Don’t Always Listen To Your Customers

I love a good quote. I’ve got a notebook full of wisdom uttered from the mouths of everyone from Plato to Tupac Shakur and every now and then when I have a good flick through, I come upon a new gem or find new significance for an old classic. 

It was during a recent flip through that I came back upon one of my all time favorites, a real diamond from Henry Ford:  “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse… Idiots!”

Now, I know Ford didn’t call his potential customers idiots, but I’m guessing he was probably thinking it. And I love that 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 gutsy, how totally against the grain of our nice-nice society, how incredibly brave to say to a customer you’re NOT always right.

Because the thing is, dear Entreprenoras, 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. 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!

For example, just a few short weeks ago, on the heels of an over-subscribed event, I polled my waiting list and other potential customers to see if they’d like me to run the event again. I got almost two dozen thumbs-ups so got busy putting everything together, setting up the ticket site, ordering 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?

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. But all I got in response was crickets. And it reminded me again that I don’t always have to listen to my customers 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 judgment 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 give them a Model T instead.

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About Me
Rupal Patel logo
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Rupal is a born-and-bred New Yorker now living near London. Her high-octane career as a CIA officer turned serial entrepreneur has taken her from military briefing rooms in jungles and war zones to corporate boardrooms and international stages.

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