We all grew up hearing the mantra “The customer is always right”, coming from big department stores and other brick and mortar shops.
But, does this still hold up in today’s digital economy?
Our first impulse may lean us to think that the answer is yes. Businesses desire to focus on their customers has only grown in the last few years and terms like Customer care, Customer Experience, Customer Centricity (and the list goes on and on) are on everyone’s lips these days.
In addition, internet has enabled ways to receive instant feedback from customers coming from multiple channels, and tools like big data can help us analyze this information almost in real time and make decisions based on it.
Theoretically, this sounds like any business owner dream: Allowing companies to establish a two-way conversation with their customers and adjust their products to match their requirements at any time means more satisfied customers on one side of the counter and increased revenues and reduced churn on the other.
However, customer feedback is not a panacea.
Let’s look at online reviews, for example.
According to a study by the MIT, only 1.5% of all the customers write online reviews, which raise doubts on how representative of the average customer these reviews are.
To make things even worse, approximately 5% of the reviews have been identified as coming from customers with no record of ever purchasing the product being reviewed.
Finally, in this attention-driven economy of today, some users can choose to compulsively post reviews (often negative ones) in a quest to earn social prestige and online relevance.
This can explain behaviors like the urge to rate not just products alone but whole continents or seas. For instance, the Mediterranean Sea, has been rated in Google by more than 36,500 users (!) and, although it has an overall score of 4.6, can still get 1 star reviews for being “Too small” or “Too wet”.
As we can see, in spite of its abundance, value is not directly derived from customer information. Instead, customer data needs to be carefully filtered and distilled in order for value to be extracted from it.
Here are some tips that can help you obtain and use your customer’s feedback better.
Classify the feedback
Be sure to identify as early in the process as possible which feedback is linked to customer service issues and which refers to potential product enhancements, as each needs to be managed following a completely different process. Issues need to be addressed as soon as possible by the customer service department, whereas product enhancements need to be carefully analyzed by a product management team to determine if they deserve to be added to the your product backlog.
Identify your customers
Products are usually built with someone in mind, a customer segment with a specific need or challenge that needs to be addressed. By using customer journey mapping and customer personas we can identify the profiles of our customers and analyze how each of them interact with our product or company in order to enhance their experience. We can then use this information to focus on those customers that are most relevant for our product and pay special attention to their opinions.
Observe and Measure
When it comes to feedback, favor specific over general, and quantitative over qualitative. It is also better to rely on what a customer does instead of on what a customer says. In this regard, A/B Testing provides a good way to observe customer’s behavior by releasing different versions of a software product to separate groups of users and determine which version provides the best results. This mechanism allows us to create a culture of experimentation based on the principles of the scientific method to approach product evolution. Measurable metrics based on our product objectives also need to be defined and used to quantify the outcome of these tests.
Be True to your Vision
Products are the result of a vision, a distinctive way to approach a problem or add value to customers. As much as we value customer feedback, we need to use it in a way that doesn’t betray our vision. In their inspiring book “Rework”, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier point this out by saying “Making a few vocal customers happy isn´t worth it if it ruins the product for everyone else. […] Your goal is to make sure your product stays right for you. You’re the one who has to believe in it most”.
Customers are the recipients of products and services and this makes them a fundamental part of a business ecosystem. However, customers operate in the market as individual entities pursuing their own interests and goals, which may differ from those of a particular product or business. In those cases where interests collide, the solution cannot always be to side with the customers. Instead, companies need to remain responsible for managing their products and decide what is best to achieves their objectives. Even, if that it involves saying “No” sometimes.