Monday, September 26, 2011

Ask the Customer, #@%$!#*%!

I am continually amazed by how many decisions get made at major companies without asking the customer. Part of being a data geek is realizing A) the limitations of qualitative research, and B) the more severe limitations of making decisions in a complete vaccuum from customer input.

Years ago, we were simplifying the instructions on a retail display to help customers use the display to select exterior stain colors. The head of sales wanted one set of instructions and the head of marketing wanted another. The product manager wanted a third. Using Harris Interactive's omnibus panel (a twice per week survey of 2000 people), we answered the question in about a week and a half for $6,000.  We also found out one or two other critical things for the money.

The research showed clearly that the product manager's language was preferred. Given that this was going to be a $280,000 modification to the display, I would say less than 3% of the cost was a justified investment.

Of course, in this case the head of sales overruled everyone and had his way anyway. Proving that asking the customer is important, but communicating the results effectively is paramount... and working with smart people is critical. A lesson I learned well that day.

So this week I'll be starting a project to ask a small group of our customers about a new project that Product Management is considering. I'll be careful to communicate the insights AND the limitations of the data. And I will be happy having any information at all rather than some pigheaded sales guy's gut feeling.

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