Listen to Customers, Not Users

Vintage Erik: Erik' listening to the customer intently.

When you're running your own startup and trying to make your product better, it's tempting to take everything your users say and build it into your product. After all the users are the ones closest to it, right? A user makes a suggestion and you're more likely than not to add it in.

Doing things this way is part of calming our ego. When a complete stranger who is kind enough to use your site gives you a helping hand, it's hard to say no, right? They want to know that you care. Well caring is not the same as always saying yes. Sure, your kids may want candy for breakfast or want to stay up until midnight, but you don't let them. It's not part of the vision you have for their health and well-being.

Let me make a distinction. A user is a prospect, a site visitor, a person who uses your site (perhaps as a freemium structure) but is not a paying customer.

Customers help drive company direction, whereas users provide valuable input.

If you always listen to users and follow their advice:

  • everything will be free and therefore make no money
  • your products will be built by committee (of everyone)
  • your vision will not matter

So should you do everything customer suggest?

Nope. It's your business.

Quote from Henry Ford:

If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse.

So even when your customers suggest or even demand something, you need to think about how it fits into the vision you have for your startup. If it doesn't fit, you must reject it. Now there may be an astounding insight that comes up that shakes up your vision and changes it. That's a good thing. But don't go backwards, only forwards.

Won't a user become a customer?

Yes, but getting your customers satisfied means that once the user does convert to a customer, their experience will be so much better than when they were a user. But don't make the user's version suck. Just make it not as great as the customer's version. If your users do not convert to customers, then the product wasn't for them in the fist place.

Do you have evidence to back this up?

Luckily. Here's a good, short post on BlueMango's experience with the launch of their ScreenSteps Live product.

But my business model only has users. It doesn't have customers in it.

That is why you fail. Listen to this podcast and make your hard efforts worthwhile, and not just a hobby:

37 Signals podcast: "Making people pay and targeting nonconsumption"

Photo courtesy caseywest CC BY 2.0

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