Customers are wonderful, particularly if they pay for your products. But listening them can be dangerous.
Sure, they provide valuable feedback, advice and criticism but the stuff customers tell you can be distracting, unfocused, self-serving and a waste of time.
The problem is the disconnect between what your product and what customers want. You make a product that has particular benefits and features; customers use the product to meet a need or solve a problem…but they usually want it to do even more.
In fact, the biggest challenge is customers are never truly satisfied or completely happy. No matter how good the product, pricing or customer service, customers believe it would be even better if it did something better or differently.
It means that when they tell you about your product, they want to talk about the existing product but, as important, they love to talk about what they would like to see.
The challenge for startups is knowing when to nod politely, while being able to ignore what they say. In many cases, their enthusiasm and interest is appreciated but it offers no value because it’s not aligned with your vision or road map.
Startups get themselves in trouble when they listen to what a customer tells them, and then reload on product development because the suggestions seem relatively minor, and it’s a way to make a customer happy.
The problem is trying to make your customers happy to a losing proposition. You can’t please everyone, and you can’t meet the needs of all your customers, otherwise you’ll end up with pig of a product that is bloated with features.
At the end of the day, happiness comes from making a product with a specific vision and mission. It doesn’t have to be all things to all people. But it will be successful if it meets the needs of different customers in different ways to provide value and utility.
So how should startups handle what customers say?
The best approach is active, enthusiastic and engaged listening. Truth be told, customers like to tell you what they think. It makes them feel better about using your product because there is engagement.
All the feedback, however, should go into a big pot where it should it should sit for a while before seeing the light of day. At some point, the pot should be sifted through to see if there is any value. Most of it will be useful but some of it will jump out because it fits with how the product should or could evolve.
This can be a difficult process because too much feedback can be overwhelming. In time, however, startups can develop finely tuned tools that make it easier to identify the “safe” information, while ignoring the dangerous or useful stuff.