Eleven Reasons the Customer is Never Right

September 15, 2023
4 min read

Recently, the sentence "the customer is always right" came up. While this adage champions the importance of customer feedback, it undervalues the expertise of professionals who have dedicated years to mastering their craft.

Here's why I will always argue against the notion:

  1. Every customer is unique, and trying to cater to each specific need can result in an unfocused product. Feedback can be contrasting, making it challenging to find a universally accepted solution.
  2. Most customers interact primarily with the product's surface and might not grasp the underlying complexity, decisions, and technical constraints that shape the final product.
  3. There's a risk that customers might not articulate their needs correctly, leading to potential misunderstandings or skewed product adjustments.
  4. Every tweak or change has a price tag. Besides financial implications, adjusting a product's design can be intricate and multifaceted, an aspect customers may not be familiar with.
  5. Customers often focus on short-term fixes that address their immediate needs, sidelining the product's broader vision and long-term goals.
  6. Customers approach products from their unique context and often suggest solutions that fit their use-case, not necessarily the most fitting fix for all users.
  7. Every product operates within certain technical constraints, which customers might not always be aware of, leading to unfeasible requests or suggestions.
  8. Prioritizing one feature might compromise another.
  9. Trying to integrate every suggestion can result in a cluttered user interface and a less intuitive user experience. (Microsoft.)
  10. Over-reliance on customer feedback can steer a product away from its initial intent and strategic roadmap.
  11. A product stands out due to its unique attributes. Catering to all feedback might dilute its distinctiveness, making it blend in rather than stand out.

If customers were always right, we would've not needed Product Managers and Designers. Balancing customer needs with technical feasibility and a product's long-term vision is the true art of successful product management.

What We Should Be Doing

Here's how I believe we should approach this:

Be Customer-Inspired, Not Customer-Led

It’s essential to differentiate between taking inspiration from customers and letting them lead product development. This ensures that we consider their inputs but make decisions that align with the product's overall goals.

Product Discovery is key

Instead of taking what customers say at face value, delve deeper. Use product discovery techniques to reveal the genuine needs and desires of the customer, which they might not even be consciously aware of.

Consult the Experts

Having feedback is invaluable, but it’s equally crucial to utilize the expertise of a professional team to brainstorm and come up with innovative solutions that cater to the revealed needs.

Innovation Beyond Requests

The essence of innovation is not merely tweaking existing models based on feedback but to envisage and build solutions that customers haven't even realized they need yet.

A Guiding Product Vision

Every successful product has a clear vision, a beacon that helps in decision-making. When multiple voices pull in different directions, this vision ensures the product remains on the intended path.

Our job as Product people is not merely to heed every piece of feedback but to uncover the deeper needs and make intelligent decisions based on them. That's the essence of being genuinely customer-oriented.

Recommended material on this topic

"Lean Customer Development" by Cindy Alvarez

A hands-on guide to the process of customer development. It showcases how to validate product and company assumptions by talking and listening to customers.

"The Mom Test" by Rob Fitzpatrick

Explains how to talk to customers and learn if your business is a good idea.

"Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love" by Marty Cagan

Provides a master class in how to structure and staff a vibrant and successful product organization, as well as how to discover and deliver technology products that your customers will love.

"User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Build the Right Product" by Jeff Patton

Patton delves deep into the process of understanding customer needs and using that to guide product development.

"Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days" by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz

This book from Google Ventures is about the process of rapidly prototyping and testing ideas with users.

Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview (from 1990):

Jobs discusses product development, Apple, and the importance of creating high-quality, user-centric products.


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