Getting Customer Feedback Early

Posted on: August 18th, 2017 by Clear Thinking Team No Comments

What normally happens….

Do we think that we know best?

Or do we test?



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

Henry Ford *

Whether Ford actually said this or not, the quote suggests people don’t know what they want, leading us to fall into the trap of thinking that we know best.

We know best

You are excited about a new and ingenious idea you have for a product or a service and you can’t wait to get started. Or maybe something needs to be improved and you have the best idea ever for exactly how it needs to be. You’ve fallen in love with your idea and nothing can stop you.

You share it with a few like-minded people, who either love it too (result!) or can’t bring themselves to burst your bubble (oops!) so they stay quiet. You spend loads of time, money and energy on creating something you think is going to be jaw-droppingly wonderful.

You tweak and twiddle with it until it’s perfect and the first time a customer sees it is when it’s a perfectly completed thing. Ta dah! This is great if you’ve just invented the equivalent to an iPhone, but if it’s a Beta Max then you’re in trouble. #epicfail

Shall we test?

The first time we experienced this for ourselves, we were stunned by how valuable it actually was, although we resisted it in the beginning.

We’d come up with an awesome (or so we thought) idea that would ‘change lives.’ We were confident we were onto a winner, there seemed little point wasting time gathering other people’s opinions, so we reluctantly tested our idea and the rationale for it with a handful of surprisingly willing people. We explained, we defended, we were passionate. But it just wasn’t a great idea! It was going nowhere.

So we let it go.

We stopped trying to make it into something, and we moved onto the next thing. Minimal time wasted. Zero embarrassment. No costs incurred. It was an important lesson.

What if you were to bring your customers in right at the start?

The benefits can be massive. You can design things that your customers love and can’t live without. Here are 8 things to consider.

#1 – Start talking to people and getting feedback as soon as you can. Early stage testing uncovers flaws and flawed thinking. Revisions are quick, simple and not too costly. And people love to be asked if they have an opinion!

#2 – Get feedback from the right people. It’s easy to pick the people you know will be receptive to your idea. Instead, be brave and bold. Talk to strangers about it. Pick up with people who have no deep knowledge of your subject field and talk to them.  Ask mavericks and rebels, those who don’t conform. Ask people who you think probably won’t ‘get it’. This will test your powers of explanation and will help you think on your feet.

#3 – Welcome a fresh and unbiased perspective and appreciate your customers’ unique expertise and points of view. Your customers are savvy, they know what they want, they know what’s getting in their way and they appreciate being asked. They will help you to challenge the assumptions that you are making. Pay attention and be humble.

#4 – Experiment with a different viewpoint. Consider your idea, not as a product, but as a hypothesis to be tested and honed. This will help you to keep your thinking free and flexible. The result of your experiment is feedback. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s just data. It might make it a little easier to absorb. And it will help you to check that you’re not inventing a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.

#5 – Appreciate all of the feedback you receive. It’s easy to react badly when someone calls ‘your baby’ ugly. Don’t wish for smarter customers but take a breath and listen carefully to understand their point of view. When you are listening, don’t weed out what you’d rather not hear. Seek out harsh truths, consider their implications, then work out how to address them.

#6 – Be brutal and fail fast. When all the information is telling you that you’re heading in the wrong direction, don’t ignore it. Why waste time working on something that nobody wants, will use or that doesn’t make things better?

#7 – Listen hard for other gems. Through your customer conversations, you might well hear things that spark your thinking and creativity. The source of good ideas is limitless, so you could find yourself heading off in a totally new direction as a result.

# 8 – Don’t dawdle. Make rapid progress by setting tight deadlines, disregard perfect and be happy to work with ‘good enough’. Consider your idea as a working prototype or simply ‘work in progress.’ Make changes and keep testing. Once is never enough!

When you’re creating the ‘next big thing’ in your work, will you hide it away, secretly polishing it in the hope of making something perfect that everyone will ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at when it’s revealed?

Or might you be tempted to let it out into the world early, and invite your customers to share their wisdom with you so you can co-create something that really does make a difference?



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