"If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse... Idiots!" -Henry Ford
Now I took some liberties with this quote. I am pretty sure Henry Ford didn't call his potential customers idiots (but I'm guessing he was probably thinking it). I love this quote. I love the fact that it says in eighteen words what I'm about to spend a few hundred elaborating on. I love that Henry Ford, inventor and industrial revolutionary, was like "Hey, you know what customers? Forget you! I'm building something great here, and what you think you want is irrelevant. So get back in your slow-a$$ carriages and scram!"
How ballsy, how totally against the grain of our nice-nice society, how incredibly brave to say to a customer you're NOT always right.
A few weeks ago, I wrote to about the importance of saying no and how it is not just an important part of your life and business but an essential one. And you know what else? It is really, really, really hard. Sometimes even harder than that!
I am a self-proclaimed people pleaser, so it sometimes pains me physically to say no or to not oblige or to ignore a request. Especially when the person asking is a customer or client. My instinct is to always say yes and make it work however I can. Even if the request is silly or extravagant or will derail me from my plans. Saying yes feels sooooooo good.
But you know what else feels good? Saying no and being focused.
Our customers can sometimes be our worst enemies. They will ask and ask and ask and the trouble is, sometimes what they want is something you can't or shouldn't give (kind of like having kids... you have to be the one to have the filter for both of you!). And sometimes even when you DO give your customer what they want, they change their mind and decide they don't want it anymore and then you've wasted all that time and effort and money for nothing. How frustrating!
Just a few short weeks ago, on the heels of an over-subscribed event I had just run, I polled potential clients to see if they'd like me to do the event again. I got almost two dozen thumbs-ups so got busy putting a deposit down on the venue, executing the marketing campaign, setting up the ticket site, ordering more workbooks, clearing my weekend, and after all that, guess what? Guess how many customers bought what they asked for once I had it ready for them?
If you're good at spotting patterns, then you'll know the answer is: not a lot. And in this case, exactly zero.
"But I did what you asked!" I wanted to scream at the registration page. "Where did you all go?" I wanted to shout into the wind.
It took me a while to refocus after this mini-blow, but when I did, I realised that my customers had done me a big favor. They RE-taught me that I don't always have to listen and I don't always have to oblige. My customers aren't always right. And neither are yours.
We can only offer what we can offer. And sometimes a customer doesn't know what they want until you show it to them (like the Model T). And sometimes what they want is not part of YOUR plan for your business, so you have to just ignore it.
I'm not saying we should ignore all customer feedback or pretend like all requests are irrelevant. What I AM saying is that we should work hard to make our service or product as good as possible, hold ourselves to really high standards in how we deliver them, commit to always improving, listen to feedback and requests, and then filter the feedback and requests. Some ideas might be worth considering, others might not. A request is not an order. Feedback is not a command.
Take on board what your customers say and then use your best judgement to filter and decide what is worth implementing and what is worth forgetting about. Your relationship with your customer is exactly that: a relationship. And like in all relationships, one side isn't always right or more important. Your relationship is a conversation, an exchange, and sometimes you will have to agree to disagree.
If Henry Ford hadn't disagreed, how far behind would automotive technology and car culture be now? If you don't sometimes disagree, how far behind will you be in growing your business according to your vision?
You don't always have to listen to your customer. And sometimes when they ask for a horse, you have to focus on building your Model T instead.