Mobile Innovation: Don’t listen to customers

Mobile Innovation: Don’t listen to customers

We’ve been told time and time again that listening to the people on the street actually gets us in tune with what they want you, as a company to do. Most people believe that when they design something and it doesn’t actually get the number of likes or hit the top ten in application downloads from the stores, then they have to go back to the drawing board.

That may well be true. But, in between the drawing board and the new mega-hit design, they do they wrong thing and go and ask the customer, or the users, what they actually want. They forget one important thing, perhaps the most important of all and they don’t see the fatal flaw that exists with the feedback that they get from their end users. The end user doesn’t necessarily tell the truth and the end user doesn’t necessarily know how to predict the way in which they will act in the future.

People are notoriously bad at predicting what they will want, need or do in the future when it comes to apps. Other end users just don’t tell the truth and provide answers that they are not necessarily going to follow. Lastly, and worst of all, the end user is not a designer and so doesn’t know what they actually might need or want in the future when it comes to an app.

Why not leave the designing job to the designers. Would you ask the end user to diagnose what’s wrong with the patient in the bed next to them, or get the doctor to do the diagnosing stuff? Apps are nothing more than a means of diagnosing what the end user needs and the best one to get that done is the company that has experience. Listening to your customers is essential, but guiding them to what they need is even more important and if you allow them to guide you, then you are bound to get things wrong.

It’s not that the customer knows nothing, just that the customer doesn’t always know what is best for them and the designer knows better.

The job of a designer is to:

  1. Stop asking what the user says they want and need.
  2. Observe what the user is actually doing at the present time and how they are reacting and interacting with apps today.
  3. Create the means to allow users to get to where they want to go with apps faster and more easily.
  4. Make changes to apps and then test out those changes and see if the hunch was right and adapt accordingly.
  5. Match with the users’ needs. Then, make sure that it adapts again and again as the user develops and changes.

It doesn’t mean that a designer doesn’t talk to the users. That would be reckless as the designer would need to have a crystal ball to predict the future and that just can’t happen, unless in very rare occasions. But, the designer needs to talk, not necessarily listen to everything that the user actually says.

History has taught us in business that asking the customer what they want brings into play a whole array of psychological elements that mean that they don’t necessarily tell the truth, because they feel they can’t admit certain things publically. When asked what type of coffee people want to drink, they usually reply something along the lines of it having to be a dark and rich roasted coffee. But, according to research only about 25% of people actually like coffee that tastes like that. Most people go for weak, milky coffee in the US, but they are hardly going to admit that publically. Weak and milky just don’t sound as good as dark and rich roasted, do they? There’s the famous story too about Walmart that decided to declutter their aisles and end up losing $1.85 billion in sales, all because the customer wanted it to happen. They followed the advice of the customers, decluttered the aisles and ended up losing money on it. The customer doesn’t actually either tell the truth or even know what they really want.

The app designer has to develop an app from the principle that they are in the know and that they have carried out sufficient research into the market and in customer habits that they are able to develop the app that the user wants. It’s a thing of the past to get groups and panels together to sit around in offices and discuss what they think is good or how they perceive something. That’s so 1990s. It no longer works today and people are developing so quickly that they need to be monitored by somebody that has the ability to analyze rather than someone who just sits and listens.

People need to be observed and that’s the only way that the fast-paced world of apps can be successful today.

Henry Ford, is supposed to have said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” but even if the quote is a myth, it serves its purpose and shows that people don’t know what they want because they are not the inventors and the designers of the future. People overestimate their future reactions systematically according to research, anyhow.

The only way of staying that one step ahead of the competition is to make sure that you invent the future of applications. The only way that can be done is by predicting, as a good app designer, what is going to be needed in the future. It certainly won’t happen by listening to what the customer wants since that is already fixed in the present and not looking forward to the future.

Users will tell you what they need now, but a designer needs to be able to predict what they will need in the future by analyzing what the users are doing today.

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Product thinking • Design • Development • Acquisition • Product evolution

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