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BIG THINKER
“It’s the company’s — not the customer’s — responsibility to discover an unmet need.”
Mark Hurst, best-selling business author and customer experience guru
CIOs are key to defining customers’ unmet needs
Image: Catalina Kulczar
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CIOs are key to defining customers’ unmet needs

February 2014

Business leaders should recognize what their customers want, says Mark Hurst — even before buyers know it themselves.

It’s important for CIOs to find more direct ways to use technology to give their organizations insight into who their customers are, what they want, and, critically, what their unmet needs are.

It may seem difficult to determine what qualifies as an “unmet need.” Is it something customers already know they need? Something they don’t know until they see it? Is it a desire for a tactical fix, or is it a wish for a systemic improvement? What if someone doesn’t need it but merely wants it — does that count as a need?

Legendary management scholar and consultant Peter Drucker clarified the issue with a single concept: The only purpose of a business is “to create a customer” — and that means satisfying some customer need.

Perhaps the customer was already aware of the need, “like food in a famine.” Perhaps the customer wasn't aware of the need until the solution appeared, like “a Xerox machine or computer.” Or perhaps the need didn't even exist until “innovation, credit, advertising or salesmanship” created it. Drucker drew no distinctions between different types of unmet needs. Instead, he wrote, the raison d’etre of a business is to fulfill the customer need.

Actions over words

In effect, it doesn’t matter whether customers know what they want or not; either way, it’s the company’s responsibility to discover an unmet need and fulfill it.

The first thing we have to understand is who are the customers and what are their unmet needs. What do they want from us? What are the benefits that they’re looking for? And, particularly, what are the benefits that they’re not getting from the competitor or the comparable company across the street?

IT, in the form of data analytics, can play a big role in answering such questions, especially when big data is brought into the equation — it can also throw light on another area: the difference between what customers say and what they do. Customer analysis is ultimately more effective when focused on customer activity than their desires. Put a different way, observing the actual is more helpful than theorizing about the hypothetical.

If we can find out what it is the customer wants and deliver that in some effective, efficient, attractive, inviting way then they’re naturally going to come back again — and maybe even talk about the product or services on social media to bring their friends to have the same experience.

• Mark Hurst’s latest book Customers Included (co-authored with Phil Terry) is out now.

First published
February 2014
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About: Mark Hurst
Mark Hurst, founder and president of business consultancy Creative Good, has spent his career writing, speaking and advising on the strategic importance of creating great customer experience.

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