Customers rarely know what they want

Google’s OHA has obviously been big news recently. No more walled gardens, a Linux OS, etc. Interesting stuff. Potentially game changing. So much so that it got me to thinking about a familiar subject.

The more I read about the possibilities of what this alliance is hoping to accomplish, the more it reminds me of something I have always believed. For the most part, people don’t realize what they want or need. Take cell phones for example. We are so used to taking what the cell phone companies provide us that most people don’t realize what a cell phone, or a mobile device, could actually do if it was truly open.

For example, I see a device that allows you to see where your Facebook “friends” are located at any given time in real time. You could not only meet them at the store they are currently shopping at, but you could check the available products in that store and check the prices. You could scan to see how late the store is open and what time it opens in the morning. If they are out of a product you could find out when they are getting more in and how much.

And this is just a narrow slice of what an open mobile device could do. But many people don’t know it.

To reinforce my view, I asked a colleague what she wished her phone could do. Her response?

“I wish I could send the pictures I take with my phone to someone else.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she probably can. Nor did I have the patience that I knew it would take to figure out how to do it and then explain to her.

Sometimes a great service is one that people don’t realize they want. This is why I cringe when companies rely solely on surveys to gage their customers wants and needs. You’re the expert, figure out what will make your service more valuable to your customer and provide it to them.

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2 Responses

  1. I think that’s why open API’s have been quite successful. I know you’ve got an itch, not sure where it is, but here’s a scratcher, go for it. SYOI.

    So Google didn’t exactly give its customers what they wanted, unless the customer in this case are developers. They just passed it on. Here’s the API. Use it however way you want to.

    It’s great when you understand The Big Picture but not so much when you don’t and unfortunately a good portion of consumers fall under the latter category. Developers are scratching their own itches. They are hacking for their own utilities. The UI suffers and now you have a technology that can do wonders except the user can’t figure out how to turn it on.

    Apple, on the other hand (you know I’m going to do this) did a great job figuring out what consumers would love. They did it so beautifully with so much simplicity you see 1-year-olds playing with iPhones. And in a couple of months they are releasing the iPhone SDK to developers.

    It’s a beautiful thing when you can cater to a mass consumer audience and the developer community at the same time.

  2. Lisa,
    Of course you are right. Technically, Google didn’t actually give the customers what they didn’t know they wanted, they simply provided the platform so that this could happen. I was just going for the overall concept.

    And Apple, in my opinion, is the king of giving customers products that they didn’t know they couldn’t live without.

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