At the beginning of each year, our entire team sits down to discuss initiatives for the upcoming year. Inevitably part of the conversation revolves around feedback we’ve heard from our customers over the past year. We get a lot of feedback. Between emails, our internal feedback system, social media and just general conversation with customers, we get anywhere from 150 to 250 pieces of advice each week and the ideas truly run the gamut. A lot of this feedback is extremely helpful and helps us look for trends or patterns that we need to address. However, we are always careful that we don’t let our customers drive our initiatives.
Now, I know that in the title I say you should never listen to your customers. Of course this isn’t really true. I simply wanted a title that would pique your interest and get you to read this post J. With that said, I believe that although you should listen carefully to your customers, simply reacting to everything they think they want could be the death of your company.
Note that I said everything they “think” they want. Your customers are simply reacting to their experience with your product and the advice they send you is simply based on their personal views and wants. Although the intention is good, they aren’t necessarily thinking about the big picture. I believe that to be a successful, ever evolving company, you shouldn’t be listening and reacting to your customers – you should be innovating for your customers.
Let me give you an example. When we first started our company, no customer ever said to us “You should disassemble your cupcakes and place layers of cake and frosting in mason jars, then ship them”. We came up with that innovation to solve the problem of shipping cupcakes, keeping them fresh and safe. Had we only listened to our customers and not innovated for them, we’d still be a local small cupcake shop, struggling to survive among all the others.
You see, the key is to continue giving your customers what they don’t even know they want. Do you think Steve Jobs was listening to his customers, or innovating for his customers when he dreamed up the iPhone? Was any customer asking for a ride sharing service where private citizens could offer up their services to give people rides in their car when Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp founded Uber? Were people asking for a platform to post 140 character messages to their social network when Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Noah Glass came up with the idea for Twitter? Of course not. What did all these people have in common? They innovated. They created something that people didn’t even know they wanted.
Sometimes the innovations are small, but have a large impact. For example, when we first launched our website, we did what most sites did. We let our customers choose a shipping date for their products. When we thought about it however, we realized that most of our customers were sending our products as gifts. They didn’t care about the shipping date; they cared about the arrival date. So we changed our site to allow our customers to see a calendar of all available delivery dates along with the associated cost to get it there on that day. This gave our customers all the information they needed to make an educated decision as to when they wanted their recipient to receive their gift. No one asked for this, we simply did it. Since doing it, I can’t tell you how many of our customers comment on how great that feature is.
So the lesson here is that although it’s important to listen to your customers (regardless of what my title says), it’s more important to innovate for your customers. It’s what keeps you relevant, gives you a competitive edge, and more importantly, keeps your mind sharp and always thinking. So what’s our next innovation? Stay tuned – we came up with a lot of cool ideas at our last meeting.