When the voice of one customer is too loud

Several recent experiences remind me of the risks of allowing any single customer’s point of view to dominate our perception of what the entire customer base wants or needs.  I can think of a handful of recent situations where management made a high stakes decision based almost solely on a single vocal customer or a high profile incident with a single account.

  • In one instance, a vocal and persuasive customer’s problem led the company to re-engineer one of its delivery processes.  Research from Isurus—commissioned to test customer reactions to the new process—found that most customers were satisfied with the old process, and suggested that the re-engineering was perhaps not needed.
  • In another example, one large customer’s strong interest in a particular set of capabilities led the company to think that the rest of the market would also want these capabilities.  An investment in building out the new capabilities proved disastrous when too few customers purchased the new product.
  • In our own work at Isurus, we are constantly aware of the danger of allowing a particularly articulate or passionate focus group participant to have undue influence on the research findings.

It is important, often critical, to respond to the needs of key customers. However, it is equally important to determine which requests represent one-off customizations for key clients and which represent an opportunity with other customers.

Primary market research – especially quantitative data—helps to safeguard against over-reacting to a single customer incident.  There are other ways to do this as well, such as engaging the customer service or sales teams to understand how prevalent these issues really are (i.e., are they hearing these ideas/complaints from a lot of customers?).