Sometimes You Should Ignore What Your Users Say

Amy Quinn / Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Clients often come to me and say, “We must have this feature because our customers say they want it.” These requests are often uncovered during conversations with customers or are gathered from surveys, but the information gathered from these methods only paint half of the picture. I often encourage clients to look underneath these comments to uncover the true functionality needed and desired by their users.

First of all, keep in mind who is providing the input (see an earlier blog I wrote detailing the distinctions between users and customers.) Is the person a customer or user? For many products, these might not be the same individual. For most business applications, the customer buys a system for a large group of users. Here the customer is the purchaser and should be made happy of course. But if the user is unhappy, this unhappiness will often be felt by all. In the end, both the customer and user will wind up not wanting your product. It is key that you gather input from both sets of people.

People have a difficult time articulating many of their needs. A user may be able to tell you she wants to be able to easily import files of a specific file type. But she may not be able to tell you why your current import functionality is time consuming. Because of this, it is important to observe users use your product. Through contextual interviews, usability testing and other user research, practitioners can uncover a user’s latent needs and determine what may be behind a customer’s request. These observations can lead to more usable and innovative design solutions that improve the product as a whole.

Lastly users and customers probably won’t be able to tell you directly how to make your product compelling and innovative. They may help point you to a direction, but they cannot pinpoint exactly where you should go. It is up to product leaders to examine customer inputs along with other considerations (such as market trends and technology innovations) to ensure a successful product.

Next time you hear from a customer that they want a feature, I encourage you to think more about what lies behind that request and carry out the necessary research to uncover more about what your users really need.