The customer is not always right. In fact, the customer is wrong most of the time about some things.

Let’s get clear. When talking about service, take care of the customer unless his demand is completely unreasonable. You already get that (I hope) so enough about that.

If, however, you ask customers about what they would like to see changed about your product or what new offering they would like from your business, the customer will invariably be dangerously wrong.

Consumers do not know what they want until they see it. They think they know. And because they use your product, you think they know what they want. But they don’t. Customers don’t put that much thought into your product. They only know if they are happy or not with your product or service. They do not know what should be “new”.

You can ask a customer if a battery operated version of your product would be a good idea. Yes, of course, then it would portable. Great idea. When the product doesn’t sell, they’ll say they can’t rely on the battery being charged sufficiently when they need to use the item. The item is ‘weaker’ under battery power. They have to carry spare batteries and chargers. They’ll have a million reasons why they don’t like the very item they recommended.

Why does this happen?

First, the customers who have the time to discuss modifications to your offering tend to be on the fringe. They think their ideas are good but they haven’t thought deeply about the question. In the example above, our battery operated unit, the customer only thinks “portable”. He doesn’t think about the other issues.

Ask your friends about a flavor of ice-cream they think would sell. Be prepared to contain your laughter as you’ll hear some pretty bizarre answers. And yes, some outlandish flavors will greatly appeal to a very limited market. But could you make a profit from sales to the four people who would love to see salmon flavored ice-cream?

Color is another area where people will mislead you. White is the most popular car color by a wide margin. Remember that when you ask your customers for their ideas.

Finally, listening to your customer’s notion of a great idea will blind you to thinking up really great innovations that the customer will love. 20 years ago if you’d asked people if they would pay more for a bottle of water than the same amount of milk or even gasoline, they would have laughed. Today, a 12 ounce bottle of water sells for $1-$2. That’s far more than milk or gasoline.

You must think of the innovation and you must leap frog over your competitors. If you “get it right”, the early adopters will start the wave and the masses will follow.

When you see a great new product or feature, don’t you think, “wow, that’s so simple, I should have thought of that!”?  You see? We, the customers, don’t think of ‘that’.

That is your job.

Chris Reich