Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Is it time to listen to customers again?

For the past eight years or so my friends and I have been saying things like "the customer is the enemy".

This is a joke.

What we meant is that if you painstakingly listen to customers, and give them what they ask for, you end up with stone soup. With real stones.

The joke was a necessary antidote to the "customer is always right" product management mantra of the 80s and 90s. It's a tough road, and I'm not a master at it, but there has to be a conductor for the orchestra, a writer for the book, a vision for the product. "A" as in "one". There are a thousand paths to most goals, but you can only take one of them.

So do listen very carefully to customers, but don't take their advice as is. Use what you hear as a clue to what's wrong, maybe even to the solution -- but remember the road.

Or at least that's what I used to think. Problem is, now everyone is channeling the spirit of Steve Jobs ...

Hate Facebook's new look? You'll like it soon enough. - By Farhad Manjoo - Slate Magazine

... Zuckerberg sent a memo to his staff telling them to ignore the latest cries because "the most disruptive companies don't listen to their customers." That's not very politic, but if Zuckerberg did really say it, he was only describing recent history...

Hmm. If everyone is saying it then it can't be right.

Maybe it's time to listen to customers again.

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