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Don’t listen to your customers

You must have read hundreds of articles and received tons of advice that you should listen to your customers. There are numerous survey tools that are available to ask customers what they want. But listening to your customers could be the biggest mistake for your product.

There is a famous saying by Henry Ford – “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. (I’m not sure if Henry Ford really said those words). In 1998, Steve Jobs famously 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.”


Talking to customers is a science, and most of us are not trained in this science. When customer development is done incorrectly, like asking leading questions, we hear problems that are either not important to the customers or start to hear solutions from the customers.

What do we do if we don’t listen to our customers? We observe our customers.

“We should observe customers behavior in their natural environments. This will help us get a deeper understanding of customers problems and come up with better & relevant solutions.”

Canva is design tool that enables anyone to become a designer. When Canva built their product, they didn’t listen to their customers. They didn’t ask users what to build, instead they observed the challenges customers are facing. This helped make think differently and build Canva as compared to Photoshop with less or strip down features.

You can also observe customers digital behavior – i.e. how the customers are using your product. Zoosk, a popular dating company observes customers behavior and uses that in their algorithm to serve up relevant matches.

There is even a television series called Undercover Boss that features senior executives of companies to go undercover in their own companies to observe how employee work and the challenges they face. This help them uncover issues that otherwise gets missed by asking questions.

Listening to customers can guide you to think of incremental improvements. If you are looking for the moonshot leap or the next invention you should observe customers behavior. Everyone can ask customers what they want but by observing customers your find opportunities that others don’t.

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