The Oaks Ignore Their Pleas

Listen (REALLY Listen) to Your Customers

Posted in General, Product Development, Products by Jeff Graves on September 8, 2006

One of the key components of a successful software development process is the ability to provide the functions that a customer needs, in an easy to use and easy to understand manner.  Divining exactly what the customer needs can be tricky, and too many organizations take it upon themselves to decide exactly what the customer needs.  It’s rare that an organization has the crystal clear insight into the inner workings of the minds of their customers required to make this approach work.  Too often, the software development process churns out deliverables that conceptually resemble this famous cartoon that leads off Tara Hunt’s post on the value (and challenges) of the consulting industry.

But once you find a customer willing to tell you what they need (and most are happy to do so, you just have to ask the right way), you need to know HOW to ask.  More specifically, you need to know how to ensure that the customer really understands what they need, how it will help them, and how to accurately describe the needed functionality. 

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a customer who was looking at the possibility of changing service providers, and it turned out that access to a powerful online platform was a key decision factor in choosing a provider.  As we demonstrated the features of our platform to the assembled committee charged with making a recommendation, one individual raised his hand.  “Does  your platform offer the ability to drill down from these numbers, into a view that shows how those numbers were calculated?”  I responded that no, it didn’t, but that we’d be happy to listen to his ideas and consider putting that functionality into a future release.  I was about to move forward with the demo, when one of my colleagues stopped me, with a frown on his face.  “Can you help me understand how the drill down feature you’ve asked for would be used?  What value would that add to your operation?”  The individual started to answer, paused, then shook his head.  “Your competitors both have this feature in their product.”  “But how would you use the feature?”  The individual took several moments to think before he responded that he couldn’t think of a value to the capability.  His sole reason for requesting this capability was that he had seen another provider demonstrate the capability, without highlighting any benefit whatsoever. 

What would have happened if my colleague hadn’t been curious enough to ask the customer about how he would use this new capability?  Well, if someone didn’t ask the “value question”, we likely would have spent time analyzing, designing and building a solution that no one would ever get any benefit out of.  It might make us compare favorably on a feature list comparison with our competitors, but we wouldn’t be adding any more value than our current offering.

Listen! Ask Questions!  Be Curious!  Think Value!

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2 Responses

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  1. Leo Bottary said, on September 8, 2006 at 1:25 am

    Enjoyed your post! Great example of getting to the heart of the matter, rather than the making assumptions.

  2. […] Listen (REALLY Listen) to Your CustomersListen (REALLY Listen) to Your Customers Posted in General, Products, Product Development by mightyoak on the September 8th, 2006 One of the key… […]


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