Customers are your best insight into launching a new product if only you're willing to listen.
We have been working with an early-stage enterprise tech company to help them get their product to market. We recently gathered to watch their first customerinstallation. They were naively fearless--they knew things would go wrong, but they didn't know what or how severe the problems would be.
No one, however, expected the install to go as badly as it did. If there was a feature that could be broken, it was. If there was a process that could be challenged by the new technology, it was. If there was a remote possibility that some network setting would cause chaos, it did.
All the testing they did in advance didn't prepare them for "real" users. The tech team was at first horrified by the volume and severity of the challenges they experienced. But then something amazing happened. They showed us exactly why we are excited about their potential.
They took a deep breath, stopped trying to gloss over the challenges, and instead embraced their flaws. They encouraged users to try to break things. They feverishly took notes as they learned what they needed to do better.
The customer wasn't scared off by the bugs because our client had prepared them for possible issues. The team was honest about where the problems were, but more importantly, they showed the customer their resolve to learn everything that they could to develop a great product. The customer's attitude actually shifted from tolerance to excitement as they realized the system was going to be refined beyond just fixing flaws and that they were going to be a part of designing a system that they would love to use.
The tech company accepted that they didn't know it all and eagerly solicited feedback from the customer. The experience gave them the best free product development input they could ever expect.
We thought to our own client experiences, and the experiences our other clients have with their customers. If we can all listen to customers as openly as this tech start-up did, we will not only build great products and services, but we will forge the sort of lasting relationships that most companies seek.
When developing new products and services, it's good to trust your intuition and your internal expertise--to a point. But when an opportunity to learn from a real live customer presents itself, you need to be all ears. You can't possibly know it all if you don't recognize the wisdom of others.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree. @karlstark