Know What Problem You Solve

Jaime Casap, Google’s Education Evangelist, said this:

“Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. Ask them what problem they want to solve.”

You might be caught up in your day-to-day work, constantly trying to keep on top of everything and fighting all the everyday challenges in your job or business. But it’s worth stopping to take stock and ask the question:

“What customer problem are we solving here?”

Too many businesses fall in love with their own products, services, systems, processes, and solutions. They forget about the problems they solve for their customers and clients. They find a cure for which there’s no known disease.

Of course, you must know your stuff – what matters to you, what you stand for, what you know, and how you create value in the world. But also obsess about what your clients and customers want, and present your solutions in ways that solve their problems.

Many businesses start with a strong customer focus, and obsess about how they can solve their customers’ problems or help them achieve their goals. But over time, as the business grows and needs to support itself, that obsession fades, as other “essential” work takes its place.

For example, imagine a budding entrepreneur of primary school age selling lemonade on a hot day, from the footpath outside her home, to people walking by. All she wants to do is help solve their problem (thirst).

If her little business grows into a large organisation, she will spend more and more time solving other people’s problems, such as: the local council, ATO, other government agencies, staff members, suppliers, shareholders, media, and community groups.

The thirsty customer – who was once her top priority – soon falls down the pecking order. She spends all her time and energy serving other people to keep the business running, forgetting that its original purpose was to solve a customer’s problem.

Just to be clear, it’s not inherently wrong to solve other people’s problems in the business, especially if you’re in a leadership role. It only becomes a problem when that doesn’t ultimately help a customer solve their problem as well.

Be sure you identify their real problem, and don’t just offer a convenient solution to an easier problem. For example, if you offer a loyalty discount to regular customers, that might represent a real benefit to those customers (and helps them save money, which does solve a real problem). But if you force them to bring their membership card to gain the discount, that doesn’t solve their problem (it solves yours).

As a simple (but possibly sobering) exercise, look at all your activity in the past week, and count how many hours you spent on work that solved real customer problems. If you don’t deal directly with customers, you can include time helping other people who do, but be sure you only include activities that help them solve customer problems. Then ruthlessly work at eliminating all this other “dead time”.

Do You Really Know Their Problems?

Do you really know what problems your customers and clients have now? Are you sure? The products and services you offer now might have solved your customer’s problems in the past, but the customer of the future might be very different. So be sure you know what they want, and then build new products and services to solve their problems.

Exercise: What’s Your Problem?

Make a list of the things you do regularly in your job or business – for example, reading and deleting e-mail, making sales appointments, running a weekly staff meeting, filling in a form, recording expenses, following up customers after a sale, and so on. For each, rate them from 0-5 based on how much they really solve a customer’s problem:

  • 5: Customers say this this solves a real problem in their life
  • 4: This is required by some external party (e.g. completing a form for the ATO or ASIC)
  • 3: This solves a team member’s problem (e.g. a weekly staff meeting that helps the team collaborate better)
  • 2: This solves a problem for me (e.g. keeping my inbox empty to reduce stress)
  • 1: This solves another department’s problem (e.g. completing a purchasing request form)
  • 0: This doesn’t solve any problem at all!

Then, for anything that doesn’t rate a 5, decide how to improve, adapt, or eliminate it. The lower the rating, the more it’s likely to be a candidate for the chopping block. Remember: If you don’t solve their problems, they will find somebody else who will!


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