Don’t ask the question if you won’t listen to the answer

I recently bought a new car. I wasn’t planning on buying a new car, but I had a smaller car and my wife doesn’t like small cars. For you technical folks, the following code snippet might be useful here:

If (SmallCar == “true”) and (Wife[LikesSmallCars] == “false”)

My salesman launched into the typical spiel about the forthcoming customer service survey after the purchase process was complete. The company would send me a survey and that it was important for me to give the dealership all “5s” on the survey. Anything else would be a failure. I’m sure those of you that have every purchased a car have listened to the same speech. So, basically, the whole survey is a waste of time. Sure, I could ignore the salesperson’s pleadings and fill out the survey with my actual experiences. The problem with this approach is that the dealer would get copied on my response and since I will rely on the dealer for servicing my vehicle — this would not be in my best interests. I answered all 5s like I was asked to do, and the company will give the dealer a big pat on the back. So the entire survey was a waste of time. I have to wonder just what automobile manufacturers think they are getting out of their post-purchase surveys. They must know that their dealers are gaming the system. So what’s the point of the entire exercise?

We will talk alot about product management on our podcast over the next few weeks, so this broken process touched a nerve with me. You need to talk to your customers if you want to build better products and get the best possible product/customer “fit”. But if you will not listen to what the customer says, then you shouldn’t bother asking. You can’t punish your customer (or the middleman) for giving you honest feedback. Running a survey that forces your customer to give positive answers to publish “success statistics” is a waste of time. Engaging with your customers is not a waste of time. They have a good view of your product’s strengths and weaknesses. They have the best view of their own unmet needs. It’s the best way to avoid the “Field of Dreams” problem – you know, “if you build it, he will come”. They’ll tell you what they want you to build and then they’ll buy it from you after you build it. Sure, it’s a little more complicated than that. We’ll be talking with a few product management gurus on the podcast over the next several weeks to get some insight into the nuts and bolts of building products that customers want to buy.

Asking your customers questions and listening to their answers is a good place to start.