Customers are Like Spouses

Customers are like spouses, just because you are married to them doesn’t mean you know what they want or need.

So why do we imbue product owners and managers with the mystical power of being able to say with certainty that their customers will or will not like something?

While product owners and managers do their best to think like customers and users, think of them as husbands and wives trying to make their lovers happy. If you’re in a relationship, think of all the times you thought you had the perfect gift and discovered that while you thought it was great, your significant other just thought you were an idiot.

No matter how intimate you are with your customer, heck even if you spend time under their roof conducting ethnographic studies to the point you are sleeping with them, the only way to determine whether you built the right thing is to give it to them. And while sometimes, they may immediately know they hate or love it, oftentimes they need to try it on and wear it before they decide whether it truly fits their needs.

Sometimes, they may think their new gift, e.g. new pair of leather boots, is a little uncomfortable at first and don’t initially like them as they are not as comfortable as their old almost worn out shoes, but after awhile they grow to love their new footwear.

If they trust you enough either because they are madly in love with you at the beginning of the relationship or because you’ve done right by them enough times, they may make the extra effort to try things that require some initial discomfort or changes. Or they may not, and all your hard work may be for nought.

Making the situation even more challenging is product owners/managers are rarely in monogamous relationships, instead they have multiple spouses, each with their own distinct tastes and relationship, so good luck keeping all of them happy!

So while product demos to product owners and a small group of customer representatives is a step in the right direction versus nothing, and usability tests will go a long way toward discovering whether your users will love, just tolerate or hate your product, you can’t be completely certain until your users actually begin using it.

So if you’re a product owner/manager be humble about your abilities to accurately forecast your users reactions. And for others, cut the PO/PM some slack and stop saying things like,”But I thought you represented the customer.” And for everyone stop relying on a product demo to truly validate user acceptance.

The only way to truly validate user acceptance is through more rigorous usability, alpha and beta testing, so add a new status of validated to every feature/release to determine whether your work is actually complete, not just released.

So good luck keeping all of your relationships’ love tanks full!

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