What the Customer Really Wants by Scott McKain

In What Customers Really Want, McKain argues that the experience of the customer is the most important aspect of a business transaction. Regardless of what type of business you are involved with, McKain believes that a good experience trumps everything else. He follows that up with several other areas in which a business’ fail to meet customer expectations.

The one major shortfall of this work is in this: McKain underestimates the power of commodity pricing. He argues that you cannot compete with Walmart and that you should not even try. In fact, he argues that it is the Walmart experience that brings people back. The price is what drives Walmart’s business, not the experience. If I had enough money, I would never shop at Walmart. Walmart tends to be dirty and the employees are rude. Why do I go back? I can’t afford to shop at the nicer stores. McKain seems a bit oblivious to this fact.

Now, is price the final motivator for me in a purchase? No, quality is the most important factor. I want to get the best value for my dollar and I think that most people agree. Walmart manages to balance price and quality in the right proportions for most people.

Still, I want to recommend that you read this book. McKain details some excellent insights regardless of this blind spot. Many business’ claim capitalism and then act like a dictatorship. The business tells the customer what the customer wants. Business’ do this by not listening to customer comments, by the choices they make in which products they stock and don’t stock, and by rewarding certain behaviors. How about running your business under capitalistic philosophies? Ask the consumer what he wants and give that to them…. Let’s face it: the customer knows what they want. If we don’t waste time of trying to convince the customer to buy something that they do not want, we can spend the money on making what they do want even better.

If you are in business anywhere, this is a profitable book. Even if all this book does is jog your memory or inspire a line of thinking, then it was worth reading. Unlike some business books, this is an easy read and every chapter is profitable.


5 thoughts on “What the Customer Really Wants by Scott McKain

  1. I think McKain is right in saying that experience is the most important part of a business transaction. Matt, you are mistaken to assume that pricing and quality are not part of the experience. There are very successful business that charge more, but offer quality experiences. For instance, Starbucks, is about experience not just the quality and price, Apple is about experience not just about quality and price.

    The realization that experience makes a difference is a recent idea in the business world. Most Business through the years have based thier business style on the idea that low cost and high quality are the most important. However, in the recent years experience has been discovered to be the most important part of a business transactions. Example of these out of date business style would be McDonalds where price matters most, Many Grocery stores (most which the Super walmarts have out competed)

    But don’t forget that there are ways to be successful without offering great experiences. One such company is Microsoft, where they created a monopoly, but most customers experiences are not very great, although they are working on that. Linux, could compete with microsoft if they could give customers wonderful experiences with linux. As of now, people are going to linux because of Microsofts poor experiences. Another Succesful tactic is controling the supply, which is what Walmart does by buying up most of the product on the market, therefore being able to control prices and thereby control experiences.

    McKain says you cannot compete with Walmart, which is true. He also says you shouldn’t try to compete, which is also true. If a small business thinks he can compete out of his league, that business will never survive.

    How Does Walmart bring people back? Their appearance! they are clean, bright white lights which brightens up customers attitudes, Vaulted ceilings you don’t feel closed in. Friendly staff at least during the 9-9 hours, I was in one walmart after midnight and wow talk about a different face. [Couldn’t blame them] They have low prices along with decent quality for the price.

    Even after all that, there will always be customers that can never be pleased.

  2. I think you misunderstood. I did not want to denegrate the idea that “experience” is an important part of the equation. I was attempting to argue that “experience” isn’t the most important part. It is simply a portion of the equation. In the end, out of the three: price, quality, and experience, I would argue that quality is most important and experience is least important.

    If I had enough money not to care, then I would probably rank experience higher, but alas! Frugality forms my view.

  3. In other words, you are saying that no matter how bad your experience is, you will contiune to do business with that company? Of, course you will say no, cause you do feel experience at some level to be important. But what experience would it take for you to “Quit” shopping at Walmart? I guess thats how you would tell how important experience is!

    I would bet, that if you experienced a sudden increase in prices at walmart you would change your mind about going there. Or you experience a sudden drop in the quality of products you recieved at Walmart? How would that affect you? Are they not experiences? That you regard more highly then experience?

    What do you see the difference with the experiences that i mentioned above and the “Experience” that McKain refers to? You seem to make a distinction, but Does McKain?

  4. I’m honored that you would take the time and make the effort to discuss my book. Perhaps my point about Wal-Mart was misunderstood — I should have been clearer, I’m sorry. What I was attempting to suggest is that price simply cannot be the single factor in Wal-Mart’s success — or else how do you explain K-Mart’s decent into bankruptcy? Wal-Mart didn’t become #1 on the Fortune 500 because they sold Tide so much cheaper than K-Mart. There HAD to be something else. I would suggest it was because for their target (pardon the pun) market, they provided a significantly superior experience. We may — undoubtably — disagree on the quality of that experience. However, Wal-Mart isn’t the ONLY place with low prices where one can shop. In fact, their primary competitor, Target, fights with them more on experience than a few cents on price…which I would suggest proves the point.

    Again…thanks for reading and the valuable critique.

  5. I appreciate your point. Wal-Mart has succeded over K-Mart for some very good reasons. Experience is certainly part of it; K-Mart feels dead when you enter the store. But, that doesn’t convince me that the difference is in the experience.

    I believe that the main difference between Wal-Mart and everyone else is found on the backend of the store. It is in their supply chain and data warehousing techniques. Wal-Mart has the most advanced system worldwide for Just In Time (JIT) inventory. For example, right after 9/11/2001, Walmart did a search in their data warehouse and discovered that people were buying up all patriotic symbols, flags and stickers. Within 48 hours, Wal-Mart had every available product in the country stocked in a store. This left everyone else with only what they had on hand or in their corporate warehouse.

    The point is not that Wal-Mart doesn’t have a better experience then K-Mart, but that they manage the operation better which allows those pennies to last longer than the competition’s pennies. In the end, Wal-Mart has money to use for the experience – albeit a poor experience that it is.

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