Sometimes a customer requests a functionality. As an example, because she runs into a problem while interacting with the product. This is more serious when it happens often, when it prevents to accomplish critical or important tasks or when it forces time-consuming and error-prone workarounds.
In this case we are talking about a CRM-Like software, that is a software that every sales people and customer support org uses every day. It could be any enterprise software.
The customer says:
¨I want to sort alerts by sender. I need to sort by attributes. Sender must be the first column. How is it possible you cannot sort alerts?
We understand what she says because we know well our product. What we don’t understand however, is WHY that is such a big deal for her. WHAT is the problem she wants to solve in its essence.
Then we interview the customer and we get a totally different perspective
¨Tina gets many alerts but she only needs to know about the ones requiring action on her part so that she does not miss important ones by browsing among hundreds of them, every time”
Can you see the difference?
So, what does this example tell us?
- Customer was telling us the solution – We are the experts of the solution, not them.
- There could be many possible solutions , some much better than others for both us and the customer.
- Customer is the expert of what’s the problem he needs to solve. We need to capture that.
- Customer often has a narrow perspective, focused on his problem in a specific day on a specific scenario. It’s normal. We should *never* expect they write requirements for us. They are simply not good at that.
- We need to elicit the root cause of the problem. This may require meaningful interviewing skills/methods.
If we don’t do so, let’s not be surprised if we hear things like “The customer said that the feature does not resolve his problem. But we did what he asked for!”
If we listened to Henry Ford and Steve Jobs, we would not listen to our customers at all!
“If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”
- Henry Ford
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
- Steve Jobs, BusinessWeek, May 25 1998
I do think that there is a need of a balance among three factors
1. Current Customers (the silent ones especially, as the usual noisy ones are there anyway)
2. Potential Customers (the one that you don’t have yet and may not be aware of you or the problem you may solve for them)
3. Gut, Genius, Intuition, superpowers
1. Listening to current customers is good ( http://zhivago.com/) but it may also be extremely dangerous. They may actually doom your product (http://bit.ly/zLpLTp). Especially if the company culture (or some hole in the organization) enables raw customer requests to become automatically product requirements (this is SO bad)
2. Listening to potential customers is harder (you have to discover them and interview them. Effective interviewing is not an easy skill to find). But if you do it right, and are even able to build buyer personas, then you have made the most important think as a marketer (http://www.buyerpersona.com/ebook)
3. Then, if you nail down (1) and (2), all the others mentioned at point (3) may not be needed. But if you have one of them, well that can make the difference — unless you only base your product/strategy decisions based on (3) like many do with poor results – in fact there are not many Steve Job’s around …