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How much should we really listen to customers

Maybe not so much

     
6:34 am on Jun 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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In another post I explained how someone bought a product we make... then found somebody else to make a slightly different version for him, with a few things added on, and is now talking trash about our product (the very same he basically copied) while promoting his.

As a side note to this... It's gotten me thinking about how seriously I should take customers wishes and opinions, when designing products. What this guy basically did was simply make our product bigger, which does make it better. I knew this years ago, but purposely chose not to make it that big. Why? Because I had casually talked with numerous potential customers, and most told me they didn't want one that big. Having a very large version of this widget would make things considerably more difficult when using it, and it would also raise the price... None of which the customers said they want. So I went about designing the widget to the basic parameters that customers claimed they wanted. Also... In general, I have often heard from customers that they prefer not being hounded by companies... They prefer being left alone, and when they want something, they'll come to you. So I typically do not partake in any sort of hard sell activities. I don't do mass emails, or anything like that.

Well... The product has done OK over the years, but it could have been better. Then this guy comes out with his version... When I compare the number he claims he has sold in just 1/2 year... It's about the same number that took me 3 years to sell. I think part of the reason for that, is that he has been very aggressive in his sales... He hounds people on forums and has also done mass emails.

So I have to say, at this point... I'm kind of wondering why I bother to listen to customers. The version they said they wanted has not sold as well as I hoped. The version this other guy has offered goes against everything most people said they wanted... It's bigger, harder to setup, and more expensive. A third more actually. Customers also said they don't want to be hounded, yet they seem to be responding to that.

So is it very smart to listen to customers and actually believe them? In this case, it would appear not. I kind of feel like posting a notice to customers, saying that next time everybody tells me they want something made a certain way, I'm just going to ignore them.
7:23 am on June 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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It is risky ground to think you know better than your customers. As to hard selling, I don't believe in hard sell but I do make sure my customers know we want to sell to them, we want and value their business.

WRT the larger widget. Could you not have developed the larger widget and sold it alongside your smaller one, then you could have let the customers decide?
9:41 am on June 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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The difficult trick is to filter out what your customers actually want from what they say they want.

A friend of mine who is a music promoter ran a successful Friday night club. Eventually that music genre started to slip out of fashion and attendance declined. He did a customer survey and found that most customers said that they preferred Saturday night to Friday night. For a year he ran the club on Saturday night and attendance crashed. Yes the punters preferred Saturday but they already did other things on that night.
He went back to Friday but the business still hasn't fully recovered several years on.

The only true guide is the cash flow.
10:11 am on June 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Perhaps your friend did not ask the right question piatkow?
11:32 am on June 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I think one reason why your competitor is doing so well in the past 1/2 year is precisely because you have been in business for 3 years, so people have gotten a familiarity with the product because of you. So there's that.

Re listening to customers, I listen to customers but I don't do everything they say they want, because not only is it true as someone mentioned that they don't always know what they want, but because lots of what they want is not what I want. Yes, we are here to make money, but if we just wanted money, we could go work for some big corporation and get benefits as well as money! To work for oneself means to have a stab at doing things your own way and on a higher plan to work out some kind of vision you have for your business.

There's no reason why you can't produce a bigger widget alongside your widget, if you want. Then you would have a selection and your competitor would not. But the thing is, do you want your business driven by your competitor or by you? Your competitor saw that there was a mini-niche to be had by making one of your widgets bigger. Is there something else you can do with your widgets to make more sales, some other type of widget based on yours?
7:11 pm on June 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Good points guys... Yes, making another version of the same widget would have been the best solution. The reason why I didn't was because, there's actually an almost infinite amount of versions to what we make, and many products are very labor intensive. So at some point, I have to gamble on what I think is best. I honestly didn't think a larger version of this one particular one would sell that well, so I was content with the one we had. What I might do is make a larger one, but also add a twist nobody else has.

I've actually technically been doing the biz for 10 years now. Hard to believe it's been that long. These latest experiences have prompted me to think about new stuff. It's always hard to do that, because I'm basically spending 7 days a week just making what we have. So to take the few moments I'm not doing that and spend it on designing new things, is tough to make myself do sometimes. But I have recently designed some new stuff and have ideas for things that I have not seen anybody else do yet. And I guess that's where my strength is.

