Last Updated on 20 August 2017

Often what we identify as a problem or opportunity isn’t the true problem. At times our focus may be too narrow preventing us from solving the larger issue causing the problem.

Let’s imagine we operate a specialty wine, cheese, and bread store.

Our challenge is: Customers don’t purchase our specialty products frequently enough.

Our first reaction may be to create a promotion to drive traffic. Perhaps create coupons, have a product sale, something like that… But let’s ask WHY and see where that takes us…

Customers don’t purchase our specialty products frequently enough.

WHY is that?
A) Because customers perceive these products as something only for special occasions.

WHY is that?
B) Our broad selection of products and prices can be intimidating.

WHY is that?
C) We offer so many choices it can be hard to choose the right product.

WHY is that?
D) Customers don’t want to make a (relatively) expensive mistake and buy the wrong item. They don’t want to be embarrassed in front of their guests for having food items that don’t go well together.

Hmmm… Seems the real problem is that we need to reduce customer risk. It’s not about coupons or discounts.

So we’ve learned a few things by asking why, why, why. Now, we’ll look for potential solutions by asking how, how, how about these discoveries.

Look for More – Ask How

Now take the same comments and rephrase them as HOW questions…

A) HOW do we change the perception that our products are only for special occasions?

Possible solutions include…

  • Hire employees who share and demonstrate the values: “Life is too short to consume crummy wine, cheese, and bread.”
  • Provide recipe cards featuring everyday quick/easy to prepare recipes.
  • Make ingredient labels HUGE. Customers will see the price they pay for the less expensive/common brands are artificial colors, flavorings, and preservatives.
  • Make sure your store hours are most convenient for customers. If you need them to make a special trip to your location – make sure you’re open when they need you.

B) HOW do we make selection less intimidating?

Possible solutions include…

  • Create a color scheme for products that taste/pair well. A blue-label wine goes with the blue-label cheese and the blue-label bread.
  • Sell in pre-measured portions: Enough for 1 cup used in a recipe. Enough for your party of eight people.
  • Use shelves that display the products so labels are clear and easy to read.
  • Arrange the product in the store according to common cuisines and specific entrees. This section is: Italian. The meal: pasta with meatballs.
  • These are the recommended wines, cheeses, and breads that complement that meal.

C) HOW can we help reduce the challenge of decision-making?

Possible solutions include…

  • Reduce the variety of products we carry – fewer of each type of bread, cheese, and wine.
  • Only carry wine or cheese or bread, not all three.
  • Break the store into three little stores – one section for each product type.
  • Pre-package a wine, a cheese, and bread together as one item. The customer knows bundled items taste great together.

D) HOW do we reduce customers feeling that they’ll make mistakes and help them avoid embarrassment?

Possible solutions include…

  • Offer and promote a money-back guarantee. If you’ve purchased something you didn’t like – we’ll cheerfully replace it with another choice – no questions asked.
  • Offer a website where customers enter flavor likes/dislikes as well as the specific meal they are serving. The site prepares a printable list of suggested wines, cheeses, and breads that complement the meal.
  • Allow customers to taste anything in the store before they purchase.
  • Hire someone to walk around the store – dedicated only to answering customer questions and providing taste samples.

Nice work. Keep going until you really feel you’ve exhausted all the options. Push to extremes.

Next time you have a challenge, dig deeper into the real issue behind your problem by asking a series of WHY questions. Then, develop solutions by asking a series of HOW questions.