Business Advice

Are you delusional? If you are relying on customer feedback, prepare to be misled

Bri Williams /

Most of us were shocked by the results of the federal election. Polling was the fall guy, blamed for misleading us. Yet every day, in every business, decisions are being based on polls. Except in bizspeak, it’s called ‘customer research’.

I almost didn’t bother with this piece, because I feel all I’ve been writing lately relates to how customer research can lead us wrong.

First, it was Shoes of Prey where “[what customers] were consciously telling us and what they subconsciously wanted … were effectively polar opposites”.

Then, it was Warby Parkerrealising “while customers certainly love the fact that we give back, at the end of the day, it’s not a critical factor in deciding whether to buy a pair of glasses”.

Way back in 2014 I pointed to the chasm between what news people say they’ll read (national, local and political issues) compared to what they actually read (celebrity and human interest).

As US journalist Derek Thomson put it: “Ask audiences what they want, and they’ll tell you vegetables. Watch them quietly, and they’ll mostly eat candy.”

Plainly, if you are relying on listening to your customers to tell you what you should do, you are delusional. Worse than that, you are irresponsible. You are wasting the time, money and efforts of everyone in your business.

So why fall for it?

Because it’s compelling. From their lips to your ears, how can you refute the words of your precious, earnest customer?

Plus, it’s very difficult to get in trouble if you can point to what the survey said. “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”, so the saying goes. Well, nobody ever gets fired for listening to customers, either.

What to do about it? Read any and all of the pieces above. There is a better way and it’s available to you right now. That is, of course, if you are ready for answers rather than responses.

NOW READ: Why did Shoes of Prey fail? Because it listened to customers

NOW READ: Why Warby Parker’s ‘buy a pair, give a pair’ initiative doesn’t sway customers

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Bri Williams

Bri Williams is an authority on behavioural economics applied to everyday business and personal effectiveness.