The Importance of Customer Input

In my final entry of this series I’d like to tackle a topic that, like capacity management, seems both incredibly simple and so frequently overlooked – the importance of customer input.

Before we get started, take 30 seconds and try to name a few failed product launches in the commercial world. Without even thinking too hard, a few of the more noteworthy items that occur to me are the Zune (especially in brown), New Coke, the Newton, and the Arch Deluxe. What do these have in common? They all suffered from a fundamental lack of customer input.

No one wanted to eat an upscale Big Mac, nobody wanted a brown music player that talked to a music store that wasn’t as good as iTunes and used an odd verb to describe its music sharing functionality, and no one liked New Coke. As easy as it is for me to state all of that now, it should have been equally easy to foresee these failures in the early phases of these projects and avoid them. website imageWhy do so many organizations fail at what should be a fairly modest task? Simple – they don’t ask. Unfortunately, it appears we can now add the architects of to their ranks.

Speaking on CNN’s Crossfire on October 23, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean summed the problem up surprisingly well when he said, “The nerds talk to the nerds and they never talk to the users.” What was amazing to me about that statement was how closely it mirrored the Pragmatic Marketing rule “He who owns the compiler wins.” What both statements have in common is the realization that when development happens inside a bubble, the resulting customer experience is seldom delightful.

Arguably, one of the biggest misses of the launch is the fact that users had to go through a seldom-successful registration process before they could see pricing. The rationale for this approach was that showing prices to users before qualifying them would be confusing. The reality was quite the opposite. Users that were already skeptical about the ACA were only made more so when they had to jump through hoops (frequently broken hoops) simply to view the prices of the plans available to them.

The good news is that HHS actually got it right… eventually. The new See Plans Now feature enables a user to quickly browse prices for plans after supplying only the city and state in which they live and who they are looking to cover (self, self and spouse, self and family, etc.). It is amazing what you can do when you simply give people what they want.

This brings us to our last lesson – customer input never ceases being useful. Just because you’ve launched a successful product doesn’t mean that you can afford to stop listening. Make your feedback loop continual, always solicit customer feedback when launching new features, and always use that feedback to iteratively improve your product. I can guarantee you one thing – if you’re not listening, someone else is.


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