Stop listening to everything customers say!

stop listening to customers

Now I realize this is a strange heading for someone that evangelizes creating a customer centered culture. However, there is a subtle nuance to one of the core elements of our model – the customer insight and foresight dimensions.

This nuance is significant as it relates to the biggest challenge in innovation – how do we know what customers really want?

Henry Ford has one of the most famous quotes on this idea, to paraphrase:

“If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have told me to build a faster horse”.

This is the dilemma that faces all innovators, you need customer input, but you also have to take what customers say with a grain of salt. Customers often don’t really know what they want, in fact many will tell you “I’ll know it when I see it”.

No one asked Steve Jobs to build an iPad. What Job’s recognized was that tablet devices did not work well enough for them to ever be adopted on a mass scale. The unmet needs existed but customer’s could not articulate them into a product. As an innovator it is up to you to do the hard work of uncovering these unmet needs and devising a way to build a product.

A related challenge is  customers often don’t do what they say they will. Asking a question like “If this product had these features, would you buy it?” can often result in a great response from customers but when it comes down to buying the product customers don’t follow through.

What does this mean for entrepreneurs and innovators? You need to test and learn constantly throughout the product development cycle and track actual customer behavior. Actual behavior is the barometer of a successful innovation.

Customers will vote with their attention and ultimately their wallets – making progress is initially about learning what resonates with customers and what does not.

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