What matters more: money or talent? It’s an age-old question that most business owners have asked themselves during their journey. Both of these aspects help advance business and product development, of course, but neither is the single greatest asset a company can have.

So, what is the greatest asset? Customer input, hands down. Without it, companies can innovate with a “build it and hope they will come” strategy. However, history tells us that it won’t end successfully without customer feedback. Using customer input in product development is part science, part art and part magic. When it all comes together, it provides businesses with the opportunity to create a unique product offering for the marketplace that meets an otherwise unmet demand. In this article, we will share the most frequently asked questions about customer input so that you can improve your chances of launching a successful product.

Advantages of Using Customer Input in Product Development

Tuning into the collective mindset of your customers, what motivates them to buy, how and where they shop, what they expect from the product and the purchase experience itself, is critical to your success. Having customer input in product development throughout the process ensures that you are on target each step of the way. Moreover, it helps you control spending so that you can invest confidently and manage your risks along the way rather than leapfrogging to the end of the process and charging full on towards an uncertain outcome.

Some of the key advantages of gathering customer input during product development include the following.

  • You will manage short-term and long-term risk.
  • You will manage spend by allocating budget to each step and moving forward to the next step only once you hit the proper milestones.
  • You will have the ability to make product changes and improvements earlier in the process when change orders are less costly to implement.
  • You will get a broad and comprehensive response by collecting data from multiple channels.
  • You will build a brand through repeated customer engagement.
  • You will build loyalty and trust by communicating how much you value customer input and rewarding customers for it via early access programs, coupons and other strategies.
  • You will capture emerging trends early so that you can consider a response. This might be implemented in version two of the product, a new product line or a spinout company endeavor.

Use the Right Technology to Garner Customer Input

Today’s digital platforms promise a nearly endless array of technologies to garner customer input. In parallel, old school, face-to-face approaches can work equally well in combination with online efforts. For those that lack in-house resources with expertise in market research, consider outsourcing a firm such as KL Communications. With their proprietary methodologies and technologies, clients can take advantage of decades of experience from the get-go, without the risk of impacting time to launch. Other advantages include a priori knowledge of and experience with just about every scenario encountered by other clients who have grappled with the same issues of not forging a deep enough connection with their consumers, missing the mark on customer expectations and advancing through the product development process without a strong enough data-driven foundation to do so. Below is a list of some of the leading options for customer engagement platforms to complement your in-person efforts.

  • Online Surveys (offered by Nextiva, KeySurvey, Survey Monkey and numerous others)
  • Community Insight Platforms (offered by CMNTY, Bloomfire, Remesh and others)
  • Co-Creation Methodologies (CrowdWeaving™ offered by KL Communications)
  • Innovation Trackers (offered by Imaginatik, Qualtrics and others)
  • Guessing Games (TypeForm, VoxCo and others)

Best Practices FAQ: When & How to Collect and Use Customer Input

Below are some common questions in which collecting and using customer input will benefit your business. Utilize this handy FAQ as a guide to inform when and how to collect and use customer input in product development.

QUESTION 1: How do I recover from a disastrous launch?

You have spent months, maybe a year or more, planning your product launch, everything went according to plan. Except for the sales part. It’s been one week since launch and you have sold only two units – yet you expected to sell 20-25 units per day. One sale per hour was the “conservative estimate” and your management team wants to know what you did wrong. Since you need feedback fast, casting an online survey is the best way to quickly collect input. Presumably, you have already established a following, be it on social media or an email mailing list that you can tap to readily launch an open call survey response with.

QUESTION 2: What if sales are not going exactly to plan?

Sales are moving along, but not quite at the pace you expected. Public product reviews are okay, but not fabulous. Your market research team has made a number of calls to customers who were an active part of the co-creation process and they were warm to neutral. Something is clearly not quite right, but what is it? Hosting a series of focus groups with the following composition: Group A everyone is new to your product; Group B everyone was previously involved in co-creating your product; Group C is a mixture of people new to and familiar with your product. Dive deep, probe into how each person feels about your product.

QUESTION 3: Do I have enough data or have I created customer input fatigue?

This can be particularly tough to gauge. It is challenging to know where to draw the line between asking enough customers often enough to get a steady response that is consistent over time versus asking your customers for input so often that they are burnt out by the process and no longer providing you with a quality response. Each product and each audience is different. There is so much variability here that no single best practice guideline exists. The best advice is to be upfront with your customers at the start of the process. Tell them that you will be contacting them three times over the next three months. Ask them if they comprehend the time that doing so involves and if they are ok with it. If you see hesitation, tell them that you need to engage them at least once more following the initial session and flag that in your report, plus ensure that you honor your promise to limit their participation with your company. On the flipside, some customers may indicate a strong willingness and interest in meeting with you multiple times. When they do, explore how many times “multiple times” means to them.

QUESTION 4: Should our brand remain engaged with customers after launch?

Your product is on the market, sales are going essentially to plan, the reviews are solid, but you want to keep your pulse on the situation. To garner continuous customer input after launch, set up and open forum where customers can register online, upload their photos and feedback, and engage with each other. Today, transparency is becoming very important for brand credibility so you may choose to make that an open forum, such as various social media platforms, or you may choose to keep it closed. If you choose the latter, consider reporting out to your audience publicly regarding the input that you are receiving and how you are going to address it to demonstrate that you are accountable and value customer input.

Use Customer Input in Product Development

“Straight from the horse’s mouth” is an old saying that is still relevant today. Particularly so with respect to using customer input in product development. Observing and listening to the customers who will be using your product is an invaluable asset, one that every company needs to recognize and leverage to their full advantage.

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