Don’t Listen To Customers

The key to understanding customers is to observe them, rather than to listen to them. As in most life scenarios, what people do and what they say are quite different. And your product strategy better be focused on real purchasing behavior rather than yet another opinion – stated as a fact.

For that reason, the way large technology companies implement usability studies is useless, as these studies attempt to formulate an opinion from people who should be buying – but have not – and use the wrong method to derive their intent, verbal rather than behavioral. Unbridled wishes, promises, and demands from prospects are worthless. Priceless is the behavior and satisfaction of buyers.

So, without the customer telling you what to do, how do you improve your chances of success:

1/ Focus on greenfield adoption
Many so-called markets have no real market leaders owning more than 30% market share. Technology adoption is still in its infancy, and plenty of room exists to tap into greenfield markets. Even in a fast-growing market like the mobile phone industry where Apple is resetting the rules of engagement, a large demographic still does not use a mobile phone. So, the trick is to come up with a new strategy for the ever-changing greenfield, rather than stealing market share by building a better mousetrap.

2/ Define the macro-economic impact of your technology
Consumer technology should yield immediate personal benefit and become an indispensable asset to the daily tasks we perform. It should save considerably more time than it takes to learn. The iPhone is a portable lifestyle device, rather than just a better version of the old category mobile phone. Redefine the rules from the top.

3/ Build a unique customer experience
Style, performance, and capability are essential consumer product characteristics, and so is the purchasing and support experience. Satisfactory life-cycle support of the product is crucial to secure brand loyalty. Ever noticed how almost half of the Apple Store is dedicated to improving customer experience?

4/ Remove the technology language from the equation
Adoption by a greenfield market demands the development of a user-experience, marketing messages, and support experience that is void of technology language and solely talks about usage benefit – rather than how it is achieved technologically. Notice how the marketing of the iPhone is fundamentally different from the Nokia N95 (same price range), full of references to technology protocols (like UPnP) a greenfield market should not have to know about.

The success of technology innovation is increasingly related to how well companies serve steady customer behavior. That behavior has extensively been studied by so many non-technology companies ahead of us.

That’s why I spend so much time listening to the wisdom of CEOs like A.G. Lafley (CEO of Procter & Gamble), Mickey Drexler (CEO of J. Crew, former CEO of GAP, Apple BoD), Jack Welch (former CEO GE) and many other consumer CEOs who put themselves constantly in the shoes of the customer and define what they would like the purchasing experience to be.

It is not hard to detect the patterns of success, but as a CEO you would need to be committed to keep looking at your company from the outside in (rather than from the inside out) and experience the company from a customer perspective.

Get ahead of change and tune in to Charlie Rose on NPR (KQED in the Bay Area) for some great lessons from the masters.


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