Listening To Your Customers Is Hard

My partner Albert says:

In building a business it’s generally considered a good idea to listen
to your customers…  As it
turns out though, listening to customers is a lot easier said than done.

And then he goes on to explain why that is so and what you can do about it.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Steven Kane

    wow, this is so true, and such a difficult challenge for entrepreneurshow can one argue with the idea of listening to customers?on the other hand, unless you are lucky to enough to discover a huge unaddressed pre-existing demand (and not the kind that needs $100MM day one to address, e.g. rolling out 50 big box retail stores), then entrepreneuring is typically about innovationand innovation is often about creating demandso listening to customers can be the worst kind of reinforcement — lessons that by definition tell you to do what works yesterday, not tomorrowof course, if-you-build-it-they-will-come is not a great business plan eithermy father trained me in sales and he always always always told me, every time you talk to a customer or prospective customer, make sure you have a few extra minutes to ask them, what are your biggest problems? and, what would you love to have that you don’t have?in other words, don’t only ask them, how do you like my product/idea? rather, try to get into their shoes and heads etcbtw, the best advice my old man gave, and the advice he drilled most emphatically and repeatedly was, ASK FOR THE ORDER. you’d be amzed how many people talk to customers forever and never actually say ask for the order…

  2. Seth

    I concur with with Steve (as I mostly do). I would also add, however, that really listening to customers is a lot like having a true 360 degree review, you have to be willing to stomach them telling you a lot of stuff you that may not make you feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. How you act on the information is up to you.

    1. fredwilson

      Great point seth. Bottom line is that really listening is hardFred

  3. RAS

    “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” attributed to Henry Ford

  4. Don Jones

    I think of our customers as an extra set of eyes, but ultimately the responsibility of what changes are made and in what time-frame are with us.

  5. stone

    In the beginning you have to listen, in the middle you begin to guide, toward the end you tend to lead.

  6. peteonrails

    Great points. I think that many times, people confuse “listening to the customer’ with “gather the product or service requirements.” I use an approach called “Bug Lists” to facilitate innovative ideas.When I am listening to my customers, I keep a list of what is getting on my customer’s nerves. I try to get past “what I want is a faster horse” and transform that into “my mode of transportation from A to B is lousy, because of the limits on the velocity of a horse.”It’s widely touted that “Nobody would have asked for an iPod before it was invented.” But there were plenty of people who would have told you, “The state of portable music players is lousy. The interfaces all suck, I can’t easily buy music for it, and the integration with desktop software generally is lacking.”Of course, to get to that, you had to ask the right questions.

  7. Jaynehilditch

    *Really* listening to customers is hugely valuable, often hard, but for me, always inspiring. Sometimes you need to be creative with the listening – it’s not just what they say, but how they say it – getting under the “faster horses” first response. An innovative approach I’ve admired recently doesn’t come from the tech world, but a smoothie company in West London called Innocent. They held a funky AGM. Not a company annual general meeting, but “A Grown-up Meeting” – with enthusiatic consumers of the product. They held tastings, took questions (including the difficult ones about whether they were selling out by selling into McDonalds stores), generally had fun with their customer base. The attendees obviously loved it, Innocent got some real three dimensional input into what their customers think. Nope, I’m not a shareholder, just a satisfied customer, and pretty much inspired observer. If you’re interested, it was You-Tube’d, twittered and covered on their website