A Gateway

Taking feature requests from customers is a bad idea. However, it’s an excellent way to start a conversation. Done right, asking your customers for ideas is an excellent gateway to truly understanding what they want.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Henry Ford

Your customers will quickly rush to give you their ideas. In their minds, their ideas will be instant hits – That if you implement them, you will ultimately succeed. Without any research, they just know. And they speak it with so much conviction.

Unfortunately, customers’ ideas are almost always doomed for failure. Your customers own the problems. It’s your role as an entrepreneur to solve them with products.

When talking to customers, we are rightfully cautioned to avoid asking them about features and ideas. However, done properly, a feature request is an excellent starting point to uncovering people’s real wants.

Here are some examples to illustrate.

Example 1

  • You: If you were to change one thing about this office chair, what would it be?
  • Them: I would definitely want it to massage my lower back.
  • You: Company X makes one for the same price as the chair you’re using now. Check them out!
  • Them: Oh wow. I didn’t know that. I’ll check them out, thanks.

One month later.

  • You: Hey, didn’t you say you were going to order that massaging chair a month ago?
  • Them: Yea…ummm…I don’t know, I think I don’t really need it to be honest.

Example 2

  • Them: I wish they made an electric Ferrari.
  • You: Why do you say that?
  • Them: I want to be conscious of the environment and care for it.
  • You You can always get a Tesla.
  • Them Yea, but a Ferrari has a different vibe to it.

You can tell from this conversation that this person cares more about what people say than he does about the environment. I’d argue that he wants an electric car so that he looks like he cares for the environment.

Don’t dismiss a customer’s attempt to throw an idea at you. Instead, use it as an opportunity to understand what they truly want. Ask:

  • Why would you need that?
  • if you had idea x, what would you do?

There are many things that people say they want. That monitor, if only it were $50 cheaper. That shoe, if only it came in blue. That chair, if only it had a massage function. It’s your job to figure out if they’re just rambling or speaking the truth.

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