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Your Customers Don't Know The Solution
Mar 18, 2018
3 minutes read

You are a PM. You work for a big company or a startup. You are tasked with determining the direction for your product, so you enthusiastically embark on the journey to talk to as many customers (or potential customers) as possible to determine what their needs are and how your product can help them in the long-run. After months of painstakingly collecting feedback, you emerged victorious with a PowerPoint deck that says: “We need a bigger button in the toolbar to let people renew their subscription easier”.

Play yourself GIF

Months go by and you are checking your data dashboard daily only to find out that the number of subscriptions doesn’t change, and when it does, it’s on a such a negligible linear curve that you start wondering - “But the customers told me they wanted a more prominent way to renew their subscription for my service!

Here is the reality - you relied on your customers giving you the solution. I am not going to quote the tired adage about cars and faster horses, but customers really don’t know the solution to their problem. They are experts in the problem space, not the solution space. They know what pains them, but they almost never know the exact solution that solves that pain.

A patient coming to the emergency with acute abdominal pain will ask for painkillers, but that does not address the problem that the patient has. Painkillers will not help appendicitis. The same applies to PMs - you are the doctor of your product.

Back to the subscription case, what went wrong? The interviews probably captured feedback such as:

  • It’s hard to renew my subscription.
  • I can’t quite find how to renew the subscription after I get the notification that it’s about to expire. Maybe if there was some sort of button to point me to it?
  • I am not sure whether I want to renew my subscription because I am not using the product as much due to lack of feature X, and after getting the reminder to renew, I thought I shouldn’t.
  • Renewing is just too much of a hassle and I can’t even find the option to do that. Something like a RENEW button would probably help there.

And while the customer feedback snippets above are completely fictional, these can be interpreted at their face value - customers have a problem finding how to renew the subscription. But is it the problem, though? Read into the snippets one more time and we can identify several gaps:

  • Renewing subscriptions is hard/a hassle. Why? Are there issues with the subscription renewal flow? Are there any errors that make users give up early?
  • Notifications that lead nowhere. Are there any notifications about the renewal that don’t tell the user where and how to renew the subscription?
  • Lack of critical functionality. The fact that your product is lacking something bigger might be a better indicator as to why people are not renewing their subscription.

Granted, all this information should be taken in tandem with your product engagement data, but you can see how a customer can see one side of the problem, while the product might have a completely different set of issues.

In addition to that, you probably didn’t interview 1MM different customers - you probably talked to less than one hundred people. That’s an absolutely non-indicative sample, and while they might point you to some interesting insights, they will not be able to set the correct direction for your product in terms of solutions.

Don't play yourself

When interviewing customers, take notes, but it’s your responsibility to also analyze the responses for “big picture” items that point to real solutions instead of a case-by-case band-aid.


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