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Strategy

Should You Be Listening to Your Customers Less?

Not all customer feedback is created equal - shaping your company's future solely based on what they think may prove lethal

Ben Jacobson
July 03 2018

No matter what part of business you’re talking about, “listen to your customers” is sage advice – for product creation, marketing, customer experience, and for business in general. Since no one knows what your audience wants better than the consumers themselves, companies often go directly to their customers for shaping the future of their products. And this can work great when used right. Giving users a personal stake in the product’s future and getting them excited for what’s to come can increase the chance they’ll stick around for the release. But sometimes listening to customers can steer you in the wrong direction, especially when you become too eager to please. After all, Henry Ford was once (mis)quoted as saying, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.”

And while Henry Ford may not have said it himself, the fact remains true; customer feedback can often be unclear. Your customers often don’t know what they want, in fact they may not even know their options. When Ford released the Model T, it wasn’t a product that customers could’ve asked for because they couldn’t have fathomed such a thing, but that doesn’t mean the problem wasn’t there to solve. Your customers will always have thoughts and opinions about a myriad of topics around your business. But it’s up to you to be strategic about how you seek out customer feedback and put it to use.

In order to build a sustainable business that retains customers and keeps them happy, you need to keep your long-term vision and ideal customer in mind. That way, you can view all customer feedback within the lens of your big-picture strategy and apply it accordingly. You want to know when a customer comment will pull you further away from your company’s priorities and when it will build more of the long-term customers you’re looking for. Here are a few signs that you’re not listening to customers strategically, and what you can do to retain more of the right customers instead.

You’re Being Pulled in 100 Directions

Even a specific niche product will end up with a wide variety of customers, all with different wants and needs. For example, a social media tool focused on small business needs to deal with customers in different roles at small businesses across different industries. Opening yourself up to all your customers opinions at once can make it hard to focus.

Between feature requests, support queries, social media posts, customer interviews, product reviews, and more, you’ll quickly become familiar with buzzword feelings like information overwhelm and analysis paralysis. As a result, you may feel pulled in a hundred different directions – building a new feature for one subset of your customers, changing the current design to serve another group better, trying to keep as many people happy as possible.

It’s impossible to focus on any given project like this. Trying to do so many things at once will slow down your progress and customers might not wait around to see the finished product.

Stop trying to be everything to everyone. Keep your big picture in mind instead of getting distracted by each new idea a customer sparks. That way, you can take and implement their feedback within the context of your overall plan. For example, MailChimp has become an email marketing leader over the past 17 years, with Datanyze estimating they have 49.15% market share in the space. With so many full-suite marketing platforms that have risen since then, it’s possible they receive new requests for non-email features like paid advertising and social media management.

Despite the various requests, they’ve remained focused on helping businesses with email. They’ve still incorporated things like ad management through Google and Facebook integrations and social media through sharing campaigns, but it’s all within the context of their chosen platform. MailChimp knows their existing customers came to them for help with email, so any new features released still fit within that frame of reference and serve their core audience.

You’re Not Following Your Roadmap

Another easy mistake is letting current customers steer you away from your product roadmap. Once again, it’s all about the big picture and not letting short-term customer satisfaction get in the way of long-term retention. When your team sat down in front of a whiteboard and finalized your product roadmap, they were removed from the day-to-day hustle and could focus on the ideas and customers that mattered most. They were looking at your business’s end goals, values, and other important drivers of everyday decisions along with prioritized feedback and trends. It’s an environment that allows you to weigh and balance feedback against other factors in the business.

That can be more difficult to do when deep in new helpdesk messages or customer calls. You’re in customer satisfaction mode, trying to solve problems, and rightfully so. But when you let those everyday problems impact long-term decisions too much, you can veer off-course from your bigger roadmap. If you fear this is occuring, take a moment to collect and reflect. Double check that the projects and tasks the company is actively focusing on are what they should be, and that you’re on track with your company roadmap. Once you notice you’ve taken a few unintentional detours, the sooner you can create a plan for returning to your original path, and focus on your long-term business goals and the customers who will help get you there.

You Treat all Customer Feedback Equally

Finally, you need to know which feedback is worth listening to. Not all customer feedback is equally useful and knowing your company’s priorities is necessary in deciding how to take in, respond to, and implement different pieces of feedback. The customers and comments to pay attention to are the ones aligned with where your business is going long-term. When you don’t have a system in place for prioritizing feedback, you risk alienating any VIP personas or targets you have defined. In the long run, trying to please everybody hampers your ability to keep any of those customers around, as you’re making changes everywhere with little individual return. As subscription billing platform Chargify’s Kate Harvey puts it, “While you may not realize your product isn’t the right fit for specific customers, they eventually will. And when they do, they will churn.”

You need to be able to prioritize on multiple levels. By using engagement and lifetime value data in your CRM as your guide, you can see which customers are the best fits for long-term retention. Map your customer scoring system to prioritize topics based on your roadmap, and it’ll be easier to find the right customers to the most relevant feedback. For everyone else, you can politely respond with an alternative, or ask for more information to see if you can help them achieve what they want without creating entire new features. When you know who your best customers are and what feedback you’re looking for from them, you can filter out anything short-term and focus on implementing the changes that will keep the right customers around for a long time.

Listen Carefully

There’s a difference between listening to your customers and doing everything they say. The first makes them feel appreciated while allowing you to implement feedback strategically. The second sends you into a short-term reaction mode that damages long-term retention. When talking and listening to customers, avoid reaction mode by keeping the big picture in mind.

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Ben Jacobson

Ben Jacobson is a marketing strategy consultant who specializes in content, social media and influencer marketing for B2B firms. He contributes regularly to publications including MarketingLand, Search Engine Journal and the Orbit Media blog.

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