Listening to your customers involves an imprecise combination of market research, customer satisfaction data, revenue tracking, and more. With more tools and data available than ever before, it can make this essential task seem daunting, yet simultaneously achievable. By recognizing three common situations that can lead you astray—all of which have happened to us—you can learn from our journey and avoid suffering the setbacks, which occur when you stop listening to your customers.
Getting Swept Up in a Passion Project
Great ideas are often contagious; they can quickly catch and spread, creating an environment where you can’t focus on any one thing. Entrepreneurs are always looking to push the throttle, but often it’s because they just want to build, even if it’s not useful for their customer.
For example, for the first two years of Blank Label’s existence, our biggest technology investment was building a WYSIWYG design tool for creating custom dress shirts. We worked with top 3D graphics artists, but ultimately learned that our customers were buying from us because of custom-fit, not custom-design. It took us much longer than it should have to realize this, because rather than listen to our customers, we were just passionate about pushing the boundaries of online clothing design and digital customization.
The problem is that some entrepreneurs let stubbornness get in the way, once their customers have rejected the new idea. They’ll think, “One day, the public will catch up with my vision,” or “I’ve already invested so many resources in this plan; I have to make it work.”
Letting Your Competitors Dictate Trends
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s also possible to follow market trends too closely at the expense of the needs of your customers. When you see your competitors trying new directions and finding success, it’s understandable to want to imitate them in order to snag some of the market share, especially if you compete in a burgeoning market that has no immediate ceiling. This type of reaction does have the potential to net you short-term revenue growth, but it may also have the much more substantial effect of obscuring your core value proposition, and causing you to blend in with the crowd.
We’ve seen this ourselves, as in the past few years, subscription commerce has been a hot trend. You can get a monthly box delivered of all sorts of products—shoes, makeup, accessories, bath products, shaving, and so on. We did a deep internal report on the benefits of doing a monthly shirt club, built out visual interfaces of what the web pages would look like, and even created some of the underlying subscription technology. But, as we started doing the marketing plan, we realized this wasn’t something our customers had ever asked for. We surveyed our customers, and that reinforced our fear—people weren’t actually interested in automatically getting a new shirt every month or every quarter.
Fan Bi is the CEO of Blank Label, an award-winning custom menswear brand, with stores in Boston, D.C. and now Chicago.
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