The Customer Is Not Always Right

But you’d be surprised what you can learn from them if you just stop and really listen.

I wrote a version of this post a little over two years ago on my blog but I wanted to share it again. I’ve adapted it a bit since I’ve learned a few more things along the way.

We were working on one of my first startups, GetMinders, day and night. GetMinders helped elderly people take their medicine on time and, ultimately, stay healthier and more connected with their families as they aged. Every time we’d update our product we would get tons of feedback from our early users. Sometimes we’d listen and implement their thoughts. Other times it would look like we completely ignored what they wanted. It wasn’t that their feedback was wrong or invalid, it was that it was just that — their feedback. None of our users really had the big picture in mind.

When collecting feedback, you need to combine your customer’s words, your friend’s thoughts, your parents phone calls and, most importantly, your own goals and experiences to form a comprehensive plan. And most importantly, there are a number of ways that you’re already receiving feedback, even if no one has picked up the phone to share it. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about.

Listen to what they don’t say

In our twenty seventh version of our product, we did away with the idea of “patients.” We did this based on feedback that was never actually said. People just weren’t using the feature and it made GetMinders confusing. Sure, when we rolled out the new version to our pilot group, a couple of people asked what happened but we explained where our product was headed and they quickly understood.

Don’t get lost in the feedback maze

Everyone loved sharing feedback. From large pharmaceutical companies to small doctors offices one thing was clear, every human being had a lot to say. Each group we talked to had wildly different needs. Doctors wanted to get their patients out the door faster, pharma companies wanted to find out when their customers were taking their drugs and insurance companies wanted to keep all of their members out of the hospital (to save money, of course). Each time I hopped off a call, I realized how many directions we could go. If we listened to everyone’s feedback we would have built nothing.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

When we started GetMinders we thought about data, a lot. We thought about how we’d capture it over the phone, text, email, letters, faxes and smoke signals. We discussed how we could store it and, ultimately, how it would make money. But early on, we decided to take a peek at what others had already done. had done a fantastic job of displaying helpful information on finances. Google was great at displaying lists of results (from the entire internet) that were easy to read through in a few seconds. Even Facebook was able to connect the thoughts of over 500 million users in an elegant way. By opening our eyes to what others had done before us, we got to skip the line on a lot of mistakes.

Putting all of this together, I couldn’t help but think about what Steve Jobs once said:

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.

I believe he was right. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t listen to any feedback you get but you do need to look around, ask questions, organize all of the words that get thrown your way and ultimately come up with a plan of attack that actually solves the problem at hand.