a pink and orange cloud merging and visualizing wants and needs

The difference between customer ‘wants’ vs ‘needs’ – from a service design perspective

December 29, 2023

In the realm of service design, understanding the difference between what customers ‘want’ versus what they truly ‘need’ is crucial for creating exceptional customer experiences. While these terms may seem interchangeable, they carry distinct meanings that can significantly impact the success of a service. This article will delve into the disparity between wants and needs, uncovering the implications for service design and how businesses can effectively cater to both aspects. So, let's explore this fascinating topic in greater detail.

The distinction between ‘want’ and ‘need’

What is the distinction between these two different terms, can a want be a need and can a need be a want?

To comprehend the disparity between wants and needs, it is essential to grasp their individual definitions. Lets try and define each of these terms.

Want –  A want is a future experience that people desire.  

– A need is an experience that people don't want. Something they need help to change or avoid.

In simple terms, a ‘want’ refers to a desire or preference that is not necessarily vital for survival or basic functioning.

On the other hand, a ‘need’ represents something that is essential, necessary, or fundamental to fulfilling basic requirements and objectives.

Why is it important do differentiate between the two concepts?

Understanding this distinction is key to tailoring services that not only satisfy customers' desires but also meet their core needs. Making a distinction between these terms is important in the world of service design because when we are able to separate them, we are able to listen to what our customers are saying and extract the information that is relevant for innovation.

When people express a want – they are telling us about experiences they feel like they need. All external wants, are expressions of inner, intangible experiences that people are craving.

In a sense our wants are a reflection of what we think will resolve our needs. What positive experiences will remove the negative experiences in our lives?

When someone has a negative experience – they need help. There are different forms of help that will help to resolve or prevent their negative experience. However people are able to identify the preferred forms of help they want, that they believe will resolve their problems.

However people are often bad at guessing what will resolve their problems.

Wants: Addressing customers' desires

Wants as preferences

One aspect of wants is rooted in customers' preferences. These can range from aesthetic preferences to specific features or functionalities that enhance the overall user experience. For example, a customer might want a mobile banking application with a sleek and intuitive interface, personalized notifications, and quick access to account information. While these desires may not be critical for the functionality of the app itself, fulfilling them can significantly improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Emotional wants

Another dimension of wants is linked to customers' emotional needs and desires. Services that evoke positive emotions, such as joy, excitement, or a sense of belonging, can create a powerful connection between the customer and the brand.

Consider a fitness app that includes motivational challenges, gamification elements, and a community feature for users to interact and support each other. These emotional wants contribute to a more engaging and enjoyable experience, fostering long-term engagement and customer loyalty.

Needs: Fulfilling essential requirements

Basic needs

While wants may encompass customers' preferences and emotional desires, needs align with the fundamental and necessary aspects of a service. Basic needs refer to the essential functionalities and features required for a service to fulfill its intended purpose. For instance, a mobile banking app must allow customers to securely access their accounts, transfer funds, view transaction history, and make payments. Failing to meet these basic needs would render the app ineffective and unsuitable for users.

Functional needs

In addition to basic needs, functional needs focus on the practical aspects of a service. These include reliability, convenience, efficiency, and ease of use. Returning to the example of a mobile banking app, customers need it to be accessible across various devices, have a seamless login process, provide accurate real-time data, and ensure smooth navigation. Meeting these functional needs is crucial for building trust, reducing friction, and facilitating users' desired actions within the service.

Implicit needs

Implicit needs encompass the unspoken or unrecognized requirements that customers have. These needs often emerge from the context in which a service is used or the environment in which customers find themselves. For example, a ride-sharing service might identify an implicit need for enhanced safety measures by implementing features like driver identification, trip tracking, and emergency assistance. Addressing these implicit needs demonstrates a deep understanding of users' concerns and builds confidence in the service.

FAQs about wants and needs in service design

To further deepen our understanding of the difference between wants and needs from a service design perspective, let's address some frequently asked questions:

How can businesses determine customers' wants and needs?

Conducting comprehensive customer experience research, customer surveys, and usability testing can help businesses uncover customers' wants and needs effectively. Additionally, analyzing customer feedback and tracking usage patterns can provide valuable insights.

Are wants and needs static or do they change over time?

Customers' wants and needs can evolve over time due to various factors such as changing trends, advancements in technology, or shifts in personal circumstances. Continuous monitoring and staying attuned to customer feedback is crucial to adapt service offerings accordingly.

Should businesses prioritize wants or needs?

Ideally, businesses should strive to strike a balance between addressing customers' wants and needs. While meeting basic needs is essential for service functionality, fulfilling wants is equally important for customer satisfaction and differentiation from competitors.

Can wants turn into needs?

In some cases, customers' wants can evolve into needs as they become accustomed to certain features or functionalities. For instance, what was initially considered a luxury might become an expected and essential aspect of a service over time.

Is it possible to create a service that fulfills both wants and needs?

Yes, it is possible and often desirable to design services that cater to both wants and needs. By understanding the underlying motivations and desires of customers, businesses can create holistic experiences that exceed expectations.

How can service design benefit from addressing both wants and needs?

Incorporating both wants and needs in service design can lead to enhanced customer satisfaction, increased engagement, improved brand loyalty, and a competitive advantage in the marketplace.


Understanding the distinction between wants and needs is paramount for effective service design. By catering to customers' desires and fulfilling their core requirements, businesses can create exceptional experiences that resonate with their target audience. Balancing the fulfillment of both wants and needs enables businesses to differentiate themselves from competitors, build long-term customer relationships, and drive success in today's ever-evolving service-driven landscape.

Feeling inspired?
Share this article with your network!