According to the old adage, “the customer is always right.” That is a sales precept since time immemorial, one that has become the standard rule for dealing with customers.

customer behaviorBut according to Entrepreneur, based on research and data, the adage is also very flawed for three reasons: One, the customer doesn’t always know what he or she wants; two, the customer sometimes thinks he or she knows but they’re wrong; and three, the customer may know but doesn’t tell the truth.

Here are four tips, courtesy of Entrepreneur, for divining customer wants and needs:

1. Reduce surveys and “be honest with me” conversations. The problem with surveys is that not only are they time-consuming and labor-intensive but very often you may not get enough responses to give the findings much weight. Or as Entrepreneur puts it, “results often prove that customer intent doesn’t match future behavior.”

As for having free and unfettered conversations with friends, advisers and survey participants, avoid at all costs. It sounds good in theory but rarely works in practice, because most of the time people may not want to disappoint an entrepreneur who has invested so much of his or her energy and resources launching a company.

2. Get accurate, unfiltered customer feedback. Customer support calls and e-mails are great ways to solicit impartial customer feedback. There’s an anonymity that makes people honest versus face-to-face exchanges where they might feel socially compelled to adhere to decorum and only spout favorable responses, even if they don’t mean it.

But be forewarned. You may hear very negative feedback and punctuated with intemperate language. On the other hand, if you are intent on building your business, you will have to hear both the good and the bad.

3. Observe real actions. Just because someone says something doesn’t make it so. Use analytics to see how often customers or prospects visit your web site. This information can lay the groundwork for using analytics to predict other customer behaviors.

4. Take a little step into big data. Now that you’re using data-finding tools to observe customer behavior, go further in your analysis. Examine the language and phrases customers have used from support calls, emails, chats and surveys to determine if there’s a pattern or trend.

Also, analyze current behavioral trends to predict future behaviors. This could result in finding correlations such as “customers who upload photos are under 30 and may refer friends” or “people who use a certain credit card are infrequent buyers.”

Source: 4 Steps to Knowing What Your Customers Want Better Than They Do

Image: Thinkstock

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