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18 May

On being a Customer Whisperer.

Customer Whispering is an art, no less.

And often, you’ll find experienced operators giving good advice like,

“It’s not just about listening to customers, but hearing them, understanding their underlying needs, motivations, even their emotions.”

“It’s not about noting down suggestions for features they know how to name, but figuring out the real cause of the worry they’d be willing to get rid of.”

“You need to have the intuition, taste, and product sense to judge what features would be especially useful even in the absence of clear quantitative data.”

While all this is true, let me elaborate on what I think product sense and taste means, how it actually involves not trusting your customers; not taking whatever they say on face value.

No, this isn’t arrogant.

This is actually realizing as a product person that customers lie a lot in user interviews, even without them being aware of it. The result is you taking a bashing from the markets for implementing what you thought were good suggestions.

So, then, what is this taste or product sense? Here are some examples.

1. Never take your customers’ preferences on face value

Your customers only know what is out there in the market. They can’t tell you what doesn’t exist but should. And even if they do, it is very often the case that “I would pay for X if it existed” never translates to “I’m paying for X now that it is here.”

People have various psychological and signalling wants. And some of their preferences may not be a result of actual utilitarian needs, but signalling wants. And the approach you take for building a product that solves a utilitarian need is very different from the approach you take to solve for a signalling want.

Utilitarian needs are consistent and don’t really change with time. Signals, on the other hand, might change every quarter.

And you will never hear people say, “I want to signal” or “I want to increase my dating pool” in user interviews. It simply doesn’t reflect well on them, and it is upto you as the product person to read between the lines.

This is taste.

2. Is it a genuine problem or is it an excuse?

You want to solve for genuine problems faced by serious users, not for excuses offered by dilettantes when you ask them what’s stopping them from using certain features even when they’re available.

It doesn’t always have to do with bad design or discovery. Sometimes, the user might not be serious enough or prioritise a feature or an offering very highly to even search for it. And you need to be aware of it when you come across such a user, because you can’t solve for priorities.

This is taste.

3. Your target consumers follow influencers. But do they actually buy stuff based on their advertised recommendations?

Funded startups rush in to pay huge sums of money to influencers, only to have them put out advertisements that didn’t really work. Because although your target consumers might follow these influencers for their content, they are extremely attuned to filtering out ads. They are smart and they know that even influencers have to earn to keep the channel going.

But as a brand, what this means for you is target consumers watching the ad will not take your product seriously, simply because it is framed as an ad. And people hate ads.

This, again, is taste.

4. How you treat customers who rate your product differently

A customer who rates your product a 1-3/10 might have had a bad experience with some anomaly that might not have had to do with your product at all, but say, delayed shipping, or a fight with the delivery guy, or receiving a damaged product. They don’t have good product feature suggestions or feedback for you.

A customer who rates your product a 10/10 is likely a true fan and still may not have any valuable feedback for you. They simply love whatever you come up with, too much to notice its flaws.

A customer who rates your product a 5-9/10 might have some genuine feedback you can work on, and you would be smart to focus on them first.

Understanding the psychology behind how customers rate products is also a part of taste.

Once again, this might sound too radical, but a person with good product sense and taste never takes what her customers say on face value. She always tries to

1. Get a large enough sample, and

2. Get at the root causes of stated problems

And most importantly, she is really aware about how she uses products, her secret desires, and why she does what she does.

You may not be representative of your target audience, but a person who succeeds in a product role often is, or at least has a huge context overlap with their customers.

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15k+ business professionals act on our advice every day. You should too.