Earlier this week, over the course of just four hours, I had two separate client conversations that had me scratching my head and asking: “Who are you doing this for?”
The two conversations went something like this.
Client #1: “We have all these great product enhancements coming. We’ve talked to everyone internally, and here’s what we’re going to be offering going forward.”
Me: “Did you talk to your customers? Did you ask them what they want, what they are trying to use your product to achieve?”
Client #2: “The objectives of our VOC initiative include cost cutting, process efficiencies, and differentiation.”
Me: Wow. What about improving the customer experience? And what do you mean by differentiation?
Client #2: Well, we have this, this, and this. And we do that. And this differentiation is what we’re known for.
Me: Have you validated that with your customers?
You can guess the answers for both Client #1 and Client #2.
So here’s where I ask: Who are we doing this for? and why? I’m talking about your business. If you’re not in it for the customer, what or who are you in it for?
If you think you know what your customers want and need, great. Thinking is not good enough. And it’s not just what they need. Need can be defined in a lot of different ways. Ask them these questions: “What problems are you trying to solve?” “What are you trying to accomplish?” “What job are you trying to do?”
And differentiation? It’s awesome. I’ve written before about being remarkable, standing out from the crowd, and not being a me-too. So, I’m all for it. The thing you need to ask yourself: Is what you consider to be an important point of differentiation actually what is most important to your customers? Is it what they care about? You have no idea; go ask them. Your customers will tell you if you are different, remarkable, or a standout. Then figure out how you’ll create a truly differentiated experience for them.
It’s painful to know that we actually still need to ask these questions of businesses today.
Don’t try to tell the customer what he wants. If you want to be smart, be smart in the shower. Then get out, go to work, and serve the customer! -Gene Buckley
Yes. You need to improve things that matter to your customers, not what matters to your business.
It always amazes me what some clients think … and better yet tell you. And question is, despite paying you, how well will they listen to you. Especially since listening doesn't appear to be a strong suit.
Indeed, Bob! Thanks!
Agreed, Mike, that's the big question. Will they listen? I hope they do!
This is going to be heresy but…
Customers don't always know what they want, and if they told you it would be bland and badly thought through.
How would it be if you decided what you would want if you were a customer and do that so well that your product was amazing.
Then maybe your ideal customers would find you.
I'm with James, partly, on this one.
I believe it's generally better to innovate and then ask your customers for feedback. Why? Because, as James, points out many customers don't know what they want and because people, generally, respond better to stimulus than they do to open requests.
Hello Adrian, Hi James
Annette will probably expand on that but experience proves that customers certainly know what they do not want.Remember what happened to the former boss of JC Penney who wanted to transform Mum jeans store into an Apple one? He thought he knew better than his clients…He was fired because he forgot who he was doing this for.Yes we may have insights on the next customers needs but I believe we are not creating needs just uncovering them, hopefully at the right time
"Who are you doing this for?" While it's true that sometimes customers don't know what they want (you don't know what you don't know), it's also true that a customer-centric vision will at least ensure that any innovation will respond to expressed needs, known desires, from the customer.
Also, I think that "Who are you doing this for?" should be applied to every piece of content that a company generates. Who is this infographic, white paper, blog article for?
I think balance is key here. I agree with Annette in that too many companies innovate in a vacuum. They end up with sell-referential ideas that don't really set them apart.
On the other hand, just asking clients what they want is not enough. and crowd-sourcing can lead to products that dumb down to the lowest common denominator.
But one stronger strategy is to take your start at innovation, and share it with selected customers – both old-time customers or influencers, AND with newbie customers and prospective customers. That way you can begin to gauge the potential market response.
Beta testing of software is a great example. You can invite existing clients and influencers, and open it up to general use. I was interacting with a software company that had stepped into a market gap with a product to fill a need when an on-line service changed their API which caused several popular tools we use to fail. The beta test was so successful, that they had to suspend it, due in part to the demand (their current server architecture couldn't handle the huge data flow (long story short).
But while they were in beta, they were very responsive to reaching out and finding out what things their customers valued…they even incorporated a couple of my ideas within a week during an upgrade. I, a potential customer, got invested in their success. Yes, I'll use their competitor's tool until they come back on line, but I want them to succeed. I am now an engaged user and unpaid product evangelist. If they had done their innovating all in house, they may never have noticed my issue (how the tool worked on a smaller-sized screen), or learned several other things that they can now work into it, after a real-world test.
Although harder to apply, beta testing can work for non-software companies, surveys, focus groups, calls to existing clients etc.
I agree, James. I'm not killing innovation; I think it's extremely important. But, at the same time, if we haven't yet met the basic needs, I think we can't ignore those.
See my note to James… I definitely don't want to kill innovation. It's an important part of the customer experience and of growing the business. You cannot, however, ignore the things that customers know they want and need… some of them are just basic needs that the business should have already met. Of course, if they haven't, customers can just walk to a competitor who can meet the need.
Also, I agree with Veronique that customers do know what they don't want. JCP is a great example.
There are plenty of examples of innovative products that companies thought customers needed that bombed. (Steve Jobs has examples of both sides of the coin, good and bad.) Examples that come to mind include Apple Newton, NeXT Computers, WebTV, and QR Codes.
If you're going to innovate, I think you still need to incorporate customer feedback before you launch – or risk flopping.
Thanks, Brian. You said more eloquently what I was trying to say in my response to Adrian above. Great point about applying the "who are you doing this for?" test to content, as well.
Excellent, Cathy; well said. I agree 100%. Innovating in a vacuum can be dangerous, and I like (and advocate) the idea of beta testing and getting customer feedback along the way.
This is very much in line with Lean Startup thinking and I think it is really valuable for any organization. Learning from customers is a process that exists to feed your business ideas for innovation. If you're not developing a product for yourself then you probably shouldn't be the primary input on what it is and isn't.
Great point, Robert. Thanks for adding your thoughts here.
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