Sometimes, it's best to just ignore what customers are saying.
Is that blasphemy?
We've preached "customer feedback is as precious as gold" as much as anyone.
But sometimes, the customer must be acknowledged out of courtesy then sent on their way.
When do you take feedback to heart, and when do you toss it out the window?
The Customer is Always Heard
That's a quote from "Hug Your Haters" author Jay Baer. And he's right.
Always acknowledge what a customer is saying. Whether they're complaining or telling you how to run your business, they deserve to be heard. You don't have to follow their orders, but you should give them a forum.
Beyond that, how do you decipher what feedback to follow, and what's malarkey?
At the most basic, the customer should direct essentially every aspect of your brand except for product development.
Paraphrasing the famous Henry Ford quote, if he had listened to customers, they would've asked for a better horse.
Most customers just want your product to be better and cheaper. Which is understandable.
But they'll have great wisdom about your brand, on the experience from discovery to purchase to first use to follow-up. They'll tell you if your staff is helpful enough, or if your "get it" factor needs to be higher. They'll also be more than happy to tell you about their ROI.
Those are important items that you won't truly comprehend from a boardroom, QA process, or even a focus group.
Let customers guide the experience and shape it. They'll help you flatten speed bumps and see potholes that you'd never know about otherwise.
When it comes to the future, and the next iteration of your service or product, they'll have opinions on those as well. Many of these are probably best shelved.
Start with Why
There's a Steve Jobs quote that should be kept at the front of your thinking (pulled from here):
"You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology."
As Simon Sinek would say, start with why. What's the problem you solve for them? How will that problem evolve?
Use feedback to shape your customer experience, your processes, your brand.
Use careful observation - not necessarily feedback - to shape your product development. How are they using your product or service? What problem are you truly solving for them? How will that problem evolve in the coming years?
This requires a crystal ball and forward thinking.
Here's an Example
Over six years ago Access began building our mobile coupon network. At the time, mobile coupons weren't a big deal and our members/clients certainly weren't begging for them. Some had asked, but just about everyone was fine with the online, print-and-redeem delivery methods.
Everything was moving to smartphones. Desktop computer sales were beginning to decline, tablets were on the rise and smartphone adoption was multiplying daily.
We were probably a bit ahead of the game when we launched the network to clients in 2011. Many of our resources were dedicated to educating people on using the app, redeeming "show your phone" offers, and helping merchants build effective coupons.
But it worked. Today our mobile network (200,000+ merchant locations) sees huge, growing usage numbers. Merchants, clients, and members have all caught up, to the point where we've also launched wearable coupons, and beacon-enabled technology, and even more in our labs.
Virtual Reality and Facebook Trolls
Why did Facebook buy Oculus Rift, a virtual reality platform, two years ago? It wasn't because users were beating down their doors begging for virtual chatrooms. That acquisition was made with a forward-looking view grounded in how people have connected on the platform.
As a result, you're probably going to have long, uncomfortable chats with a very realistic virtual assemblage of crazy aunts and uncles in the near future. Just have snopes.com loaded and ready ahead of time.
Does your brand need to get involved in virtual reality? Augmented reality (like PokemonGo)? Artificial intelligence?
Your customers might say it sounds cool, but you need to decide if you can help them solve problems easier in these evolving technological realms.
Once you peek into your crystal ball and combine emerging technologies and future trends with your ability to solve customer needs, you have a mandate to build something great.
Something your customers didn't even know they wanted.
You Might Fail
Could you fail? Is there a chance that virtual reality never takes off, and Facebook is left with a $2 billion piece of junk? It's very possible. For every incredible success like the iPhone there are hundreds of flops like the Segway, the Zune, even Google Glass.
Sometimes you might run too far ahead of customers and your innovation leaps beyond their capacity. Mobile wallets have sat in that muck for a few years now (though one might argue they're also a solution for a problem that doesn't exist).
It's smart to use a lean approach, building things iteratively and adding features only as the demand becomes clear.
You probably don't want to put all your eggs in a new basket if you've already got a solid, engaged customer base.
You might fail, even with all of these safeguards in place.
But you might not. Especially if you build new products, services, and benefits with the customer's needs in mind. Solve their problems, exceed their expectations, and do it at a fair price and you'll probably succeed.
Remember - every industry is ripe for disruption by someone more dedicated to meeting customer needs and concerns.
Customers Provide Inspiration, Not Blueprints
Here's the thing.
The customer is the source of what drives your business forward, but that doesn't mean just listening to what they want. It's being in tune with their wants and needs, and ultimately their end goals.
Let their needs guide you, then deal with their wants later.
Today, listen to each of them and solve their problems as quickly as you can. Tomorrow, show them that you're dedicated to knowing them and living in their world by creating something better than they expected.
(Phone image courtesy of stephen gardner)