22 December 2011

Invent The Future While Listening To Customers

Yesterday I saw an article with the provoking title: “Mark Cuban on Why You Should Never Listen to Your Customers”. My first reaction was astonishment, because in Business Solutions we pride ourselves with ALWAYS listening carefully to our customers.

Listen to complaints but don’t ask about the future
When I read the article I understood what the American business magnate meant, and I realized that the CEO Peter had told me the same thing at various occasions, but not in such drastic words: “Yes, we should listen to our customers ‒ or Community Members ‒ and help them solve their problems, but we should not turn to the customers when it comes to decisions about the path for future development. That is my job.”

Peter climbs the trees
In the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People I saw a metaphore I liked: if a group of workers are building a road through a jungle, the staff must have good equipment and know how to do their job in an efficient way ‒ but someone also has to climb to the tree tops and make sure that the road is built in the right direction. Otherwise it will not be useful to anyone, no matter how smoothly the work on the ground is running. Peter is that person.

Future technologies
As Peter is a software developer the challenge of staying ahead and show the direction means to choose which techniques to use among all the interesting and feature-rich technologies that is constantly released out there, and to build applications that take best possible advantage of them. Maybe the users of the software do not even understand what can be done until they have seen it? But Peter can understand it, and that is why he has chosen to make the products compatible with new platforms like Office 365 and Windows Azure, even though most Community Members still don’t even think about transferring to them. When they want to do it, the applications they use should be compatible.

New design
KBase logotypeAnother example on Peter’s capacity of “inventing the future” (as Mark Cuban puts it) is the extensive development work that is currently going on at Our developers Kanak Joshi and Sunil Patel are working full time with the creation of a new KBase application, which we hope to release soon.  The rest of the team has also been engaged in their work, because what we learn from this development with new techniques will be used in the future development of our more advanced products.

Welcome with suggestions
This said I want to make it clear that I don’t mean that Community Members are not welcome with suggestions on new features for the products they use. You are! No one knows better than you what needs to be improved for efficient daily use. But Peter and his developers are the ones who can judge how to achieve the goal in the best way and with best conditions for future upgrades.

PF HelpDesk sponsorship
PFHD logotype A very good example on how users and developers can cooperate to improve a product is the joined efforts of Community Member Swiss Post and The PF HelpDesk administrator at Swiss Post sent us a list of features they wanted to include in a future version of this issue tracking tool. They were willing to sponsor the development, but instead of adding those features to the current version of PF HelpDesk Peter decided to incorporate them in the next version. This version will be totally rebuilt and partly web based, and even if Swiss Post must wait longer for their features they will get them in a product that will keep for many years ahead. This way Peter could listen to customers and still keep focus on the right direction!

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