How to Get Great Customer Feedback and Avoid Turning Your Product into an Ugly Sweater

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Want to know the one characteristic my clients share across all my work? They’re passionate innovators who come up with fabulous ideas about how to better run their businesses and serve their customers. And they have no problem finding someone – a stakeholder or customer – who likes their idea. They tell me, “I showed it to <Name of Impressive Person> and they loved it!” Voila, they’ve completed their customer feedback research.

Hmmm, how many times did you accept a hand knitted sweater from your grandmother and tell her you loved it? There’s this social phenomenon where it feels rude to tell someone you don’t like their work. So a response to the question, “do you like it?” elicits the dreaded, “it’s nice!”

The Ugly Sweater Syndrome

Here’s the problem with this type of feedback: if you let it guide your innovation investments, you’ll spend time and resources on initiatives that won’t make a difference. Your efforts won’t deliver solutions that provide deep and lasting value to your customers, so not many will buy it. You’ll have created an ugly sweater that the customer will never wear.

Many innovation teams throw up their hands in defeat at this notion, telling me that their customers don’t know what they really want. So why bother asking? It’s true that your team thinks more about solutions to the problem, and will suggest ideas that the customer hasn’t encountered. That’s the whole point of innovation, right? But this shouldn’t deter you from getting customer feedback. You may be an expert in the solution but they are the expert in the problem you’re trying to solve.

The Job-to-be-Done Approach

A much better approach to customer feedback focuses on the customer’s job-to-be-done. This approach centers on the customer’s task for which they hired your product or service to help them complete. Clayton Christensen talks about this approach in this post where he finds commuters “hire” a milkshake to help them get through a boring morning commute. With that job-to-be-done in mind, the milkshake can be designed purposely to fit the task and will ultimately better meet the customer’s needs.

Here’s how to get customers’ feedback based on their job-to-be-done:

  1. Create a how might we statement that captures the customer task and pain point that you aim to alleviate. This is your goal, how you intend to help them. Start your customer testing by asking your customer if this task/pain point is something they need help with. How do they do this task now and why do they do it that way?
  2. What that goal in place, ask your customer whether your solution is achieving that goal. For the milkshake example, is the morning shake helping the customer pass the time during a boring commute and providing mess-free sustenance until lunch?
  3. If you’re solving a more complex customer problem, break it down into smaller goals that align with the features in your solution. Even the milkshake example can be broken into different customer goals: filling, mess free, interesting. Use this breakdown to find competing goals and then prioritize which features best help the customer achieve their job-to-be-done.
  4. Use these goals as guiding lights for your development team. This is a great way to keep out scope creep and focus on the features that matter. Tip: once the team has decided on a set of customer goals, post them for all to see. For every new idea, test whether it contributes to the goal. If not, the idea is out. This allows objective analysis of ideas, without team members feeling their favorite feature got rejected because someone didn’t like it (or them!).
  5. Ask your customer what’s missing from the solution, such as tasks that are still difficult for them to complete. See if they’ll help you sketch the feature that would complete it. Often there are emotional barriers to successful completion of a task. If you help your customer overcome those roadblocks, you’ll provide deep value to them and will gain tremendous loyalty.

Getting Great Customer Feedback

The job-to-be-done approach focuses your innovation on the features your customer really needs help with, instead of the merely nice to have items that received the “it’s nice” feedback. And once they’ve hired your solution to help them complete a task, it will be hard for your team to go back to the old way of innovating. You’ll be providing your customer with both added value and a lasting reason to keep coming back.

Want help discovering your customer’s job-to-be-done and designing solutions that help them achieve their tasks? Send me email and let’s talk through your ideas for innovation.

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