Your Customers Lie to You

A McDonald's executive, participating in the always-fascinating IamA series on Reddit, writes:

Our customers want mediocre food cheap. Every time we release a higher priced but higher quality product, the people who said they would pay for it… never do.

You say you want more fruits, salads, organic, all natural, etc. well then start buying that stuff and stop buying double cheeseburgers. Our best selling stuff is always whatever we can make taste good, at rock bottom prices.

We've actually learned not to listen to our customers when it comes to a lot of things. Health nuts won't come into McDonald's to eat even when we give them what they want.

As entrepreneurs we cannot blindly listen to our customers. They lie to us. Here's my old post titled Listening to Customers is Harder Than it Seems.

Given that customers lie, sometimes we have to extract information indirectly. Instead of asking customers how much they would pay for a hypothetical product, ask them how much they're currently paying for however it is they're solving the problem that you are trying to solve.

Other times, it can work to ask a direct question but discount the words that come out of their mouth and pay attention to body language. It would be fun to come up with a list of questions that elicit non-useful verbal answers but useful body language answers. In the past I've proposed, "Do you have self-confidence?" Steve Jobs asks employees, "Why are you here?"

Finally, actions speak louder than words. Just as your calendar never lies — how you spend your time says more about your priorities than your stated priorities — what customers actually buy and do is more instructive than what they say they'll do.

8 comments on “Your Customers Lie to You
  • Great post. Real wisdom here. Politicians understand this also: the political agenda is not something received from a constituency, it’s something created in the minds of constituents. That’s what spin is all about (or marketing, if you will.)

    As Merlin Mann said, it doesn’t matter what you say your priorities are, whatever you’re doing right now: that’s your priority.

  • So True! I have always been a big fan of Blue Ocean Strategy for launching a product or company. The idea is that you go where the competition isnt – to a service that isn’t being offered. This worked extremely well when launching my company – World 50.

    But, when going Blue Ocean you can’t rely on tweaking someone elses product to differentiate. You have to start clean slate. This requires a delicate balance of outsourcing your value prop development to the customer, and making sure what you are hearing from them they will actually pay for.

    There is no silver bullet, other than to move as quickly as possible from comment to commitment, and adjust as necessary.

    Rick Smith

  • Well…important caveats apply to the original quote. Let’s not pretend that McDonald’s has ever made a clear effort to truly win the “health nuts” over. Throwing some sickly green lettuce and pale tomatoes into a plastic pail doesn’t exactly count. Is it “higher quality” than the regular swill, sure, but does it meet the customer’s expectations of difference?

    Would we call this lying, or not meeting expectations? Is what you heard what the customer said? The health food market clearly disagrees with this particular person’s analysis of the situation.

    Not saying customers don’t mislead, even if they think they are telling the truth, but a lot has to be said about the salesman in question, as well.

  • Agree with Kevin completely. It’s McDonald’s executive that is lying.

    As an Indian vegetarian, I am exposed to a variety of veg delicacies and not just boiled lettuce, spinach, cabbage and sliced carrots / tomatoes. There is a whole lot available to cook deliciously in such variety and every westerner who has visited us have been guest to. They have all liked it and left with an exclamation why the western world is so blinded.

    I thought it was only the international flights / restaurants abroad that think vegetarian means bland boiled leaves. Food is a nightmare for Indian vegetarians while touring abroad. But McDonald’s Executive with his firm’s presence across continents can’t be saying so. It suits him to play dumb so that he doesn’t have to sweat on adaptation, if not outright innovation or creative original thinking that suits the diverse customer palate. Easy way out, go blame the customer (for not buying what shit he made!)

  • Fair point, Krishna. I still think though that customers lie to themselves
    about what they want — and saying you want healthy food is easy, eating
    healthy food is hard.

  • Ben – I agree, I just had to take exception with the particular example. I think the trend is often valid, just poking the requisite holes.

    To paraphrase Von Moltke: “No blog post survives first contact with the commenters.”

  • I spewed my black and tan when I read the smug retorts of that conscienceless McDonald’s executive.

    I was most disgusted by his description of their marketing meetings:

    “We are really good at marketing to get you to think what we want. The marketing meetings are hilarious. They’re all about manipulation.”

    Considering that so much of McDonald’s marketing is aimed at children, this attitude is an abomination and the people sitting in on those meetings are evil slime, especially this cowardly smirking hypocrite with his million dollar plus compensation package.

    As consumers, we cannot blindly trust product manufacturers, especially food conglomerates like McDonald’s that shovel out exceedingly unhealthy food not fit to feed pigs, much less children. They lie to us everyday and spend billions to do it effectively.

    I’ll never forget the astonishment and anger I felt when I called the publisher of a travel guide to complain that one of the businesses listed therein actually offered almost none of the amenities advertised.

    He told me in a voice dripping with sarcasm, as if he were speaking to a pestiferous dolt, “But that’s what advertising is.”

    Obviously this is the attitude of marketing at Ronald’s house.

    I well remember how these corporate scum claimed their french fries were fried in vegetable oil, all the while serving them up cooked in lard.

    Vegetarians should know better than to eat any of McDonald’s saturated fat- and chemical-laden food, anyway.

    I say, a pox on McDonald’s and all its lying executives.

  • I don’t think he’s lying. McDonalds weighs out the cost of offering high quality foods that would appeal to the “Whole Foods”/Organic types and obviously it’s not in their best interest (profits). They made the business decision that they don’t need to cater to the health nut because the return on investment isn’t there. They can spend less on the lesser quality foods and charge less but still make more money.

    No one is making the customer eat at McDonald’s. If people weren’t willing to pay lower quality foods, then McDonald’s wouldn’t sell it. They would sell what people will buy (and to the point of this article, what they will actually buy not what they SAY they want).

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