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Ask Customers to Validate Not to Innovate

The idea behind crowdsourcing/collaborative design/customer innovation labs sounds fantastic, right? Go to the people who use your products and services and get them to roll up their sleeves to dream up the newer, better, faster version of your wares. 

Unfortunately, customers are absolutely terrible at it.

We've all experienced it -- the blank stares and awkward silence in focus groups when participants are asked "how would you make [YourCo'sAwesomeProduct] better?" ... the gratuitous answers to open-ended survey questions around "how can we improve [YourCo'sAwesomeService]" along the lines of "make it cheaper/free." But we seem to be a hopeful bunch, because everywhere I look, these types of questions continue to show up in moderator's guides and questionnaires.

Marketers, stop asking customers to do your job while you kick back behind the one way mirror, inhaling complimentary M&Ms and Diet Dr Peppers.

While customers aren't good at telling you what they want, what they are good at is telling you what they don't want. If you're going down the path of designing a new product or service, give them something to react to.

If you're hoping customers will spark an idea, you can always ask them what they don't like about what you are offering today. Better yet, watch them use your product and see where they're struggling or creating their own workarounds to compensate for a deficit.

Who knows, you might even enjoy those M&Ms more as you inhale them in the excitement of watching a productive research session.

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