Customers Are People Too: They Want Promises, Not Just Products

Businesses can still take lessons from our more holistic understanding of what a customer is, explains Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley.

Not long ago, the fall of the rational consumer sent shockwaves through the world of economics. Although the rational consumer was a theoretical construction, it was a seamless one in which a person's behavior was largely determined by the desire to maximize utility — most often the utility of a purchased good or service.


But that model fell away as the social sciences saw how our behavior was conditioned by irrational biases and social conditions that overwhelmed our narrow self-interest. Behavioral economists like Dan Ariely began to study the ways in which humans were "predictably irrational," even giving his book that very title.

Businesses can still take lessons from our more holistic understanding of what a customer is, explains Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley. Individuals do not suddenly exit their real lives when they need to buy dental insurance or a new outfit. In fact, they bring their own set of values to the table when looking to buy what they need.

Companies must therefore sell products to real people. And what do real people want? They want promises about the quality of the product they're buying; they want to be put first; they want to enter into a relationship and have a dialogue. 

When customers are put first, companies succeed. But businesses also need short-term measures of success to determine if their target customer is buying their product. Crucially, that measure of success is not a quarterly earnings statement, says Lafley. In this Big Think Edge lesson, Lafley explains how his company has successfully changed its customer pitch over time.

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