The true marker of a successful feedback process isn’t actually how you gather the feedback – it’s what you do with the feedback afterwards.

Australian shoe startup ‘Shoes of Prey’ recently learned this the hard way. They provided a service based almost entirely on customer feedback – they created a platform where customers could customise and design their own footwear, a service many heralded as the next big thing. However, despite the vast research and “all the right trends”, the startup failed to crack the mass-market, with customers not responding as the startup expected.

Shoes of Prey spent a lot of time researching what customers wanted – they put in the hard yards of gathering feedback on everything from the design process to customisation. However there seemed to be a big disconnect between customers aspirations for customisable footwear, and what their needs actually were – a straightforward, seamless online purchasing experience with a sprinkle of customisation thrown in.

Reflecting on this I think it’s a very good example of a company focusing on customer ‘wants’ and in doing so, neglecting to meet or even understand customers ‘needs’.

A customer ‘need’ can be described as something that is fundamental to the whole customer relationship – when a need is not met the entire relationship fails. Customers have an emotional response when a need is not met. They feel sad, angry, disappointed.

A ‘want’ on the other hand is a nice to have. You might comment positively on it, or you might even pay more to have it – but if it is not there you don’t feel desperately let down.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. Listening to customers talking at length about aspirational extras they say they value, they might even say they would be willing to pay more for.  Hotel guests will tell you that they want a chocolate on their pillow, a glass of wine on arrival, some luxury toiletry products in the bathroom. But if you focus all your energy there and omit to provide a clean environment, a comfortable bed, an appropriate room temperature – you will end up with unhappy, disappointed guests no matter how many extra “nice to haves” you provide.

Your ability to collect your customer feedback and research, and then recognise when they are articulating a basic need and when they are talking about an additional want is what will set you up for success. Especially if you are trying to break out of a niche offering and into the mass market – as Shoes of Prey was attempting to do.

The famous Henry Ford quote is so relevant in this context, “If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said a faster horse”. 

Shoes of Prey made the mistake of asking customers to tell them what they wanted, without first having the base understanding what their customers needed.

Had they established at the outset that their customers needed (and here I am hypothesising) an easy and convenient way to order shoes with the added requirements of an easy to navigate website, good range of sizes, and easy access to designs they found inspiring – they could have added a layer of wants on top of that. Perhaps allowing a small amount of customisation with some very robust templates from which to customise so the customer was not expected to be a designer.

The key is to define your customers needs ahead of time and ask for feedback specifically about these and to what extent you are succeeding in meeting those needs. That’s the foundation for success.

If you deliver the needs flawlessly, then you can build your aspirational ‘wants’ onto a solid foundation and really delight your customers (and keep them coming back!).

You can read more about Shoes of Prey here.

At BigEars we are excited to be working with organisations to help them understand their customers needs and measure to what extent they are meeting them. You can learn more about BigEars here.