Know Your Customers, Just Never Ask Them What They Want
We do not really know what our potential users will really respond to, what they will understand or what they’ll hate until we really see them using it –Jonathan Courtney
If you are working on any new service change or product there’s one question I guarantee will be asked of you at some point:
“What do your customers think of this?”
The thing we never say – but we need to be brave enough to is this:
“We haven’t asked them – it would be a complete waste of time”.
Despite no evidence of any real impact, each year millions of pounds are spent across the social sector on market research, focus groups, and ‘coproduction’.
At best it’s well intentioned paternalism , at worst a cynical tick box exercise.
95% of products launched this year will fail – and it won’t be for lack of customer involvement. Many of these will have asked people to articulate what they want whilst failing to actually get to the core of what they need.
It is difficult for us as users , of any service , to think in abstractions or envision a new concept.
There is little evidence that we can even predict our own behaviour. We don’t necessarily know why we make decisions.
When anyone proposes a change – even humdrum day to day changes (think self-serve check outs in supermarkets , or charging people for plastic bags) – we don’t react rationally.
Our status quo bias, the tendency for us to lean towards doing nothing or maintaining our current or previous decision – is a strong reason for never asking customers what they want. Unless you want your business to stand still.
Customers often don’t know what’s good for them.
If you ever go to an airport here’s a quick experiment. Look at the queue of people checking in manually versus the queue for people who’ve checked in online and are using bag drop.
Despite all the benefits (huge time saving, plus the airline can’t close the flight and move on without you) people are disposed to stick to what they know.
These are probably the same strange group who applaud the pilot and crew when the plane touches down, simply for doing their job and not killing you.
Asking them to design your next service would be catastrophic. They’d request a lot of features that they would never use.
As Jason Fried has said – a great question to ask ourselves is what are people going to stop doing once they start using our products or services?
That’s how Amazon and Google have conquered the world – not by surveying us to death – but by understanding our problems and taking them away one day at a time.
The challenge is understanding the problem better than your competitors and then road testing solutions. As Jonathan Courtney writes, the useful data comes not from research, not from surveys – but from the first user tests.
Every pound we put into asking customers what they want is basically wasted. My aspiration at Bromford is for us to the become the best organisation at understanding the problem, before deploying rapid experiments to prove or disprove any solution.
Our customers have big problems to solve, the social sector faces unprecedented challenges – and we simply don’t have the time anymore.
As David Arnoux has pointed out, after you’ve taken out weekends, holidays and sickness we only have 215 days a year or less to do any work.
That five year strategic plan you have has to be achieved in just 1,075 days.
Have you really got the time to be distracted by what customers think they want?
It’s a great line but there’s no evidence that Henry Ford ever said this. It never appeared anywhere until about 1970.
A better quote , and one he did say in his 1922 book, is this:
“I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”
Ford understood his customers aspirations before they did.
Knowing our customers is about a deep understanding of the day to day problems they face and the opportunities they haven’t even begun to realise.
You won’t get that from your next customer workshop.