Customers Don’t Say What They Really Mean

Customers often say one thing, but mean another. Decoding the true meaning behind their words is essential to your business’ success. So, check out this insightful article I came across on, and become the translator your business needs.

By Charlie Graham, special to Overdrive.

Here are eight common comments, translated for you–plus some advice on what you should and shouldn’t do about it.

“Your website should be more like [your competitor’s].”
  • What they mean: “I really like [your competitor] and think your site is pretty close to theirs, but I really prefer Site X.”
  • Don’t: Just make your site more like Site X
  • Do: Figure out what makes you different, and change your site to reflect that. You want your site to be so different from your competitor’s that there really is no comparison.

“I would pay for this service.”

  • What they mean: “I might pay for this service. But I don’t want to hurt your feelings, so I’ll just tell you I will.”
  • Don’t: Assume people who say in a survey or focus group they will buy something would actually buy.
  • Do: Put it to the test. Instead of asking people, “Would you pay?” or “How much would you pay?” actually try to make the sale. Ask for credit card information, and see what percentage complete the transaction. You’ll get a much more accurate answer.

“Add Feature X now!”

  • What they mean: “I think I have a problem, and Feature X is the best solution I could think of, but I am open to a better solution if you have one.”
  • Don’t: Just implement features based on customer recommendations.
  • Do: Probe further. Ask the customer why he or she wants that feature, and offer alternative solutions. You may end up discovering a much bigger problem–or a better solution.

“I like your product.”

  • What they mean: “I don’t love your product.”
  • Don’t: Rest on your laurels. Now that they like you, it’s your responsibility to work even harder.
  • Do: Celebrate that you got this far, but come up with as many ways as you can to move that like to love.

“Is there a coupon I can use on your site?”

  • What they mean: “I am going to go with the cheapest price I can possibly find. If it is not you, then I’ll just go somewhere else. I have no real loyalty to you. Sorry.”
  • Don’t: Rush to give them a coupon (unless you have a lower cost structure than all of your competitors).
  • Do: Be willing to give up this customer to focus on the ones who will value your site even more. Better yet, get rid of that coupon field altogether.

“I use your product all the time.”

  • What they mean: “I remember using your product at least once in the recent past.”
  • Don’t: Take them at their word. People have selective memory–they might just not remember how much (or little) they use your product.
  • Do: Compare what they say with their real usage. If you have a website or point-of-sale system, look up their actual history. We’ve found that customers are often way off the mark–and the discrepancy goes in both directions.

“It would be great if you had social-sharing options.” Or, for that matter, “It would be great if you had a mobile app,” or “It would be great if you had [insert latest trend].”

  • What they mean: They may genuinely mean this–or they may just be hearing about new trends and suggesting you jump on board.
  • Don’t: Call in that app developer (yet).
  • Do: Ask probing follow-up questions to assess whether they’d really use those social tools–and how much you’d benefit. A couple of questions to ask are “How often do you share with friends from other sites?” and “What mobile apps do you use on a daily basis?”

“This is super cool; I really like the idea/concept.”

  • What they mean: “I have a favorable first impression but may not be entirely certain what to do first.”
  • Don’t: Think you are done and start celebrating. Far from it.
  • Do: Get to the root of what they think they like; probe for specifics. Ask: “Where would you click?” or “What would you do at this point?” to determine whether the user understands and is taking the desired action. Even better: Keep asking people until you find someone who says, “I must use this every day,” and work hard to make the experience even better.


Do you have your own examples of what customers say versus what they mean? Add them in the comments below!


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