Your Customers Are Lying to You (and What to Do About It)

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

If you’ve ever dealt with a customer, you know that they often say one thing but mean something completely different.

This is what makes designing a product so hard. In fact, I often feel less like a product designer and more like a detective.

The things customers say are just clues, and it’s my job to put the clues together to find out what they need, not just what they say they need.

Before making the decision to pivot from Sqwiggle to Speak, we had gathered a mountain of customer feedback, mostly via support and Twitter. But we also conducted a series of customer interviews with both current and churned customers.

Customer feedback grid

This revealed tons of interesting insights, but we found it tough to distill any concrete learning from all this data. Every customer had a particular feature they thought was a must-have. Or they claimed that some specific improvement to an existing feature would make them a regular user.

This is a dangerous situation because when your customers claim that all they need is feature X and they’ll be loyal users, it makes it easy to develop the Next Feature Fallacy.

We fell into this trap early on when we were building Sqwiggle. We would often prioritize the most requested features, which were also usually the most time consuming. But once they were released, we’d rarely see an uptick in the metrics.

Looking back, this isn’t too surprising. The reality is: if you don’t have product market fit, then giving a customer feature X just means they’ll ask for feature Y. And each failed feature is more product and code that you have to maintain. This is where the Next Feature Fallacy can be deadly. Before long you’re under water.

The way to avoid this is by using the data to develop educated hypotheses that can be tested in the short term, allowing you to make many small pivots instead of a few large ones.

“You know that old saw about a plane flying from California to Hawaii being off course 99% of the time — but constantly correcting? The same is true of successful startups — except they may start out heading toward Alaska.” — Evan Williams

In The Lean Startup, Eric Ries suggests that each and every product iteration should have a set of goals that, if reached, indicate the success of that iteration.

Whether it’s increased retention, higher engagement levels on a specific feature or a better customer activation rate, you must define success upfront. If you don’t, how the heck do you know if you built the right thing?

On the journey to product market fit, customers can help you make adjustments, but it’s up to you to chart the course and find the destination before running out of gas.

Focus on creating hypotheses based on customer data, identifying concrete success metrics, and using quick iteration cycles to test them. And never let customers lure you into the Next Feature Fallacy.

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