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When you can’t see the forrest for the trees…

Árboles bosque

…Or when the customer is not always right.

There is a legend that Henry Ford said that if he’d asked his customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.

Something that goes against the fashion of “listening” and using Internet and specifically social media as massive focus groups.

And even though it seems to be that there is no evidence that Ford said those words there are other people that say loud and clear that “maybe” there is no need to listen to customers that much and we’d rather focus in our own vision, because sometimes you can’t see the forrest for the trees.

Josef Zotter is the founder of the chocolate factory that has his name: Zotter. Mr Zotter, who was the first Austrian entrepreneur to have his own Harvard Business School case, says things like this:

I spend all day working on chocolate, that’s where I focus all my energy on. I don’t think anyone – including the customer – has the judgment to tell me what to do.

Zotter changes his product offer regardless of sales, removing references and creating new ones according to his personal decisions and not the success in the market, and he has made product innovation one of his differential points.

I do not think his sentence is clueless.

And please, I do not want to be misunderstood. I vehemently defend that it is essential to listen to the clients in the broadest sense imaginable (asking, observing, analyzing behavior, complaints, phone calls…) to understand their needs, how do they see us and our products and services, our processes… In this observation and in the next step that is to involve them in the actual development or improvement process, there are huge opportunities at out fingertips. Bankinter knows that an has created Bankinter Labs, a clear example of co-creation where the bank works with a community of customers to develop products and tools that will improve its offer.

What I mean is that we must be careful and not to swing from ignoring the customer to think that they have the answer to all our questions. There are many companies that are obtaining remarkable results being closer to their customers and working with them, but cases as the mentioned above from Henry Ford or Josef Zotter are not exceptions: people and corporations with a radically different vision about the future of products and services, trend and category setters. I am sure each one of us can mention some of these.

It is quite obvious that this type of “visionary innovation” is not for everyone (quite likely for very few), but I doubt there is one single customer that would have suggested Josef Zotter to put porcini and chestnut or pork rinds and grapes together with his chocolate.

This post has been written to be published simultaneously in Anotado and in Territorio creativo blog.

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