Brilliant product ideas are tricky things. Entrepreneurs are often struck by great concepts, and then they set off to build them during the next six to 12 months. They slave over every feature, meticulously adding and removing until they’ve created what is sure to be a hit with consumers. There’s only one problem: They never asked the consumers what they wanted.
Too often, companies take their products to market and are baffled when their sales aren’t through the roof. Consider the Segway: It’s a pretty neat concept, people generally like it, but consumers don’t know what to do with it. Other than being featured in the movie “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” the initial hoopla around the Segway died down fast.
This is why it’s important not to overlook a key step in the product development process: soliciting user feedback. It’s is an integral part of good design. Without it, brands are left with excellent products and services that their target audience doesn’t like or need.
The Value of Customer Input
When businesses release products before they’ve invited customers to use them, they miss critical functionality flaws. They don’t get to incorporate user feedback into the initial launch, which often leads to costly updates or redesigns.
Instead, companies should build user tests into their product development timelines. If they plan to release within 12 months, they can allow for periods of user engagement along the way. They can build the first version of what they believe are the most important features, and then allow customers to try it out. If a majority of users respond poorly, the designers know where they need to make adjustments.
On the other hand, maybe the test group raves about the product. That’s also informative. The designers then know which aspects play well with the target audience, and they can emphasize those in the final version. Following that step, they can move forward with adding another feature and conducting more user tests, repeating the process until the product is finished.
The development timeline may be longer, but the end result is more successful because the design delivers the value customers want. By building feedback sessions and revisions into the process, companies save money by not having to correct their mistakes later (or losing frustrated users along the way).
First-time entrepreneurs and their teams often underestimate the hidden complexities in the design and development processes. They end up creating and critiquing in a vacuum, but good user experience relies on a holistic approach. Customer input is part of that whole.
Founders and CEOs sometimes face resistance from stakeholders when they try to implement feedback-based approaches during their product development processes. But once those stakeholders understand the competitive value, they’ll get on board quickly. Companies that conduct user tests early and often in the product design stages enjoy two advantages over their industry peers: agility and responsiveness.
Agility and Responsiveness
Releasing products incrementally allows businesses to change tactics and evolve as needed. The highest fidelity tool consists of real consumers using real software. User research and testing enable brands to be more responsive to customer needs. It’s much more challenging to do a complete product overhaul than it is to make tweaks and changes throughout the process.
Testing sessions tell companies what matters to their users. From the interface to the functionality, designers are better equipped to land a product-market fit when they have input from real people.
The user feedback model also works when updating existing products. Consider the colossal flop that was Microsoft Vista. Expectations were high, millions of dollars were set aside for marketing, and yet, the release was so riddled with problems that even those who loved Microsoft turned away in search of something more user-friendly.
Businesses that are in the habit of conducting user tests and implementing changes frequently are more responsive when it comes to upgrading their software and services. If their competitors release new features, they don’t want to wait 12 months to launch their own updates. They’re working on response timelines of days or weeks.
Perhaps most importantly, an agile approach gives businesses the advantage of time. The longer they sit on ideas before sharing them with users, the more likely they are to become distracted by new ideas. While they’re mulling over which product to pursue or which features to add, users’ needs and preferences are changing. By the time they have something to offer, the market has already moved on.
It’s very hard to deliver great products in a timely fashion. But it’s better to roll them out and learn on the job than to stall and never produce anything. A lack of action can be as devastating to a company as releasing an unpopular product. Obtaining feedback early and often provides enough momentum to avoid these pitfalls and launch resonant, user-friendly products.