But I think I will take what customers say with a very large grain of salt now. There's actually other businesses I've watched, where it is very common for many people in a niche to claim they want something, only to not buy any of them when somebody makes it. So that's probably always a risk.
7:31 pm on June 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

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>>When I compare the number he claims he has sold in just 1/2 year... It's about the same number that took me 3 years to sell.

hold on here, personally i'd never ever believe what a competitor claims with regards their sales
1:43 am on June 19, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Customers also said they don't want to be hounded, yet they seem to be responding to that


Sure they do. Many people will by anything with hard sell motivation even if it's a scam or not what they wanted. Look at timeshares or orange goo junk, makes millions. Is it what they wanted, nope. It's what they thought they wanted or what you told them they wanted.
1:53 pm on June 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Not to discount the opinions of your current customers...but, well, they are already your customers for a reason. How many of these current customers have been lost to the competitor and his bigger widget? Perhaps not very many.

I've learned to take great care when answering phones, emails and learning what NONcustomers are looking for; listening to these requests has led us into profitable and underserved niches. If your site doesn't indicate that any "variations on a widget theme" can be requested, valuable feedback from noncustomers may be lost or, worse yet, being given to a competitor.

We sell a reasonable variety of widgets and do not tend to stray from what we show online; however, we encourage people who cannot find what they are looking for to call or email. Even if we do not offer something that EXACTLY fits the bill, we can direct them on how to repurpose our widget for their application, or file-away that knowledge for future expansion.
2:57 pm on June 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

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When I compare the number he claims he has sold in just 1/2 year


Have you considered that number is false?

Maybe he's pumping the numbers trying to make people think his product is more appealing.

Then again, maybe he simply filled a niche you missed and has already peaked and burned out the demand.

Only one way to find out, build it and promote it.
3:55 pm on June 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Nice post p5gal5. Customer relations certainly goes beyond simply taking orders and filling them.
6:31 pm on June 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Yes, I considered he is bending the truth on the number sold. I'd say there's maybe a 15% chance. My gut tells me he's probably telling the truth. But that is true... He may very well have sold that number because of his aggressive campaign, and now it's over. He tried to start up something on a forum where he said he could sell to a group and give a cheaper price. Nobody responded.

But I agree... I absolutely listen to what old customers, and also potential new customers say, and also offer all kinds of customization options and all sorts of things. All over our site I offer email links, asking for people to let us know if they needed anything custom, or if they have any ideas for new stuff. I guess that's why I felt a little betrayed when people in our niche started flocking to this guy so easily. I could understand if we weren't flexible and I was just like... Here's what we have, take it or leave it. But it's not that way at all.

Actually, it's kind of interesting... With almost each product, I have an email link and note, saying that we can change a part on each widget so it will work better with the buyer's equipment. In some cases, it might not work at all without changing it. And we do this free. But I've found many people still order it stock, even if it won't work when they get it, or they have to order something separate to get it to work.
7:06 pm on June 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Might be careful about offering too many options. The customer might wonder if the product is "finished"!
10:27 pm on June 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Well, yes, that's the problem... People do think that. And honestly... Technically, they often are not finished. But there is no way around that. If I were to make a ready-made copy of every conceivable version of what we have, I would need an airplane hangar to store them in, and probably have a couple million invested. So that ain't gonna happen. The fact that we even offer custom options is far above most others in our field. And certainly doing many of the options for free is almost unheard of now days. Most companies... you would be lucky to get a reply if you asked them to do something custom.

But yes, people almost seem to be turned off by the concept of "custom" now. I think many people assume everything is made by robots, and if it's not, then it's not good. It use to be that "custom" was considered a good thing. But as everybody here knows, it's very hard to make everybody happy.
9:22 am on June 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Nothing wrong with custom products. These will sell. However, how you offer that option is the key to marketing. I'd suggest something like:

"While our product(s) are fully functional and will most likely serve your needs as is, if you have a special request for additional functions, contact us." Then give them a link for a CUSTOM product order. And DON'T put that on every page!
 

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