9 Tips for Hearing What the Customer Really Needs

When was the last time that you spoke with your customer at length about the things that are most important to them? When was the last time you asked yourself what you thought the customer might say to you if this question were posed? If you have been waiting for the most recent defect log to come out to determine whether you achieved what your customers asked of you, I’d like to suggest that you might be missing the boat.

In a person’s career, it is incredibly easy to get lost in the daily trivialities that make up one’s position. After several years, most jobs are mundane enough to allow the purveyor to perform the same tasks the same way, and said tasks then become second nature. Not a good thing. When a person gets to the point that he or she already knows how to do something, there ceases to be an initiative or tendency to ask how to do it better……because that person already knows and executes with thought.

This is exactly how customers (aka: stakeholders) get left out of the consultation process that would normally identify what they need.  As with the above example, if you already are the expert at doing, what do you need to ask your customer for advice for? Pesky customers.

If this is you…..please! For the sake of mankind, please step in front of a mirror and slap yourself in the face as hard as you can. Your stakeholders need you to pay attention to what THEY need, not what you think they need. Since you’ve knocked yourself into Realityville, how can you do this?

Here a few things that I like to share:

1. Talk Less. Listen More.

  • When you do talk, ensure that you are not the dominant speaker at anytime with a stakeholder. You are there to service them, not the other way around.

2. Listen, sure.

Then really HEAR what is being said. If you don’t understand the difference…..start searching on “listening vs hearing”.

3. Repeat what you HEAR, not the verbalized words.

Your customers (IT or Biz) will then know that you understand them.

4. Insert humility and humbleness

  • Indicate you want to do a better job and recognize some of your own misgivings.
  • Ask others to help you help them.

5. Coax and Draw Out conversation and dialog.

  • Resist the tendency to Present
  • Build on what they tell you, instead of them building on what you tell them.

6. Come prepared with sample teaser questions to get stakeholders collaborating, instead of, “Any questions?”

What would you ask of you if you were listening to you?

7. Follow-up conversation in writing and action items with delivery.

You said. I heard. Here it is….period.

8. Pick up the phone

Ask your customers (IT or Biz) what you can do better to meet their needs.

(Yes. I actually do this).

9. Enhance the relationships with your customers.

It doesn’t take much time or effort to be interested, compassionate and empathetic.

  • What is important?
  • Who just got a promotion or raise?
  • Who has family?
  • Whose kid is sick?
  • Who is going to school?
  • Who is having a bad day?

If you show you care about them as human beings first, and that you HEARD them when they said their kids were in their first play at school (or whatever), they are more likely to respond and help you help them……because they know you are a presence in their lives and pay attention.

Sure, in today’s callous world this is a bit gushy, but if you think I’m off my rocker, try it out. Each one of these items address a small portion of the basic question….”What is important to you as my customer?” No one said “important” was only applicable to work life.

Free Training - Quick Start to Success

(Stop the frustration and earn the respect
you deserve as a business analyst.)

Click here to learn more

By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Policy.


  1. Ron Werda says

    Great article Doug. I enjoy reading your contributions in other posts as well.

    Especially if one is in the service industry, as a BA or ???, this advice is and should be part of a professional’s cyclic introspective tune-up or pit stop routine. Indeed, timely and timeless advice!


    Ron (-the developing BA)

  2. Doug Goldberg says

    Sally thanks for reading and commenting on the article. It’s funny you should do so today, because I was just thinking this morning about how I’m losing my own way due to obligations on my project. What better way to get back in line with what’s important than to take a dose of my own medicine and refocus on my customer. I appreciate you pointing me in the right direction!

  3. Sally Boyd says

    Doug great article and a timeless topic! Many times I’ve seen BAs fail to build rapport with the stakeholders thinking perhaps it’s not necessary or a waste of time but it’s so important to build that trusting relationship so that when you do have points of contention that your customers will give you the benefit of the doubt and listen to your views. It’s the give and take that makes a successful team approach to problem solving – win-win.

  4. Isabella says

    @Jennifer: Oh yes, how much do I understand your last paragraph. In my case it wasn’t the colleagues but myself who thought it a waste of time, meeting, conference call. All yak and no result. And I’ve still got to do my work. My team leader at that time gave me a lecture, basically with Doug’s content. These days open my conference calls with a bit of small talk. It works!

  5. Jennifer Bedell says

    Most of our requirements sessions are via conference call (head office is in a much warmer location than we are). Most of my conference calls include some time to chat and laugh with the people on the other end of the phone whom I have never met in person. This puts everyone at ease (including me) and makes for a much easier session.

    I do get the impression that people around me hear my end of these conversations and think I’m not working. After reading your article, I realize that this is, in fact, part of my job. Thanks for the encouragement!

  6. I’m going to focus on the relationship side as well. I think it is the most important skill we need to possess and always build on. One thing I do when I meet new people in their office/cube is quickly scan the pictures, their screensaver if it is up, and all the little personal items on and aorund theor desks. I am able to quickly find out about family, hobbies, and down here in the Southeast which ACC or SEC football team they like. It is not popular to yell Roll Tide to a Gator fan.

    Thanks for the post Doug. Hopefully I never get to the point where I need to step in front of that mirror and slap myself!!!

  7. Thanks much Tom. Glad you enjoyed.

  8. Building a solid relationship has to be one of the most vital requirements in a BSA’s job. If people know you and trust you they’ll open up to you and vice versa. Small non-relevant things like whose kid is sick, what college did someone’s son or daughter just get accepted at, etc. puts things on a more personal level and you’re perceived as a real human being and not a management drone. I loved the statement about “me listening to me” – very good point.

Before you go, would you like to receive our absolutely FREE workshop?

(No formal experience required.)


Quick Start to Success
as a Business Analyst

By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Policy.