Is The Customer Always Right?

We’ve all heard the saying “the customer is always right”, it stems from the fact that the customer has money and never argue with a potential paying customer. Based on Apple’s latest earnings, I’m starting to rethink that age old quote. Apple announced a record $46.33 billion in revenue, of which 73% came from iPhone’s and iPad’s. The iPhone and iPad were created completely in-house with zero customer interaction or focus groups. One of Steve Jobs quotes about product developement:

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

Can’t really argue with Steve. Customers are really good at asking for incremental improvements. At MProfit we field 100’s of request a month and many are useful but most are not. Most are requests for a single feature to help that person but of course that’s not how a customer spins it. They usually tell us “if you add XYZ feature you will get 1000’s of new customers.” However, companies don’t grow exponentially by adding one feature here or another there, it’s about completely flipping the mindset and getting many more new customers in the door.

One of my favorite quotes in regards to product development supposedly came from Henry Ford:

If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse

The car industry for the past 50 years has been stuck in this add one feature here or increase gas mileage by 5% sort of mentality. Innovation has been slow and hence General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen each have taken turns for the top spot for most number of cars sold every year for the past 3-4 years. As a consumer, I would ask for a 500hp car that gets 50 miles a gallon, which is what Henry Ford was getting at.

Companies big or small need to think about innovation on a much larger scale and not get trapped in a feature war.  It’s tactical thinking vs strategic thinking, but many people forgo the strategic thinking because it sounds too dreamy/fluffy and doesn’t bring in revenue right now. However, Apple has shown it really pays to think different and essentially tell it’s customer to buzz off because they don’t know any better. And yet I still come back to Apple…genius.

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