical, traditional process to study the emotional…an approach that cannot readily deliver the accurate emotional insights required.”
So how does a solopreneur, manager, or leader gain “accurate emotional insights” into “unarticulated emotional needs” of customers? How can you understand the needs of your customers more broadly and deeply? The short answer is to study brands like Airbnb who have earned a reputation for innovating solutions to address the unmet needs of their stakeholders.
Based on my experience as a customer experience consultant and my observation of the approach taken by Airbnb leadership, the process of human need assessment involves these three key steps:
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