Making assumptions about what your customers want from you, could be killing your business.

We all know this story. We send an email or leave a message, then receive no reply. Scenarios start running through your head. You build a story in your head - he might be busy. But he seemed really keen, then nothing. Check that email, did I come across too pushy? Maybe he just changed his mind? This endless stream of assumptions keeps you stuck.

Or someone comes into your business. You instantly make a mental note of what they’re like before they even open their mouth. We look at what they’re wearing, their accent, everything we see on the surface. Then it triggers a memory or a long-held belief, and all of a sudden, this person you’ve never met before has been neatly boxed up.

Gail Tolstoi-Miller spotlights this reaction in her TEDx talk  Unconscious bias: Stereotypical hiring practices. A recruiter will make a decision based on assumptions within 6 seconds of reviewing applications. For example, they could look at your photo and instantly put you in the No pile.

I’m dyslexic, so people assume I’m stupid. Really. A couple of teacher friends slowed their vocal speed after I made the confession.

But it’s the way our brains are wired – it’s information that your mind takes in and drives what happens next.

We all do it, every day, in nearly all our relationships. We assume we know what people think and what they need.

But in businesses, it doesn’t take long for assumptions to turn around and bite you.

An assumption is not based on truth. It’s no more than a guess with nothing to back it up with.

The problem is that making an assumption is easy.

As our lives get busier, we need a few shortcuts. So making a few innocent assumptions just makes sense. Well, that is till you get it wrong. And as Albert Einstein said, “Assumptions are made, and all assumptions are wrong.”

And that’s a major problem in business. We’re rushing around on our to-do lists, making decisions on the fly. But if they’re based on an assumption, and if Einstein is right and all assumptions are wrong, then that decision is also wrong.

Check out my YouTube video on Assumptions

Now that seemingly simple decision could cost you a team member or customer. And given your business is all about building customers, that’s not exactly the smartest way of working.

But we are still making assumptions every day. In fact, it’s the biggest obstacle to a business’s growth.

That’s because it stops us from understanding our customers’ real motivations behind why they buy in the first place.

Assumptions and Business Growth are Linked

But it’s even deeper than that. Let’s say you’ve been in business for some time. Things are ticking along nicely. You’re in regular contact with your customers and they’re happy. So why change it? The problem for growth, and even remaining viable into the future, is that there are potential customers you’re not tapping into. The big question that must be answered is why don’t they buy from us? And, what do we need to do to change that?

But too often, we get stuck with our assumptions and can’t move past them.

When You Have To Make Assumptions

Yes, there are times when you have to make assumptions. But make it clear what those are.

Here’s a tip. For example, you make an assumption to not upgrade a system or modify the product in some way. Write down the assumption you based that decision on. Then keep track of it. If the market changes in any way that sheds new light on that assumption, you can revisit that decision.

The most famous assumption that backfired is Blockbuster Video. They assumed the internet wasn’t something that would be available in all homes - quite apart from other assumptions. But had they documented and revisited that assumption, it might have been a different story.

It’s when we challenge assumptions that we create something new, innovative.

It Went Wrong From The Start

It started when you laid the foundations of your business. I’m going to assume you were like many start-ups, on a tight budget. That meant market research went to the bottom of your list. You might have done some basic desk-research, and maybe talked to a couple of people you knew. But that was about it. You opened your doors, and fortunately, it went OK. Well you’re still in business. And that’s fantastic if all you want to do is stay at your current level. And risk becoming irrelevant.

The market is constantly changing. You’re sitting in a comfortable position, then one day a competitor sneaks up behind you. They saw the opportunity you missed. Which means they are better at serving the needs of your customers. Don't beat yourself up, but it is time to change it.

Hearing aids or Multimedia devices? 

The hearing aid market was controlled by strict medical regulations. Devices could only be manufactured, prescribed and fitted by a specialist.  They assumed competitors from outside their industry couldn’t touch them.

No doubt they knew their product wasn’t being used as much as it should be. Let’s face it, the old ones looked terrible, and they had screeching issues. So it’s no doubt why they invested heavily in tech, making them almost invisible.  BUT the aids are costly because of their outdated business model.

Leaving it wide open to someone looking for opportunities.  As quoted in the International Journal of Audiology. 80% of people over 55 years who need a hearing aid, either don’t have one or don’t use it.

Dig a little deeper, and analysts predict the market will grow from its current $8 billion to around $40 billion this decade.

The industry was cocky, no one else could market a product and call it a hearing aid. So they stuck to the status quo, thinking newer designs and features would continue to protect them.

But that’s where they totally missed the point.  The term “hearing aid” was the problem.  Allowing disruptors outside the assumption-based industry to ask ‘WHY’

Why do they have to be called hearing aids?  Why do they have to be so expensive?  Why can’t they be something more than just medical?

So by setting aside the assumptions, they were able to explore customers’ needs and deliver a better, cheaper option. 

Now you have many big players like Bose & Apple entering what used to be a controlled market, along with some pretty cool newbies.  They’ve taken the stigma away from hearing aids - and transformed them into multimedia devices.

Making better decisions

As assumptions are guesses and have no basis of truth, then the fix is to challenge the assumptions. Have a conversation with the person you’re making an assumption about. Put aside your prejudices, reach out to them, start a conversation. Accept that sometimes we have bad days so your relationship might not get off to a good start.

A powerful example of this in action is this heartfelt short film by Marcus Markou, Two Strangers That Meet Five Times.

And the same can be said for your customers. Don’t base your decisions about what they  want and need on something as cold as a customer satisfaction score. Instead, have a real conversation. Only then can you put aside your guesses and make decisions based on truth.

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