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Do what your customers want, not what they say

One of the hardest skills in running a business or a community is understanding the difference between what customers are asking for and what they actually want. 

Example: Members of our communities often say they want intense discussions with lots of active participants that they can follow by email.  Until we give it to them, and they realize that they will be flooded by email.

It’s a tough challenge.  You have to be a good listener.  But you also have to be a good interpreter.

As more and more of your customers share what they want in open forums, this is going to get harder and more important. You need to dig into the feedback, hear what people are saying, and then figure out the underlying issue that causes the request.  (And then figure out how to do it.)

Mark Hurst and Hanford Lemoore explain it better than me.

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  1. Torley September 16, 2008 at 9:47 am #

    This is particularly true with usability and feature suggestions: I come across this a lot in the virtual world of Second Life. Someone has an idea for a short-term feature that would ultimately be better addressed with a longer-term solution they didn’t think of.
    In other words, their problem is clear, but they don’t know the innards of the system like you do — so if it’s your job to connect that and interpret or be an ambassador, put the pieces together.
    Especially important to keep in mind when there are many interdependent systems which affect each other, where a well-meaning-but-naive customer isn’t aware of the negative effects changing one part to their spec will have on the others.

  2. Tim Jahn September 16, 2008 at 11:54 am #

    Very important distinction indeed. Being a good interpreter is never an easy task.

  3. Scott Dodds September 16, 2008 at 10:23 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more. Good consultants are experts at this, and their ability to listen and think critically is a key part of the value they bring to their clients. Listening builds understanding which builds trust, and that is the right place to start.

  4. David Howse September 18, 2008 at 12:40 am #

    Good post! The book Idea Spotting commented on this as well. That book used two stories to illustrate the point. The best story was about Henry Ford who, when asked, “did you ask people what they wanted before you built the car?” Replied, “If I asked people what they wanted I knew what answer I would get, ‘a faster horse.'”
    This is a problem with research as well. Understanding customer feedback is an art as much as it is applied science. And probably like everything else is business, is what separates a good business from a great business.

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