We love to say that we make business decisions based on customer’s needs and certainly the Internet allows us to have a very close connection with our customers. However very often I have found marketing and engineering teams making decisions based on the opinionated view of a vocal minority that does not necessarily represent their target customer base or audience.
We find that vocal minority at forums, at blogs. We find them answering your customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Score surveys as soon as you send them, and we also find them emailing your support team with a very detailed report on what needs to change now!
You can argue with me all you like but in most cases they are a very vocal and very small group. In best cases no more than 5-10% of your users frequent your forums, and less than 1% visit your blog (unless you are a well established player like Apple Inc., Microsoft, eBay or Adobe, where the forums and blogs have a long track record and have proven to be beneficial to their users as a valid support mechanism).
Whether is 1% or 15% of your users base is not the debate, the discussion is about how valid is the opinion of those participants. If you go back to the early posts at the Apple iPhone forums you would think the iPhone would never get past the one million units sold. Many opinionated “experts” said it lacked so many features… yet we are past the 14 million units and counting (granted the product has improved significantly).
Forums, NPS surveys, Customer Sat surveys represent often the most passionate of your users and more likely the early adpters that would try at least once any type of technology. They always believe they are right and that they represent the whole. They often make compelling arguments and sometimes can misled other visitors to the forum / community or even your engineering or marketing teams. They are experts at looking at the glass half empty but do not always reflect the opinions of your entire target audience.
When establishing a Voice of the Customer practice at any B2C company, we must remember that every group doesn’t represent the whole. Whether they are forum members, community members, survey answerers, support callers and even your employees that pretend to help by using your product or service. They are not the whole and they do not represent them. Make a change based on isolated pieces of feedback alone and you will be most likely wasting precious engineering time or marketing resources.
However, it doesn’t mean we should discount the collective input and assume that we know what everybody needs. They are still members of your community, your company, your forum or at least your user base, and you should thank them for having that passion for your product. They are also a potentially powerful influencer group as these early adopters often lead the masses toward crossing the chasm by shaping others opinions on your product and service.
These groups are the vocal minority but you ignore them at your own risk. Or you better prepare yourself for the consequences of doing what the vocal minority is asking.
How to get out of the trap? By making sure you have a 360 degrees view on your customer needs: Listen to their concerns at forums, support calls, NPS surveys, but also observe their behavior while using your product or service, instrument the right measurement elements into your product so you can validate the opinionated view of few with the “observed” behavior of the masses. Look at the trends which are often more meaningful than absolute values, and combine all those views in a balanced scorecard for the voice of the customer. Make the vocal minority an important element but not the single element of your decision making process.