TED Talks: How Socrates Can Help You Better Understand Your Customers

What’s in this article:

  • Another chapter in PostFunnel’s TED Talk lessons for marketers
  • Socrates’ approach to teaching, learning, and guidance can lead you to a much deeper understanding of how to best serve your customers
  • Erik Wilberding’s TED Talk provides an overview of this approach — aptly referred to as the Socratic method

You’ve heard of Socrates, right?

He’s one of — if not the most — important philosophers in human history.

In the 2,000-plus years since his death, Socrates’ approach to teaching and learning is still used throughout the Western world in law, medicine, and many other disciplines.

In his quick, five-minute TED Talk, Erik Wilberding provides an overview of this approach — aptly referred to as the Socratic method.

When applying the Socratic method, the teacher doesn’t tell the learner anything, nor do they give them any information straight out. Rather, the teacher will simply ask questions of the learner that will cause them to think critically about their knowledge and understanding of the topic — ultimately leading to an even more comprehensive understanding.

Watching this video, we couldn’t help but notice just how valuable the Socratic method — and Socrates’ approach to learning and teaching, overall — can be as a tool for better understanding our customers. Applied strategically, the Socratic method can help us forge tighter bonds with our audiences — in turn making it much easier to help them reach their goals.

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Let’s take a closer look at how this works.

First Things First: Become an Expert

Again, applying the Socratic method means asking targeted questions of the “student” — in this case, your audience — and responding to their answers with follow-up questions.

As Wilberding explains, the ultimate goal is for both parties to come to a “more robust understanding” of the topic at hand.

Applied to our relationships with our customers, the goal is for both company and customer to better understand how we can provide value to them moving forward. Basically, this involves learning as much as you possibly can about your customer, and how your brand fits into their lives.

(We’ll come back to this in a bit.)

To elicit this information in the first place, you need to ask the right questions. In order to know what these “right” questions are, you absolutely need to be an expert — both within your industry, and as a service provider.

If you’re not an expert in your field, you simply won’t be able to help your customers succeed at all. You won’t be able to put them on the path to success, because you’ll have no idea what the path looks like, yourself.

Simply put, you have to be able to walk the walk before you talk the talk.

Customer marketing challenges and opportunities


You don’t just “become” an expert and stay that way.

Rather, becoming an expert in your field is an ongoing, continuously evolving process.

That said, your team should always be looking to learn more about the industry you operate in, and to stay up-to-date with emerging trends and best practices.

Becoming an expert in your field means you’ll:

  • Have the knowledge needed to guide your customers to their goals
  • Be able to use the tools needed to help them reach their goals
  • Understand what true success “looks like” with relation to these goals

More than just being an expert, though, you also need to keep in mind what the experience of becoming an expert was like for you — and what it will be like for your customers.

This is what will allow you to truly empathize with your customers as they navigate their own paths to success. And it’s what will allow you to develop the strategic guidance they’ll need to do so.

Accept That You “Know Nothing”

This probably sounds a bit counterintuitive to what we just said but hear us out.

As Wilberding explains, Socrates “claimed to know nothing at all, responding to his partner’s answers only with further questions.”

Now, we’re not saying you should feign ignorance when it comes to guiding your customers. And we’re not saying you should hold back from giving them what they need to move forward in their journey to success.

(After all, they paid you to help them — not to play Socratic mind games with them…)

The point here is that you should always defer to the customer when it comes to discussing:

  • Their past experiences and attempts at overcoming their struggles
  • Their needs, expectations, and goals
  • Their experiences thus far with your brand

Of course, you probably do know some of this information already.

But chances are, you don’t know the whole story about why a given customer has come to you for help. And, of the information you do know, you may not know enough to draw a completely accurate picture of the scenario.

To assume you do know all you need to know can cause you to make assumptions about your customers’ needs and expectations. If these assumptions aren’t exactly accurate, you’re going to fall short when it comes to delivering top-notch value to your audience.

So, when it comes to learning about your customers, it’s best to assume that you don’t know all there is to know about them.

You can put this into practice by:

  • Ensuring your conversations and questions cover all areas of your customer experience
  • Probing for more information based on the customer’s comments and responses
  • Asking for clarification and confirming your own understanding of their responses

This goes along with what we said earlier:

To elicit this vital information, you need to ask the right questions — and have a ballpark idea of where the discussion will be headed.

Still, you should approach each individual engagement with your customer as if you “know nothing” — and look for them to give you all the information you need to know.

Forge a Mutual Understanding with Your Customers

As we said earlier, Socrates’ modus operandi was always to enable both parties to come to a more comprehensive understanding of the topic or situation at hand.

For our purposes, this means ensuring both parties know:

  • What the customer wants, needs, and expects from your team
  • What your team can do in order to meet these needs and expectations

The goal here is to create alignment between your brand and your audience, so that each party has an accurate idea of what to expect moving forward.

This alignment can be forged — and strengthened — by surveying, interviewing, and engaging in conversation with your customers throughout their journey with your brand.

First, consider the type of questions you might ask during the onboarding process.

A few examples:

  • What are the biggest challenges you have right now?
  • What solutions have you tried already?
  • What do you want to be able to do once you’ve overcome these challenges?

More than simply asking these questions and moving on, you’ll want to probe for more information at each touchpoint. For your team, it will provide further insight into the customer’s needs. For the customer, it will further solidify their own goals — and confirm that your team will be able to help them succeed.

Now, there will come a time when you should drop the Socratic approach, and be a bit more direct in how you deliver information to your customers.

Once you have a better idea of what they need, and how you can help them, you’ll want to give them a clear idea of what their experience will look like moving forward.

Some key points to discuss:

  • A timeline for progress (and ultimately reaching their goals)
  • Potential challenges they may face along the way
  • What true success will look like — and what they’ll be able to do from there

This will all be based on the information you’ve collected directly from the individual customer (and not just from a general understanding of your “average” patron). This, in turn, will allow each of your customer relationships to start off — and continue — on the right foot.

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Act as a “Midwife”

Wilberding explains that Socrates’ often described himself as a “midwife” that assisted in helping others “give birth to their ideas”.

As a product or service provider, you’re essentially a midwife between your customers’ current self and who they want to be in the future. While your product or service is the “thing” that enables them to make this transformation, you’re the one who guides them through the process.

It’s often said that brands should act as “sidekick”, while the customer plays the role of “hero” in their own journey to success.

This idea of your team as “midwife” offers the same sentiment:

As the provider, you aren’t the focus — and you shouldn’t be.

Rather, your customers should always be the center of attention and star of the show. Their success, satisfaction, and growth are what’s important here — not the quality of service you provide.

Yes, your product or service — and your team as a whole — plays a major supporting role in your customer’s journey.

But it’s their journey, and their efforts that lead them to their success.

As the “midwife”, your task is to be on-hand to provide whatever your customers need along their path to success, and to jump in with a helping hand whenever necessary. As your customers achieve their goals, you’ll be there to celebrate their victory — and to see what else you can do to help them further along.

Again, your products and services should never be the center of attention. It’s not about your team’s efforts; it’s about what your customers can achieve with a little help from your team.

By keeping the focus on your customers — and always being there to help them as needed — you’ll almost certainly keep them onboard for a long time to come.

The post TED Talks: How Socrates Can Help You Better Understand Your Customers appeared first on Post Funnel.


Online enterprenuer. Lean leadership consultant.

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