Friday, April 27, 2007

The customer is NOT always right

"The customer is always right."
Throughout history (albeit recent) the above phrase has been bandied about with great fervour by great sections of the service industry. The phrase however implies that customers know exactly what they want... the truth is, if you think of any major advance in consumer goods in the last few centuries, you'll find that the customer did not dictate what the products should be, look like, or how it should work, the customer was wrong. (do give me examples of cases where this is true btw) Listening to a podcast earlier I heard Seth Godin give a perfect example of the wrongness.

If Thomas Edison had listened to his "customers" he would have invented brighter

The point is that until they see the product or hear of the service customers have NO IDEA of what they want, I am willing to bet that no one came up to Mr Edison and requested that he create a light emitting glass bulb.

So sometimes adopting the stance that the customer is right, can lead an idea down the wrong path altogether.
Sometimes you just need to ignore the customer, ignore the masses and be different.


David said...

I cant really agree with that. Are you saying if Thomas Edison had done market research and asked people "hey would you be interested in safe, artificial light" people would have said no?

The invention of the lightbulb, nuclear energy, or the combustible engine weren't done on the back of public demand. But vast technological advances are hardly an appropriate example. Just because nobody could fathom the idea doesn't mean customers don't know what they want.

Surely as a marketer of a normal product, you would not disregard negative market research on the assumption that customers don't know what they want till they get it.

ed said...

Well i believe that it is an appropriate example, as they have been very important AND it is more in terms of illustrating the point.

And i think by not being able to fathom the idea of the product IT does mean they dont know what they want.

On the example of the lightbulb, the difference is had Mr Edison gone to a group of consumers and asked them "what do you want" and innovated based on their answers, the product would be a brighter candel,
however you can instead ignore that, go ahead and develop a concept, and THEN ask them do they want it.
My point is that looking to customers for inspiration on what to do next is usually not a great option, because they wont be dig?

Anonymous said...

If you asked someone with the same scientific knowledge as Edison they would not have asked for a brighter candle.

IMO this phrase cant be use in this situation. The product hadn't even been invented yet!

ed said...

Thats exacly my point though, if you ask some one like Thomas Edison, an inventor, then yeh he wouldnt say a brighter candle.

The average person however, which the majority of the public are however are not of such a creative caliber.

The point im trying to emphasise here is, that if you listen to what people (future customers) are telling you, what the majority of the people are telling you, you will be lead the wrong way alot of the time.

And i know that the product had not yet been invented, that is the situation being discussed in the article, is the (collective) customer right? - when it comes to product development

Anonymous said...

"And i know that the product had not yet been invented"

I really don't think the phrase can be used in this situation.

David said...

And if he had invented a brighter candle I'm sure that would have done well.

So he still could have made a popular product - as demanded by public - but the lightbulb wouldn't have been invented.

Just because the best possible outcome might not have been attained doesn't mean the process is worthless.

Anyway, in the real world inventors don't ever ask for public opinion on the next thing they should create. Because the difficulty is not in coming up with ideas, but rather technically MAKING the product.

Anonymous said...

People remember Edison's success but forget his failures many of which fall into the 'what market said they wanted this?!' category.

Examples of Edison leaving his brains at the door include all concrete houses (with furniture made of concrete as well), the idea of using DC rather than AC to power communities compounded by the fact Tesla as one time worked for Edison, and his inability to improve on his inventions when the public indicated they wanted change (like sticking to his cylinders for the phonograph long after others had gone to vinel disks.)