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Listen and Learn

Wonder what customers really want? Just ask them.

This story appears in the November 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Interview 100,000 customers, and you get an idea of what they want. That's what T. Scott Gross did before writing his book When Customers Talk... Turn What They Tell You Into Sales. Here, he shares some of his insights.

What's the biggest mistake independent retailers make?

Retailers build businesses they like and assume the rest of the world will like them, too. It's surprising to find out that our tastes may be different than everyone else's.

So what exactly do customers want from independent retailers?

Five main things: Starting with No. 5, fast service. Once they've decided to buy, they want the transaction to be over with quickly. Then, they want to deal with [retailers that] are easy to do business with--to walk in the store, find what they want to find and get out. They want a fair price and a good value--not cheap, but a reasonable price. And [they want] to feel like what they're spending is worth it.

And the top two?

Even more than price, they said they wanted caring help staff. [They want] a salesperson who puts the customer ahead of the sale, who might even have the courage to say, "I don't think this is the right one for you." And more than anything, they want help staff to be available, but not intrusive.