What Can Go Wrong When You Stop Listening To Users and Customers

Ward Andrews
By Ward Andrews
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Let’s make one thing clear from the start. Customers and users aren’t always right.

We’ve said before that sometimes it’s a good idea to NOT listen to your users. Why? Because, let's face it, they don't always know what they want. It's easy to get stuck on a hamster wheel of requests that don't improve your product's user experience.

But to know when not to listen to users, you first have to get to know them through empathy and research. You may think you know what’s best for them, but your assumptions often don’t match reality.

Most clients agree with us in theory. They pay important lip service to knowing the user and understanding their needs. But when it comes time to make the investment, research is the first thing to get cut from the project plan.

Understanding your users is not optional. It’s necessary for success. The most beloved brands know this. They invest time and money in understanding what matters to their customers.

Starbucks knows its loyal customers value feeling like their barista knows them, so its industry-leading app helps them easily place their favorite order and skip the line to pick it up. Patagonia offers lifetime guarantees and return policies because its customers value sustainability. Zappos knows its customers need to feel as happy with their ordering experience as they are with their order.

Not everybody can be a Starbucks, Patagonia or Zappos. But because companies like this have raised the bar, customers expect that others should be like them. You’re not only judged on what you’ve done, but on what others are doing better than you.

Lack of empathy is one of the main reasons that software projects fail. If you’re not staying in touch with your users and customers, you’re not going to reach the top of the success ladder.

Here are a few of the things that can go wrong when you stop listening to your customers and users.

User Experience Suffers

The first thing that goes when you stop listening to users is the user experience. Makes sense, right? Successful products are like good dance partners - always in sync with where users are going. Good user experience is central to product-led growth. Without it, your adoption rates and reviews will tank and take your product down with them. You need to stay in touch with users and let them give you feedback on your ideas and new features. That’s the only way to make sure you’re hitting the right notes with your user experience.

Customer Satisfaction Takes a Hit

It doesn't matter what you’re selling, how you handle customers matters. Many people will pay more for reliable customer support and delightful experiences. That only comes from knowing your customer’s deepest problems and helping solve them in surprising ways.

Even if your main business has nothing to do with digital products, you still have to deliver a smooth digital experience. Starbucks wasn’t originally in business to create an app, but that digital experience has had a clear impact on customer loyalty and their bottom line profits.

Support Costs Go Through the Roof

We’re increasingly being asked to serve ourselves through digital interfaces. Self-serve kiosks can be found at the grocery store, fast food restaurants, airports, the bank, and even the post office. But how many times have you needed a human to intervene when the digital product failed?

It’s easy to get distracted by the bells and whistles of fancy new technology and lose sight of the core problem that you’re trying to solve for humans. When things are built by engineers or technical experts without consideration to how a novice end user needs to understand it, support costs will go up. Support requests in response to poor user experience can be a major drag on your business.

Market Opportunities are Missed

If you’re not constantly listening to your users, you may be building a product with no market fit. Even worse, if you stop listening to users after a successful launch, you might overlook opportunities to build on your initial success.

It’s easy for successful startup founders and established business owners to feel like they know their customers and users “enough” to anticipate what they want and need. But there will always be blindspots. Empathy is an ongoing process, not just something you do with a quick round of research. In a competitive world, you can’t afford to miss any opportunities to make your product or service better tomorrow than it is today.

Brand Reputation Erodes

Nothing will get a customer to talk about your product and brand to a friend, or post an online review, faster than a terrible user experience. Positive experiences often don’t get enough credit, but negative experiences linger and can erode your brand reputation faster than anything good that people say about you.

Once those perceptions are out there, it’s hard to overcome them and reverse direction. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Staying connected to users and understanding their needs can ensure that you won’t suffer the consequences of bad reviews.

Innovation and Creativity Die

Great products never stop innovating and iconic products make creative leaps by tapping into the core needs of their users. It’s one thing to build something that you think will work well, but if you’re doing that in a silo or a vacuum, you’ll end up inadvertently doing small things that undermine your product.

Consistently incorporating user feedback and insights can spark innovation and creative solutions. A deep familiarity with your users’ mental models and jobs-to-be-done helps you see the unique features and improvements that could set your product apart in the market.

Regulatory and Legal Issues Creep In

Aside from the things that make your product excellent, there are things that are essential but often get overlooked. Not paying attention to these specific safety and privacy concerns can put your business at risk of legal and regulatory sanctions.

Whether it’s data protection laws or accessibility requirements, knowing who your users are, where they’re coming from, and what they need and expect from their local regulations can make all the difference in preventing problems down the road.

Teams Become Misaligned

Not listening to users can lead to problems within your product team. Everybody has their own perspective on the product they’re building. It’s part of being human. We often need something outside of ourselves to refer to as a point of reference. Customers and users can provide a valuable litmus test and powerful mirror to see assumptions and help solve disagreements.

Development and design teams need a clear understanding of who they’re creating the product for and the problems it solves. If that picture becomes murky or fails to evolve with the product, team members can develop conflicting ideas of where to go next.

How to Stay Connected to Your Users

So, how do you incorporate continuous feedback from your customers and users into your product development process?

Incorporate User Feedback Into Your Development Cycles

For starters, we have guidance on why and how to do UX research. But to really do it right you need an overarching strategy that merges research and other empathy-generating activities into your design and development cycles. We like to plan out small opportunities for user feedback in most sprints. Whether it’s surveys, basic user tests of prototypes, or a simple review of recent user feedback, it all helps keep the voice of users alive through the process

Build, Test, Rinse, and Repeat

We also love to start building and testing early. We believe you need to prototype and get your hands dirty in actual designs in order to learn. That doesn’t mean building the full product. That means putting ideas into a tangible format that users can start to feel and play with so they can show you how it works.

You might have your ideas of how the product should work, but users will show you how (and if) it actually does work. That’s why it’s so important to get small pieces out there as fast as possible so you can get the feedback that will help you refine your thoughts and ideas.

Create a User Advisory Board

Once you have a viable product, you’ll want to create an advisory board who can keep you honest as you refine and build out the next stages. Trusting customers to meet with you once a month in a roundtable or for smaller one-on-one discussions pays off when they give you the insights you need to take your product to the next level. You can offer them a discount or free perks in exchange for their honest feedback and they can be your go-to source for testing new features

Empower Your Team

You can also empower your designers and developers to do their own testing and user feedback sessions. There are dozens of products available now that make it easier than ever to put a prototype out there and get feedback through unmoderated user sessions. Give your team the training and tools necessary so they can feel comfortable getting feedback from users directly and you’ll have a stronger product to show for it.

Let Us Show You the Way

For more insight and guidance, our Drawbackwards team is available to talk through your needs and get you on the right track. Get in touch and see what we can do to help you stay connected with your users and make your product the best it can be.