Talking in your customers language

A really important lesson that I’ve learned (and re-learned) over the years is to talk in your customers language. It’s important that you make a connection with your customers and a really of the same mind in terms of what their needs are (see also Who are your customers and what do they ask for?). The key to this is understanding their problem – your customers will talk in the language of problems not necessarily solutions. Too often we go into solution mode and try and show that we can solve problems, but we often miss clarifying and deeply understanding the nature of the problem that they’re tackling.

I’ve learned that in the early sales conversations with customers it’s important to draw out these conversations. Start to understand the problem with the customer and ask probing questions to really get into the detail. As we ask about it, we gain deeper insight – maybe there is more than just one problem, maybe the problem is different to what the customer originally thought (perhaps they’re describing symptoms), maybe there’s actually a more pressing problem than the one that they lead with. In doing so, we start to evolve are language and thinking into what the customer is describing – this will help us down the track when we’re framing solutions because we can more directly answer the questions raised around problems.

A lesson that I learned way back in university in a different context is still very relevant for business and customers. In that context, my criminal law lecturer told us that if we’re appearing before a judge that we’re not familiar with – do some research, go sit in their courtroom and listen to the language that they use. Then, when you’re giving your argument, do so using the language and particular words that the judge has favoured. They’re more likely to listen and connect with your argument. The same can be said for customers in your business – understand their perspective on the world and reflect that back to them. It will help you make a deeper connection with them and it also makes it more likely that you’ll be able to solve their particular problem. At the very least, it shows that you’ve listened and it may take you to the next step in that sales process.

In our Kanban System Design class, we go through STATIK where the first step is to “Understand points of dissatisfaction”. That is – we’re trying to understand problems faced by the customers of the service and the team(s) providing it. In every aspect of business we really need to understand these problem first – spend some time in conversation – ask questions, probe different aspects of the problem. Essentially get that deeper understanding. Then as we go through the remainder of the STATIK process, we should always refer back to the problem – especially when we’re designing the kanban system, that’s where we should solve the problem.

In our Kanban Maturity Model class, we talk about how you want to avoid overreaching. One common form of overreaching is that you might want to try and install a “perfect” system. In other words, you’re trying to solve not just the current core problems, but others that you think might crop up in the future. This can often be futile and lead to a rollback of maturity or other kinds of failures. This often occurs because we’re no longer talking the language of our customer – their problems. Their immediate need. You’re going too deeply into solution mode. If you can solve the immediate need, new / next level problems will start to emerge. As they do so, you can start to come up with better countermeasures more in direct response to the problem – and you’ll have better information into what that problem is.

Your customers language is the language of problems. In order to be able to produce a fit for purpose service, you need to speak in the language of problems – indeed you must learn to “love the problem”. This is not just a once off conversation – this is a reoccurring need as organisations evolve their maturity. Talk to your customers in the language of their problem – as we do in Kanban – and you’ll find a much more rewarding relationship.