Monday, June 11, 2007

The Wisdom of Listening to Customers

James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds wrote a piece in The New Yorker about the infamous "feature creep" and the impact it has on product adoption. This is different view than the typical internal moaning and groaning caused by feature creep, which usually adds pain to the product lifecycle process. To see how it impacts the consumer is a lot more powerful, and probably can be enough to actually change it. Internal griping about creeping featurism isn't enough to cause change, but customers not adopting your product because of it is.

Surowiecki also talks about what customers ask for versus what they really want. This is why having an internal channel to make sense of feedback from customers is so vital. I wish more companies made this a core component early on in their product lifecycle. I've repeatedly seen the list of features of a product change dramatically before and after conducting field studies. Performing this type of customer research also makes the rest of the product lifecycle easier because there is much less debate over what anyone might opine as what a customer would want. We've all been in meetings where people vehemently disagree over what the users might want ad nauseam.

There is some really great data in this article, such as 50% of all returned products have nothing wrong with them, people just couldn't figure out how to use them. This speaks to Myths 4 & 5 of the Five Myths of Consumer Behavior by Paul Allen Smethers and Alastair France, "Consumers will find a product's value" and "Customers want more features". Not only will customers refrain from seeking out a product's value, but they will want their money back.

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