When Your Customers Succeed, So Do You

Blake Rohrbacher

Updated · Aug 23, 2001

I'm going to go out on a limb and mix some metaphors. Not to change horses in midstream, but I would counsel you to stop whistling in the dark before you get egg on your face. In other words, if you don't make it easy for your users to do what they want to do, it's hard to make them happy, no matter how well you understand them. Once you know what they need, you must let them succeed.

Knowing what your customers want is crucial. This allows you to deliver what they want, which should eventually please both them and you. How will you know if you're delivering? (You can ask your customers, and you certainly should. A little honest feedback from customers often holds a lot of truth about areas that need improvement.)

You must have a clear idea of what it means for the user to succeed, then work to help them do just that. In general, for a user, the definition of success is “the achievement of my objective in a reasonable time for a reasonable cost with a minimum of difficulty.” You can fill in the specifics for your company and product.

I've noticed, though, that some business leaders prefer other methods of measuring their success, such as valuation, database size, venture funding, PR hits, signed contracts, or stock price. These are all good metrics to watch, but they may cloud the picture where serving the user is concerned. Most of these metrics are probably immaterial to the long-term success of the company, whereas user success is ultimately tied pretty closely to company success.

It behooves you to check your definitions of success against those of your users. If you believe that a swollen database is the next thing to nirvana and you effect that by putting up several forms to collect data, you are violating two principles of user success: reasonable time and minimum difficulty. Your leaders may salivate at every juicy press mention or the possibility of a new contract. However, your news story will probably not help Joe User find his Widget 25-A upgrade pack, and the new contract, while very nice, is still only a new contract.

To make the contract a homerun, you need to help the users brought in through that contract succeed. A large amount of venture capital, though good for the ego, can throw up obstacles to user success. Guy Kawasaki once wrote, “Customers are the result of good products and good service. When companies have too much money, they try to buy buzz… in order to get customers. That's backasswards.”

Lots of money sometimes causes companies to buy fancy animated intro pages, devote large spaces on their sites to self-promotion, and believe that the market has validated their user-unfriendly solution, which may not necessarily be the case and may hinder the user from achieving success.

If you ultimately want to make your company and its products successful, you will need to please the customer who will buy or use your products, even if it means slightly displeasing the VP who wants to see lots of PR mentions while he waits for his options to vest. When users find that your products meet their definition of success, it will be hard for you not to share in that success.

And that's a lead-pipe cinch that you can take to the bank at the end of the day, 24/7.

Reprinted from ClickZ.

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