The Difference Between Customer Needs vs. Wants

needs vs wants

Last week I decided the time had come for me to upgrade my iPhone SE to a newer model. Yes. I know. The iPhone SE is like owning a fossil today. But, the difference between me as a consumer and so many others who want the latest technology regardless of cost is that I always weigh my need for a smart phone against what I want in value. I’ve hung onto my old phone because, once it had been paid off, I was able to enjoy a very affordable monthly plan. Increasing my monthly payment is not something I need, but since I want a better user experience, my options are limited.

So, as a long-time customer of Sprint, I went to my local Sprint store to look at the phones they have available, I noticed that the not-so-old iPhone 8 is still an option to purchase. And, it is considerably cheaper than the newest, iPhone X. When the salesperson asked me about my need to upgrade, I told him I have been a long-time (loyal) iPhone user and that I now want a larger screen and better photos. He also heard me say that as much as I may feel a need to upgrade, I want (if possible) to keep my monthly payments to as close as they are now.

As we discuussed the differences between the “X” and “8,” I was surprised that he volunteered that the “8” is, in his opinion, actually a better phone than the “X.” It would give me the features I need at the savings I want. What he said next was music to my ears. “If you can wait until after the first of the month, the “8” will be on sale for half off.” Heck yes, I can wait. And, that salesperson reaffirmed why I’ve been a loyal customer of Sprint for almost 20 years. Outside of a couple minor instances that were quickly resolved, they’ve always treated me right.

When customers come to you, they are coming because they need whatever service or product you sell. This need is what gets them in your door. But, even though they may all need the same thing, they may all have totally different wants.

Needs are apparent and giving your customers those needs is necessary if you wish to remain in business. Wants are the emotional experience of purchasing and using the needs and delivering on those wants will distinguish your business from others. Do you know how to identify and address those wants to not only get the original sale but keep them coming back for more?

As an example, when it comes to upgrading my phone, I put value above my need. Without the value, I won’t buy—at least not right away. Wanting value does not mean I want cheap. I’m not willing to sacrifice quality for price. The salesperson at Sprint heard me say I am a loyal iPhone user and Sprint customer. He never tried to direct me to a cheaper device outside of the Apple brand. Why? Because he really listened to what I was saying and didn’t make uneducated assumptions.

How closely are you listening to your customers to understand their wants?

Some customers are not as concerned about price as they are the level of service they receive. How customer focused are you? Others may be more focused on the convenience and efficiency your business offers. How easy do you make it to do business with you? Some customers make interaction their priority. How personable, warm and friendly are you and your team? Each customer prioritizes their wants differently.

But, knowing what your customers want is as important as providing them with what they need if you want to transform them into loyal raving fans—and if you want to remain in business into the future.

I’ve been taking my car to the same mechanic for over 20 years because, even though I NEED someone to take care of my auto repairs, I WANT a mechanic that will fix it right the first time and who will be honest and not take advantage of me. I love going to Walt Disney World with my wife every fall because we NEED a vacation. But what we really WANT is time to relax and to feel valued, special and important for a few days—the same things my customers want from me. When I go to a Ruth Chris Steakhouse, I NEED a meal but I know they’ll deliver what I really WANT—quality food and service. Think about the stores and businesses you patronize. You’re probably more loyal to some than others because they not only provide what you NEED, they know how to deliver what you WANT.

If you’re unsure what your customers want, chances are you’re guessing at it and you may be missing the mark completely and losing business because of it.

Do yourself a huge favor and listen more carefully when your customer speaks. Pay closer attention to their mood and emotions as they talk and to what they are saying through their body language. When do they appear enthused, skeptical or bored?

If you’re not getting a clear “reading” of their wants, reach out to them through a survey or conversation and ask them directly, “What is it you want most from a business like mine?” “Where do you think my business can improve?” The more you know about your customers, the easier it is to deliver on their wants. The more you deliver on those wants, the more loyal they’ll be.

Although I’m a proponent of surveys that require hand written responses because I believe those responses to be far more emotionally honest, you can also email online surveys to gain feedback. There are a number of online survey tools available to solicit feedback from your customers. SurveyMonkey and SurveyGizmo are two popular and easy to use survey tools. If you are working with a limited budget, Google Forms is a free alternative that offers basic survey functionality.

What you sell may be the best in the land and cause customers to clamor to your door to get what they need. But they can easily head to your competitor if you don’t provide them with what they want, as well. To gain a loyal customer, you must be able to understand and appreciate the whole customer so you can satisfy their every need AND want.

How do you differentiate what your customers need vs. their wants? Please leave your comments below.


This article authored by: Ron Ruth  |  Keynote SpeakerCustomer Experience Design Consultant & Coach, Founder of the #Inspiramaginativity Institute.

Learn to speak fluent “WOW!”—the language of high-paying customers who will also become your most loyal, raving fans. Contact Ron to speak at your upcoming event or to provide a special, Customer Experience training session for you and your team – email ron@ronruth.com or call (816) 224-4487.


“Ron’s presentations are full of the kind of energy and enthusiasm that keeps audience engaged and wanting more. And, his inspiring, imaginative and creative ideas for helping business owners and their teams ‘WOW!” their customers and remain top of mind, makes him a highlight of every conference.” – Rick Brewer, WeddingBusinessMarketing.com

“Ron Ruth has been an industry advocate and trainer for small business owners with our training team for nearly 10 years. Ron has shown a great grasp of understanding what it takes to move a business to the next level with engaging sales approaches, creativity, and customized outcomes based on the clients. ” – John Young, Publisher, Disc Jockey News

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