Please, please listen to your customer

Tanuj Joshi
Sep 25 · 3 min read

“Indifference towards your customer and the reality in which they live is the one and only cardinal sin in business.”

Let me ask you: How many times have you approved a solution which wasn’t loved by your customers? If the answer to that question is anything but ‘never’, then we need to examine the situation more closely.

More often than not, our customers provide us with very strong clues about the problems they hire us to crack. Usually we ignore these signs. Why? May be we think we are smarter. May be we just don’t know how to distill these hints and take action against them. The problems that we are solving for our current and potential customers fall in one of the following 2 categories:

  1. Category 1: Your customers know the problem they are facing and have a rough solution to their problem. They are simply looking at you to fill the gaps with your expertise (technical or otherwise) and to give them that solution in a simple and easy to use package. There are many, many successful examples in this arena. Conference attendees in San Francisco knew they had a problem. Whenever there’s a conference in town, all the hotels get booked up very quickly and whatever’s left is very pricey. Some conference goers started staying as “paid” couch surfers while attending conferences. A young entrepreneur named Brian Cheksy who was a “host” to these couch-surfers took a second look, engineered a solution and polished it up. A decade later, we have one of the most successful startups ever created. Valued at over $50 billion it is called AirBnB.
  2. Category 2: This category is more complex and rare than the first one. In this case, customers know they are facing a problem (or in some acute cases they show indirect signs by being frustrated while using available solutions) but have no idea about any real solutions to their problems. This is slightly harder to solve as you have to put yourselves in their shoes, live your life as they do and then design the solution from ground up which will be accepted by your end users. The iPhone is a good example here. Users knew they had a problem with too many keys on a mobile phone and the rigidity it entailed with what the keys could do. Apple understood this. Without any help from their potential customers, they had to come up with a solution which was an all touch screen interface. We now call it the iPhone.

Long story short, all problem solving in business must be done with the customer / end user at the dead center of the design process. Please don’t take the “must” lightly in my previous sentence. Maybe that’s why urban legend indicates Amazon’s Jeff Bezos till date keeps an empty chair titled “Customer” in all important meetings. He does this to ensure he and his team never forget the biggest stake holder in everything they do, is the end customer.

So next time when you are working on a problem and you feel stuck, think hard and then think a bit harder. May be your customers have already given you the solution! 😉

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