What Do We Know?

Photographing on the Tarmac
I spend a lot of time behind a camera. The resulting images remind me of some of my favorite places and happiest memories. Photo by Dan Antion.

This blog post is more than a rant about Yahoo!, but allow me to share my recent experience with its photo and hosting site Flickr by way of an introduction.

I’ve been an avid Flickr user since 2006, and a Pro (paid) subscriber since 2007. For most of that time, Flickr was never the prettiest photo sharing site, but that didn’t matter to me. Most of Flickr’s users, including myself, were professional or passionate amateur photographers who wanted fairly basic features without all of the hoopla provided by flashier photo storage sites. For years, Flickr fulfilled these simple requirements admirably, but in the opinion of this one faithful user, the website has jumped the proverbial online shark.

Within the last year, Flickr has rolled out a series of rapid and radical departures from its time-honored design, user interface and capabilities, to mixed reactions. A quick scan of the reviews of the current Flickr app is telling: the 4 and 5 star reviews are mostly written by relatively new users, while the 1 and 2 star reviews are mostly written by long-term users like myself. The new updates are clearly designed to compete with sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest and Google+, and have gradually transformed Flickr into the kind of site it always prided itself on not being. If the goal is to alienate those users that made the site successful (i.e. those of us who paid for those subscriptions year after year,) I would like to congratulate Flickr on a mission achieved.

In my opinion, where Flickr and so many other companies go wrong is a lack of consideration of one of the keys to staying in business – a concept equally applicable to a global enterprise as to a sole proprietor. I am by no means the first to articulate this magic secret, and many have done so far more eloquently than I am about to do, but the idea is so often overlooked in corporate decision-making that it bears repeating:

Never assume you know what your customers want from you. Ask them what they want, then find a way to make it happen. This isn’t a one-time process; this is your purpose. Your customers’ needs are subject to change, and your business must be agile enough to adapt accordingly. Should you neglect to do this, be assured that someone else will.

It’s not a difficult concept to understand. Your customers may be consumers or businesses, but ultimately, businesses are composed of people, and most people have no problem stating what they want. People share more of their needs, wants and desires with companies than they have ever had the luxury of doing before. With just a few taps and swipes, we can communicate directly with, or at a minimum, about, any organization we give our money and support to.

The companies that stay in business today are the ones who understand what their customers really want from them. This knowledge is not acquired in a board room meeting behind a closed door, or through market analysis performed at a disconnected corporate office; it comes from talking directly to customers. If you find yourself making assumptions about who your customers are and what they want from you, pause long enough to actually ask a sample of them, or to simply take the time to read what they are already saying (and trust me, they are talking about you.)

Countless studies prove that the cost of attracting a new customer is significantly higher than keeping a current one. What are your customers trying to tell you? Are you listening?

4 thoughts on “What Do We Know?

  1. I find it amazing that with all the technology available today to continually communicate with your CUSTOMERS and get quality feedback about your company, product or services . . . that we still have to give them a basic Business 101 course on how to do so. It has never been easier to find out how customer’s perceive a company, its products or its people, and yet we see very successful companies doing very stupid things without confirming the impact it may have on the very people who got you to where you are today.

    1. Bob, I couldn’t agree more! At this point, I don’t think we can blame lack of technology or lack of data; much of the time, it just comes down to laziness.

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