Giving What Customers Want


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Customers do not always know what they need. Henry Ford once famously remarked that if he had asked people what they wanted, they would have demanded faster horses, not cars. There have been a number of successful businesses that have shied away from customer surveys for product development. Apple founder Steve Jobs has been a famous critic of focus groups. In an interview once, Steve Jobs pointed out that a lot of people do not know what they want until you show it to them.

Entrepreneurs like Larry Page and Henry Ford have been trailblazers in their respective industries and are known to have launched products that did not exist hitherto. In other words, their success in launching products was due to innovation and creating industries that did not exist.

This may not hold true for most other businesses that operate in industries that already exist. In such instances, it is important to seek customer feedback on what ails their experience with the existing offerings. This should pave the way for future product strategy and development.

Focus groups are just one of the many ways businesses can seek feedback from customers. There are a number of other strategies to seek indirect, yet accurate feedback from customers.

Support forums

Like every other mobile network in town, Vodafone UK too received hundreds of complaints each month from customers unhappy with network coverage. Using this feedback, they launched a simple network coverage map that allowed customers to to tag for coverage issues or check for local maintenance. The result – a 9% drop in network related complaints and a drop of over 54% in escalations requiring customer call back.

The coverage map also helped the company plan future tower installations and this was derived directly from complaints raised on the forum, and the map.

Order history

Your customers’ past orders contain a wealth of information and can help businesses devise future product strategy. Many organizations today make use of big data to minutely analyze purchase data of all their thousands of customers to identify the features that matter to customers, and those that can be discarded.

For instance, if you are an automobile manufacturer, your analysis of past sales might reveal customer preferences for factors like boot space, design philosophies and accessories that can help with designing new models.
Order history can provide your organization with a wealth of information even without big data tools. For instance, if your past experience indicates higher demand for certain products based on certain events in the past, it might give you a clue on what to market.

For instance, demand for car private number plates like DUK IE and LOU I5W went up when Prince William announced the birth of their third child. This was based on demand data garnered from past royalty events like weddings or the birth of a prince.

Limited launches

Disregarding customer feedback completely and focusing on innovation alone may be unrealistic. At the same time, relying completely on customer feedback for new product features may be risky since that gives competitors all the control to define innovations in the industry. In reality, businesses need to tread a fine line between both these strategies.

One way to do this is through limited launches. This is done through experimentation and testing of new products in a limited market or geography. Such strategies are extensively used across restaurant chains and fast food organizations like McDonald’s and Burger King. In a lot of cases, new launches are tested in a limited way across one geography or sometimes at just one store.

The lessons from the launch are then used to tweak the product before they are launched nationwide or internationally.

Customer feedback is one of the fundamental pillars for business success. Capturing what customers want and what they expect is thus core to any product development strategy. The strategies mentioned here in this article thus play a pivotal role in shaping product strategy for both small and large organizations.


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