Book Review: What to Ask by Andrea Belk Olson

How to Learn What Customers Need but Don’t Tell You By Andrea Belk Olson, Matt Holt Books, 149 pages 

If you buy goods or services you’ve no doubt been urged to take customer surveys that ask you to rank — on a scale of 1-10 — various aspects of the exchange. You also probably have been asked to give the company all 9s and 10s, regardless of the quality of your experience. 

So what good do such surveys do if companies don’t value what you value or even ask about your experience in a meaningful way? Those are good questions. And it turns out customers aren’t the only ones who should be asking them, according to an insightful, informative and surprisingly funny book by Davenport’s Andrea Belk Olson

Her “What to Ask, How to Learn What Customers Need but Don’t Tell You,” is designed to cut through the white noise that passes for customer feedback.

In her day job, Ms. Olson is CEO of the applied behavioral science consulting firm Pragmadik. Her book, which is available at any major book seller, is aimed at helping everyone from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies to discover what they’re missing when they seek customer feedback. Chances are, even the questions they’re asking are the wrong ones.

The book numbers 149 pages, plus a don’t-miss introduction and entertaining footnotes. It seeks to help companies find ways to tune into what customers really want, not what they say they do. Ms. Olson makes her case bluntly with plenty of real-world examples to illustrate how to do it right and wrong.

The Quad Cities author and lecturer, who also is an occasional contributor to the QCBJ, began working on the book during the COVID-19 shutdown, she said, “because when are you going to have another opportunity where the world shuts down and you have a chunk of time to get that thing you’ve always wanted to get done?” 

She also told the QCBJ, “The book itself is really a culmination of many decades of seeing the same problems and challenges of better understanding customers across big business, small business and even academia. It’s a chronic problem which hasn’t been effectively addressed, and there was no better time than now to tackle it.”

She warns, however, “The goal of the book isn’t to provide a prescriptive method or step-by-step solution to uncover your customers’ hidden needs, but an approach to changing individual and organizational mindsets about customers, people, and what drives their behaviors. It’s much more about human mindset and behaviors ± why people behave and think the way they do, and how you can use that insight to shape products, services, communications and culture to differentiate in ways your competitors can’t and won’t.”

Or, as she says in the footnotes: “If you’re looking for an autopilot solution, this might not be for you.” But if results are what you’re after, and you don’t mind putting in the work to get them, this book is a good place to start. 

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