Customer Feedback: Embrace or Ignore?

Two contrasting things happened in my world this week: I installed multiple analytics packages in a client’s website so we will get more insight into consumer behavior, and I started reading the Steve Jobs biography in which he basically says he’s not concerned with what customers want or say. These two ideas are seemingly diametrically opposed until you put more context around them.

Let’s start by talking about the analytics packages. For one of our smaller clients (who already uses Google Analytics), I added Woopra (I’ve written about this company before) for some better real-time analytics. Then I added ClickTale, which will hopefully give us better insight into how customers navigate the existing site. For those who don’t know, ClickTale is a very affordable solution that allows you to see heatmaps, mouse clicks, and movements and also watch full user sessions as if you are standing over a customer’s shoulder. There are several packages out there that do this, but the client specifically wanted ClickTale. (In my opinion, its functionality is good but its horrible user interface is both ironic given its business and feels outdated, clumsy, and unsophisticated.)

The goal of installing these packages is to better understand how users are using our client’s site, and how we can help streamline certain processes. In the first day, for example, we discovered an alarmingly high number of people who were navigating using the links in the footer. That was a surprise to us, and we are currently testing versions of the main navigation to understand why some people aren’t even seeing it.

As anyone will tell you, this kind of work is crucial to making sure your user experience is intuitive and that you have correctly understood the “spheres of need” of your consumer and what the right solutions to those needs are.

But, then I read in the Jobs biography (to be fair, I’ve only just started it) that he never asked consumers what they wanted because, as Henry Ford once said, “If I asked consumers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.”

The customer experience expert in me got scared that a generation of people who want to emulate Steve Jobs would now throw away the idea of user testing, analytics, and customer research. This also harkened me back to my days at Barnes&Noble.com when the CEO at the time gleefully told us in a meeting once that the company had conducted tons of user research and then he never read the results and just threw them away. “We created the Barnes & Noble superstore where you could have a cup of coffee and sit and read. No consumer would ever have told you that they wanted that.” This idea rings eerily similar to what Jobs says in his biography.

But let’s be clear: there is a difference between unleashing a disruptive technology or business into the world and iterating over an existing and evolving product. I certainly agree about surprising and delighting customers with things they didn’t know they needed (and would never think they needed). This is true innovation: creating a solution to a problem that no one has, and then making people realize they need the solution. The history books are filled with these kinds of inventions. But, once the “big idea” is unleashed, you can bet anything that these companies certainly do listen to their customers to help evolve the idea, optimize the paths and flow, and make sure that customers are getting these new needs fulfilled in intuitive ways.

Maybe consumers didn’t help you create Big Idea X. But don’t throw the baby away with the bathwater. No, you didn’t need them for that Big Bang moment. But you certainly will need them (and their feedback) if you want to ensure your product’s success.

If you are a big idea person, and have the next thing no one has ever thought of, you probably agree that “customers would never see this coming,” which is fabulous. Once the new idea or project is live, however, you better bet that analytics, customer testing, and focus groups will give you much better insight into how the product is actually being used, what features you left out, and how your revolutionary idea now needs evolution powered (in part) by customer feedback.

Until next time…
Jack

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