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“Customers may not always know what they want, but they are never wrong.”
The biggest piece of advice in that adage for entrepreneurs is to simply accept that customers are never wrong. They are not always right but they are never wrong. As an entrepreneur, sometimes it seems easy to believe you know what customers want versus what they really need. If you had been Larry Page in the early days of pre-Google, perhaps you would have agreed with him if he had made this comment, “Online search results suck and I am going to make search results way more relevant.” I don’t think you would have needed to conduct customer surveys to find out if people wanted a better, more relevant search engine.
Other times, it’s more difficult. Say you are designing a new type of phone (Apple’s initial iPhone was in development for almost three years) that takes three to five years to get to market. Do you ask customers what they want not knowing what is going on in the world in five years? Are customer’s designers? Do they even know what they want versus what they need? If you read the Steve Jobs quote below, it seems to make sense.
“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, Co-founder, Apple, Pixar, Next
You can’t simply assume you know what a customer wants or needs just because you are launching a startup. Why do so many entrepreneurs assume they know what a customer wants or needs for their product or service even when the entrepreneur themselves do not fit the target segment profile? Even if you do fit the target segment profile, don’t assume you are the customer or know more than them. You don’t. Know why? You are not the customer.
And yet you do want to hedge your bets and get some customer insight. Why? It’s all based on seeking customer truth so relentlessly that you discover how to delight your customers. And delighting customers is the holy grail of customer adoption and ultimately customer loyalty. Because it’s no longer about brand loyalty. Today’s customers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, are simply not brand loyal even if you meet their expectations. If you don’t exceed their expectations and delight them, they believe there are other brands which also can meet their expectations. It’s why these major customer groups so easily substitute products and services.
So, how do you set out to delight your future customers? You will need to really understand the customers in your marketplace better than the competition. You will also need to embrace the idea that customer ‘feedback” or customer “truth” is critical to the success of your company. Various marketplace graveyards are littered with companies who either quit listening to or seeking customer truth (i.e. Blockbuster, Blackberry, Borders, A & P Food stores, Nokia, Kodak, Tower Records, Circuit City, etc.). Many other large companies are teetering and will almost certainly fall in the next few years. On the short list are perhaps the cable companies, entertainment and fast food companies and several retail brands that are just not paying attention to their customers or the marketplace.
Here is some advice for entrepreneurs and even managers in corporate companies. Never assume you really know your potential customer. Ever. That will force you to do several things:
- Always be researching the marketplace and trends that affect your customers
- Base your decisions about customers on as many facts as possible
- Surround yourself with other people who might have customer insights
- Relentlessly visit and observe the customer environment yourself
- Study the competition and note what they are doing well and not so well
Here is the takeaway. You need to know your customer. You need to know their environment. As much as possible, you need to know what they aspire to be. You need to have an ability to have conversations with them. But you might agree with Steve Jobs. If you asked customers to design an MP3 player, it would not look like an iPOD. Most people might not ask for a 1,000 calorie burrito from Chipotle. Or a $75,000 electric car like a Tesla. Customers will tell you what they want, not what they need. They will tell you what they don’t want. Customer truth is a funny thing. They are not always right but customers are never wrong. Gather as much information as possible. Listen well. Hopefully you will give customers what they need and delight them. If not, they will tell you the truth.
If you want more marketing insights, read my branding book Brands and Bulls**t. Also Fail Fast or Win Big has several insights for entrepreneurs who want to start a company but don’t know where to start.
March 2, 2019 at 11:10AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs