The disadvantages of listening to your customers: The risks of prioritizing existing customers

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While there are many advantages to getting customer feedback, there are also potential dangers of listening only to your existing customers. This article explores those limitations, and why it can be useful to seek input beyond your existing customers. 

Customers may not be able to envision the future

Part of the limitation in listening to customers is that they may not be able to see the future or the possible ways that the product could be improved. Customers may have a narrow focus, understanding their use of the product, but not the possible technology improvements that could transform the product.

It is not uncommon for technology improvements to come from quite a different industry. Machine learning is for example getting applied in many areas beyond technology-focused firms – potentially transforming many industries that it is being implemented in. While there are substantial benefits of this technology, it is less likely that your customers, who may never have used it, will be able to envision the ways that it can transform your products. 

Existing customers may prioritize improvements to their existing products over more radical changes

Another disadvantage with listening to existing customers is that they may prioritize their needs. This may result in an over-focus on maintaining compatibility with products that you currently offer. Gradual, small improvements that can easily be integrated with no downtime or training involved may be prioritized over more substantial improvements that involve some element of disruption transitioning. 

There may be a large segment of non-customers that you are not paying attention to

A final limitation of listening to existing customers is that it may ignore a large segment of the market that is not currently buying your product. These may be customers that are going to your competitor, or potentially even potential customers that are currently not buying products from any firm in your industry. They may for example be a large number of potential customers that are using a substitute product or not buying any product at all – making do without purchasing anything. Listening to only your existing customers can miss these opportunities.

Final thoughts: Explore a diverse range of inputs for ways of improving your offerings

Possibly the most important thing to remember when considering customer feedback is not to listen to only one subset of needs. Your current customers may have different needs to those of your competitor’s customers, and different again from potential customers. While you won’t necessarily want to meet everyone’s needs (risking being stuck-in-the-middle, not satisfying the needs of any group), it is also important that you are not unaware of what demands are expected outside of your narrower set of current customers. There may for example be small changes that can radically increase the applicability of your product beyond your current customer base. 

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