Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Listen to your customers, or not!

The most vocal customers you have, those that download the latest builds of your products, those that discover the bugs in your code, and take the time to make their opinion of your products known to you and sometimes to the rest of the world as well, are a great asset to your product development effort. However, if you are not careful those customers can lead you down the wrong path and put the future of your product in jeopardy. 
There are two particular characteristics that make those customers likeable to you:
  1. They are usually testing the limits of your product and are looking to do more with it; 
  2. They understand and appreciate the effort that goes into making those products.
Those two characteristics make you vulnerable – subconsciously you place those customers at a totally different level, and you have the desire to please and impress them.  Consequently, suggestions and feature requests coming from this small subset of customers tend to get “promoted” at a much faster pace and get approved at a much higher rate, often overlooking the financial viability. 
From the marketing point of view, those vocal customers have the power to "make" or "break" your product: a positive, unsolicited comment carries the potential to catapult your product to the top whereas a negative comment can quickly sink your product to the bottom where no one will ever see it again. 
So, what shall you do, listen or not listen to your customers? The key to answering this is to clarifying the definition of the term "listening". Listening to your customers does not mean rushing to implement whatever they tell you but rather:
  • Thoroughly understanding not just what the customer is suggesting or requesting but understanding why is the customer making that suggestion, what exactly is the situation that this let’s say new feature will help the customer with. If you go deep enough you may discover that you already have addressed that situation somewhere. For example: we often get inquiries about our database comparison API (xSQL SDK) when in fact the customer is really looking for something like xSQL Builder.  
  • Evaluating the request from the business and financial perspective on its own merit, completely separating the request from the source.  This is important not only for the customer requests but for the internal suggestions as well. 
  • Very important: communicating your decision back to the customer. Whether you have decided to adopt your customer’s suggestion or not is irrelevant, what matters is telling the customer what you have decided and candidly explaining your decision.
In conclusion: yes, do listen to your customers, their feedback is truly invaluable, but don’t let yourself be steered in the wrong direction. 
PS if you work with SQL Server consider spending the next 5 minutes reviewing our SQL Server Comparison tools, xSQL Object and xSQL Data Compare, or if you work with Oracle take a look at our Oracle Data Compare. Those tools are worth your time – you will agree.


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