Contrast: Have You Tried Talking To Them?

Great post:

Every web app needs someone talking to the customers regularly. It’s their job to know exactly what’s going with all types of customers, new, old, free, paying. What excites them, bothers them, how often they’re using the product, is the feature getting usage, if not why not.

It’s their job to answer “What-Ifs” and “I wonders” from the product team. This is how you spot issues before they cost you hard-earned customers. Metrics junkies are obsessed with details like Cost Per Acquisition, it’s worth remembering that it’s investing in customer loyalty and retention can be far more valuable. Buckets fill up far quicker than sieves.

You should be able to talk to your customer:

  1. Frequently – the more they talk with you, the more loyal they become
  2. Easily – If it’s easy to do, chances are it’ll get done more often
  3. Openly – let it be clear to your customers that they can complain or questions decisions, as their opinion is what matters
  4. In Context – Talk to users as they use your app, not outside of it. The difference in what they say is remarkable.

There’s nothing worse than sitting in meetings and hearing the words “I think” and “Let’s just get a bunch of people in a room and come up with features” when developing a product.

You have to talk to customers to understand the context of their environments, to learn what the challenges they face and how they solve them.  This isn’t market research, this is understanding your customer.  For example, there’s this fallacy that Apple doesn’t talk to their customers to discover new markets.  They don’t do market research, which is different. They do leak information and create opportunities (i.e. allow jailbreaking of phones) to see how the market will innovate.

Because you’re not Apple and you are likely not selling a similar set of products, you must do research to understand the customer. And, while I’m sure Jobs says he doesn’t do research, it’s pretty clear that his team goes out to thoroughly study behaviors and interests of those they think will be their early adopters. Call it talking to friends and family; but, honestly, you know that these guys live by immersing themselves in the hip culture of music, video, mobile, and computing.

The point is not to go ask your customers what they want. If you ask that question in the formative stages, then you’re doing it wrong. The point is to go immerse yourself in their environment and ask lots of “why” questions until you have thoroughly explored the ins and outs of their decision making, needs, wants, and problems. At that point, you should be able to break their needs and the opportunities down into a few simple statements of truth.

And, in a lot of ways, Apple employees are their own customers. They are designing products they would buy, because they are the target audience. They buy the products, and use them.

So, have you tried talking to your customers? Have you tried using your product?