Don’t Listen to the Customer

Customers have an endless supply of valuable feedback and their input is useful for near term actions.  When a company is looking at longer term developments, listening to what the customer is not saying can be more important than what the customer is saying.

Let me give you an example.  Early in the 20th century, consumers were interested in horse breads that could travel faster for longer periods of time.  Early pioneers in the car business looked past the requests of the customers to see the real need as a more effective way to get from place to place.  These consumers had already been introduced to travel by trains and realized the ability to go faster using mechanized transportation but still desired the ability to travel at will.

Long term planning and product development are focused on items that will bring growth in the future.  Planning windows for these types of activities are in the range of three to five years in the future.  Looking at more recent history, the story of the iPod is an example where the desire for portable music was clear.  The Walkman and Discman were popular but had issues with battery life, skipping and bulkiness.  The habits of the customer pointed towards light weight portability.  The customer voice was clear but looking at how the product was used; a better option was possible.

Looking forward effectively shifts the risk.  Listening explicitly to the customer can provide for effective input for near term developments.  Looking at the long-term needs of the customer, studying how the product is used and understanding the needs of the product in the future will position the company as a provider of value to the customer.  More importantly, taking a long-term view to your business helps to transition your business from a reactionary position.  Long term views allow for alignment with strategy.  Employees are ability to feel accomplishment with minimal screams of short-term needs.   This change allows them to focus on the whispers that bring value.

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