Editor's note: Steve Crewdson is senior research lead at Gongos Inc. Grace Schafer is senior research implementation associate at Gongos Inc.

It’s been said many times before: The customer is king. A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all. A customer’s perception is your reality.

While wonderful in sentiment, these platitudes are far from reality when it comes to business growth strategies. Practically speaking, organizations today largely set business goals – or KPIs – around profit, growth and operational efficiencies.

One can say that businesses that solely rely on customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Scores (NPS) as a proxy to gauge customer sentiment generally operate under the illusion that “active and satisfied customers’ needs are being met over the long-term.”

What these customer KPIs illustrate is the likelihood customers will purchase again down the road; in other words, the value customers are creating for the business. But where they fall short is providing an understanding of the value the business is creating for its customers beyond “value for the money.” Without digging deeper, brands risk being out of tune with what customers really want and are likely to overlook opportunities for customer-centered innovation and growth.

What can keep businesses from truly operating with the customer at the center of decision-making is yet another common myth: It’s not scalable, or even possible, to truly understand and act on customers’ individual needs. 

This belief makes sense, given the limitless spectrum of potential needs and the fact that human mind-sets seemingly shift with the wind. But what if we were to look instead at what drives customers’ motivations and behaviors by evaluating what underlies and shapes those needs? We can refer to these as desired universal outcomes or customer goals but the idea is the same: they represent customers’ human hardw...