Alice Bentinck spells out the distinction between “customer requirements” and “what customers say they want” in a post titled You’re Doing Lean Wrong.
What the customer wants or needs might not be exactly what they say they want or need. Bentinck cites Henry Ford’s clever adage: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Lean is not about asking customers what they want, but about bringing clear and well structured hypotheses to the table that you can test with them. The hypothesis Ford was trying to solve was do customers want to get from A to B faster? The answer was yes, but the solution was still in development.”
Sometimes, what the customer says is exactly what they want. But at times, good customer service means digging into the customer requirements more deeply, translating what customers say into that testable hypothesis.
Students, for example, might tell you they want an A+ grade, when in fact “effective ways of learning the course material” is the real customer requirement.
As Bentinck suggests, one of the best ways to find out what customers really want and need is by trying that hypothesis out with customers. Instead of surveying customers, letting them try prototypes or even showing them sketches can provide better answers.