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First-year student Rohan Rajiv is blogging once a week about important lessons he is learning at Kellogg. Read more of his posts here.

When we encounter a situation or problem, we always have an intuitive response. And, one of the biggest learnings in the first two weeks of our marketing management class has been to remind ourselves to “ask the customer.” This is because many of the decisions we make involve other people as our customer – e.g., decisions we make within our companies that impact our customers, consulting advice we give to clients, and other help/advice we offer to friends or family.

“Ask the customer” doesn’t always translate literally to asking the customer what they might want. It involves really understanding the person/organization we’re creating a solution for.

The best illustration of this is from an excellent TED talk by Rory Sutherland

“Here is one example. This is a train which goes from London to Paris. The question was given to a bunch of engineers, about 15 years ago, “How do we make the journey to Paris better?” And they came up with a very good engineering solution, which was to spend six billion pounds building completely new tracks from London to the coast, and knocking about 40 minutes off a three-and-half-hour journey time. Now, call me Mister Picky. I’m just an ad man … but it strikes me as a slightly unimaginative way of improving a train journey merely to make it shorter. Now what is the hedonic opportunity cost on spending six billion pounds on those railway tracks?

“Here is my naive advertising man’s suggestion. What you should in fact do is employ all of the world’s top male and female supermodels, pay them to walk the length of the train, handing out free Chateau Petrus for the entire duration of the journey. Now, you’ll still have about three billion pounds left in change, and people will ask for the trains to be slowed down.”

We’re wired to think of situations from a specific point-of-view. I hesitate to even call it our point of view because, sometimes, we take advice we receive too literally and forget to filter it to suit our own style. In short, our intuitive responses can make us inadequate givers or takers of advice.

So, the next time you’re making a decision that influences a customer, take a moment to reject the intuitive response. Take a moment to think about how the customer behaves – ignore what they say and listen to what they do. It is likely you will find a more effective answer that way.

Rohan Rajiv  is a first-year student in Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year Program. Prior to Kellogg he worked at a-connect serving clients on consulting projects across 14 countries in Europe, Asia, Australia and South America. He blogs a learning every day, including his MBA Learnings series, on