MD Peter Church asks the question: ‘Should we give customers what they want or only what they need?’

We are about to launch a new stainless steel version of our FB Professional Chain Wear Gauge. It is something our customers have been keen to get their hands on for many years. However, until now, we had been reluctant to produce one. Here’s why…

Despite the frequent requests, we tried hard to explain that a metal version simply wouldn’t offer anything that the original plastic one doesn’t already, apart from being a bit sturdier. But the customers persisted. Not 14 months ago, while having lunch at one of our leaf chain knowledge days, several customers explained why they thought this new product variant would be a good idea. I tried to frighten them off with a high price and a lack of additional features, but they still wanted one!

This got me thinking; do we as manufacturers and suppliers have a duty to give customers what they need i.e. what’s in their best interest as a company, or simply to give them what they want?

Steve Jobs made Apple one of the most successful companies of all time with the underlying thought that people don't know what they want until you show it to them. Products like Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad, all either redefined or created completely new product categories. While breakthrough products and services stand out and make great stories, I am sure there would be many more examples of people and businesses who have spent months or even years bringing new innovations to the market only to find no one is interested in buying them! In that respect, when your customer is outright telling you exactly what they want, you’d have to be a fool not to do something about it.

I like to think we have a successful business because we are knowledgeable about the sectors in which we operate and listen to our customers, providing them with products they want at a price they are willing to pay. We must, however, be careful not to lecture or jump in with a solution before we give our customers time to fully explain their needs and wants, and before we ensure we have the funds ready to create the solution.

So, in the next few weeks, we’ll be putting the ‘customers know what they want’ theory to the test as we launch a steel version of our chain wear gauge. Despite being reluctant in the beginning, I am strangely optimistic. After all, the original design was developed after carefully listening to our customers and supplying a solution. Even to this day, our patented design is still the only industrial chain wear gauge that shows you how worn you chain is.

I’ll let you know how we get on in a few months.