Even entrepreneurs need to listen to customers at some point
It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.
– Steve Jobs
Don’t listen to customers?
This quote is often referenced in opposition to the value that customer feedback provides, and is held with particular reverence amongst entrepreneurial circles. The implication of the quote, as entrepreneurs would understand it, is that listening to customers is akin to an admission of failure, in terms of not being inventive or creative enough to deliver a ground-breaking product without the aid of market research. Indeed, Jobs often referenced wanting to avoid “Me too” products, simply providing another option for consumers as opposed to something new.
There can be no mistaking that Steve Jobs was a transcendent business brain, and the fact that his driving vision turned Apple into a market-leading powerhouse cannot be disputed. The exact manner in which this quote is often referenced however, can certainly be challenged by how it applies to the vast majority of businesses.
The consequences of failing to listen to customers
One time Senior Vice President of Retail Operations at Apple, Ron Johnson, famously alienated the customer base in his new role at JC Penney, by following the same mantra. Wanting to turn the stores into a ‘trendy’ place to ‘hang out’, discomforted the existing customers, that held discounting and value as the brand values they expected, and held in best regard.
Based on the documents that have emerged in the ongoing Apple versus Samsung legal trial in the US, It seems like Apple themselves actually care quite a lot about customer preferences and tastes… The internal Apple documents presented, seem to display a strong understanding of the market, and how consumer opinions are continually shaping it.
Did Steve Jobs really intend this quote to be used this way?
Perhaps this is where we need to dig deeper into the quote. Placed into context, perhaps we can ascertain that Jobs was not arguing for removing customers from the equation altogether, but expressing the need for businesses to dig for useful insights. It is unlikely that if you gave customers a pencil and paper they would design a perfect product for you…
But by identifying the existing strengths and weaknesses, both of individual products and of your customer experience however, customers can readily shape the brief that is provided to the problem solvers, the entrepreneurs and the designers.
Consumers will always have a voice. If your business doesn’t empower, listen and react to it, they will simply voice their opinion another way – by choosing to buy from someone else. Innovation undoubtedly drives progress, but realising too late that “Consumers want what we don’t have” can be costly.
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