Q: How do you know when to implement customer feedback vs. ignore it?
Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal
A: Customer feedback is an excellent source for ways to improve and grow your business. Their suggestions can help you understand how to deliver your service better and discover new products and services they need. But just because customers ask for something doesn't mean you should deliver it.
First, figure out what it will cost to meet their request and how much they are willing to pay to be sure you can make a profit. Then determine if other customers have the same need. If more of your customers want the same service, it may be a good opportunity. If it won't be profitable for you, recommend someone who can do it.
But profitability is not the only test.
In many businesses, there are more opportunities than you have resources to exploit, so a clear strategy is helpful. No company can do everything, so the strategy guides your decision about what you do.
If your customers like your company, they will ask you to become the company that meets more of their needs, but adding services complicates your business, pulls you away from your core competencies and can confuse your brand in the mind of your customers. Your strategy is what guides your choices about what to do, and what not to do, as well.
Apple's Steve Jobs believed that customer feedback isn't helpful for designing the next new product, primarily because customers don't know the emerging technologies.
But the failure rate for technology start-ups is very high, in part because many companies believed they knew what customers wanted, built the products and then couldn't find customers. The emerging lean start-up philosophy takes a different track — it says to interview potential customers about the problems they face, develop a product for solving those problems, and then validate your solution with customer interviews and refine it until the market wants to buy it.
My recommendation to is listen to customers when they tell you what problems they need solved, then offer solutions only when it is profitable for your company.
Mark Spriggs is an associate professor of entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.