Growing up, mom called me by the wrong name so much I would respond to just about anything. “Buddy, ah Lloyd ah, ah Carla!” Carla? Once, mom called me by my sister’s name. Seriously mom?

This was not a high point for a 12-year old with a voice that could sing soprano at the Metropolitan Opera and who had less facial hair than a bowling ball. As mom recited names like she was reading contacts from her phone, I sat quietly. I knew she wanted me to perform some dirty chore but I was a smart-ass.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t smart enough; this tactic had been unsuccessfully tried before. Mom marched around the house becoming angrier with every step until finding me engrossed in the TV. Before she could say another word, I looked up and stated, “You didn’t call me!” Of the millions of things I could have said at that moment, this statement was one of the worst. She put on her mom-face, seared holes into me with her mom-eyes, and bellowed, “You knew what I meant!”

“You knew what I meant.” As entrepreneurs, we need to search beyond what’s being requested and solve what is needed. We get so engrossed in addressing customer requests that we don’t fully understand their problems.

Innovation isn’t found in requests; it hides within needs. 

No one asked for touchscreen smartphones with thousands of apps. They wanted bigger Blackberry’s. No one asked to binge-watch seasons of TV shows in one sitting. They wanted bigger DVRs. No one asked for the Amazon Echo to control home appliances. They wanted smoke detectors that didn’t chirp at 4:00 AM when the battery died.

Your customers will never know your business or its possibilities as well as you. They won’t know what to request. By better understanding their needs you can solve the problems they don’t realize that they have. You must address their needs, not just their whims. Don’t just listen to customers’ requests. Know what they mean!