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The problem with Henry’s horses

On this year’s Study Tour there’s a solid turnout of businesses already in the Better by Design programme and it’s great to hear such an appetite for ways to connect with customers.

A common question asked of our hosts is around how the company interacts or gathers feedback from its customers, so it was not long into the BBD Study tour we heard the often-used Henry Ford quote: “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they’d ask for a faster horse.”

But there’s another side to this, explained beautifully during our visit to Behance.

Behance is Adobe’s folio site for the creative community and way to “connect creative talent with opportunities.” (Think LinkedIn for creatives.)

Having millions of users across the world makes face-to-face interaction with these customers a challenge, but that doesn’t stop Behance seeking to understand and learn from them using their digital channels. It’s not a deep dive into their lives, but their eyes and ears are open for how to improve their product based on a short feedback loop.

Evidently, having designers as your customer base makes for a river of feedback, (and quite a few faster horses) which Behance doesn’t take on face value, but looks beyond…

Will Allen, Behance’s strategic lead says “designers are very vocal and will tell you what they want; they are not going to hold back.”

Every week they have around 1000 interactions with customers through digital channels, with community managers moderating and interacting in those discussions, collecting data as they go. That’s a lot of data to chew on, so they aggregate all these: “We aggregate all the digital touchpoints, from the community, twitter etc., and then take a step back to come up with a bigger perspective of what’s actually going on here”

Henry Ford was right in that people are notoriously unreliable when it comes to expressing what they want, so only listening to their expressed needs gives you just half of the story. Behance takes this feedback on board, then looks beyond the expressed needs and deeper into the problems faced by customers. 

Will says, “you should always listen to the problems and not the solutions of your customers – they’ll let you know what’s not working, but they’ll come with their own perspective of what the solution is – it won’t make sense from a strategic or product perspective, but their problems are very real, and that’s where we should focus.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself, and I’m sure Henry would agree.

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