A recent blog post by Mark Cuban highlights a problem I see over and over again. I’ll call it the Never Listen to your Customers Problem. The sequence of events goes like this:
- You show your customers your product and they aren’t totally excited about it.
- You ask them what would get them excited about it. They tell you a few features that would turn them into passionate users.
- You implement the features they suggested.
- You take it back to your customers and they still aren’t thrilled.
- You feel helpless and upset because you thought you were making the right design decisions.
- You then declare to the world that you should NEVER LISTEN TO YOUR CUSTOMERS
This seems like a reasonable progression of events, and I’ve certainly seen it happen in practice. And it leads, in the worst case scenario, to Mark’s declaration that You Should NEVER Listen to Your Customers.
But there is a fatal flaw in here, one that designers deal with each and every day. (my guess is that since Mark isn’t a designer he isn’t familiar with it…although he does seem to hint at in his piece)
The fatal flaw is the reason why customers are not designers, and it directly results from the fact that most people are bad at predicting their future behavior. Most people are bad at dreaming up actual product feature sets. Most people cannot reliably predict what they will do in different circumstances than the one they are in right now. That is why they’re your customers and not a member of your design team.
So, when you ask people “What would it take for you to use or pay for this?” the answer you get is not reliable. Do not trust it. Don’t go implementing all the things they say because you think that’s the way to success. It’s not. It’s simply theater.
Though people aren’t good at predictions, they are good at knowing what their pain points are. They know where difficulties lie in their day-to-day work practice. They can easily report on these things to people who will listen. Marketers and designers (UX people) should be listening to these things.
But product designers are the ones who have to do the hard work of translating between what users say and what the product should be. Instead of asking people what they want, designers go about it in a slightly different way:
- Observe and research the activities that people are already doing.
- Investigate what the underlying motivations and goals are.
- Create features that allow people to reach their goals faster, easier, more cheaply.
- Test new features with your customers to verify your assumptions.
- Rinse and repeat.
Designers cannot do their job without talking to customers. There is a huge difference between talking to customers and implementing what they think they want. That’s the difference here. That’s the difference between coming to the horrible conclusion of “don’t listen to your customers” and learning to understand them and design appropriately.
So the take-away for Do-It-Yourself Marketers is to continuously listen to your customers. Just know what they’re good at (their current problem set) and know what they’re bad at (predicting the future).