Interesting post from Mark Cuban titled "why you should NEVER listen to your customer " references an long standing Alan Kay quote "the best way to predict the future is to invent it"
Cuban then goes on to make the statement that having a vision and "self ass kicking" is more important than customer feedback. Take a read - you may think differently.
My question to you: How important is customer feedback an at what stage in company development? There's some pretty strong opinions on this one (fail early, predict the future, MVP )
What says you?
Don't confuse listening to customers with doing everything they say.
If you just close your eyes to what people are doing, the problems they have, and what they react to, that's just dumb.
But also wrong is chasing every idiosyncratic or outdated idea that people have.
Sure the synthesis of those two things is tricky and there's no one rule, but if it were easy everyone would have a product people wanted to buy. :-)
Great answers so far. I just want to add a couple of things.
You need to start with a great vision of the "future", to be able to make a great product.
When you invent it, you don't need customer feedback, you need customer needs (or market opportunities).
Then you build the product and start getting customer feedback.
If you manage to stay true to your vision (without being too autistic) you can use customer feedback to prioritize the features you have in your backlog.
That's what we do in the company I work for. We have a backlog of features that we want to implement to continue grow our vision, and we have a bunch of customer feedback of things they dislike or need. We look at both to understand if there is anything in our backlog that matches feedback from multiple customers. If we find it, we move it's priority up and try to get it into a next release.
The result? A visionary/evolving product and very happy customers! :)
People fail and succeed using any of the methods/policies. You have to find what works for you. Being aware of the other possibilities is probably important. Following other people's advice is optional.
If you don't listen to customers no one will buy.
If you only listen to customers you are thinking short term and never get that potential amazing opportunity to lead or invent.
For me there's probably a pendulum and at times you want to do more of one or the other.
I think that 'customer feedback' is very important in a seed or early stage (i.e. non-funded, not even heavily bootstrapped) startup, just to ensure that you have a viable business model. In this case, 'customer feedback' may simply be whether or not they are paying for your service. When starting out, I believe that market validation / proof of market and revenue is critically important. Having said that, if you spend too much time trying to please every customer, you'll quickly find yourself building consultingware instead of a scalable product or service (unfortunately I know this from experience).
Jason Cohen has a great article on this very topic here. Many companies are successful doing something completely different than the original vision. My personal believe is that the products and services are a vehicle for the company, not the reverse. Of course, 'your mileage may vary'. Good luck! -e-
There is a TV show in the US that answers the question, what happens if you never listen to your customers. The TV show is called Kitchen Nightmares. The answer is: you go out of business.
If you don't listen to your customers they don't really matter, do they? You and your team just roll out a product or service then think about what to do next. Whether it sells doesn't matter- because looking at sales figures would be listening to your customers.
There are lots of people who have invented the future, only to find the future they invented for does not exist. The Segway was going to change the entire world. It didn't. The Segway failed because it did not meet the needs of its customers. The inventor attempted to define what his customers should want, instead of what they needed.
I am currently living in this conundrum in my business.
We took our original product to customers, and it seems to solve a problem that they don't think need solving. Instead, customers gave us feedback on what they want, which in our mind we know they would say and if we do give them that, it will be detrimental to their business.
What I've learned from this is how important the product vision is. Only when I have a great insight into what makes a superb product then it is worth building.
Listening to customers come in when I'm done with developing it and am out to validate my insights.
Above are what I know. Following is what I guess ... When collecting customer feedback, think of them as blackbox that provide binary answers. Anything that is vague is noise. For instance you may ask "would you buy this widget?", they answer "I won't buy personally. But if I run a car workshop I might buy."
The dude doesn't run a car workshop. The correct answer should be NO. Everything else is noise and should be ignored.
I guess that's the art of listening and not listening at the same time.
I think there are two sides to this:
However, what I've noticed is that generally prospective customers often can't see exactly what they need because they are too close to the problem. In my view, that's where you have to introduce a bit of 1) into 2) in order to come up with a great product.
As mentioned in some of the other answers, I think it is best to find a balance in leveraging what your customer wants and what your vision of the future may be. The important thing to keep in mind is that a customer usually has a very focused opinion on what they need at that specific moment. The key is to not only be focused on what your customers need now, but to also focus efforts on what your customers will need in the future, even if they do not know that they need it yet.