One of the most common dilemmas related to products/services is how to balance the needs of the Business versus the needs of that business’ Customers. As a web designer/developer (representing the Technology arm in the Triple Confluence), I am often approached by clients to produce a website that will have a design or features I know its Customers will hate or not be able to use effectively.
Many people take one side or the other on this issue, because they are conditioned to believe that “The customer is always right”. And the dilemma occurs because, who the “Customer” is can be seen from different viewpoints. Some Technologists (designers or developers) believe that because that client is paying the bills they should therefore get everything they want. (The clients also believe that too sometimes!) Some Technologists believe the end user is always right (see User Centered Design) because they are ultimately the ones using the product (and will therefore bring revenue to the Business).
However, the only way your product/service will be successful is by balancing these needs. The Business needs to remember that they represent Business needs, not Customer needs (and are usually not the end users). Without meeting the needs of the business plan, your product/service will not meet its goals. For example, users may hate your advertisements, but this may be the only way for you to make money. In addition, without meeting the needs of your Customers, your product/service can’t meet its goals either. For example, if your advertisements are too pervasive, they could prevent your Customers from using the product/service optimally. The solution to this specific example may be to use advertisements that are as non-invasive as possible.
Whether you are on the Business or Customer side (and if you’ve got enough budget to do so) here are a few ways to negotiate or avoid these types of dilemmas:
Early Detection: Spend as much time upfront as you can trying to determine if this dilemma will arise. I always try to feel this out with my clients before taking on any job. I make sure to discuss this with any potential clients early by getting (and setting) their expectations. If you have this discussion early, usually you can tell if your client (or Technologist) lies on one extreme or the other and take the necessary steps to avoid the dilemma (including not moving forward with that client/technologist).
Plain old negotiation: The simplest way is just to sit down with your counterpart and present your case. The best method here is the “Put yourself in my (or your Customers’) shoes” argument. Meeting “in person” always works best for a critical issue such as this, followed by phone communications if that’s not possible (See: The Communication Hierarchy).
Competitive Analysis / Market Research: Figure out what your competitors are doing. Chances are, if they’re leading the market they have already figured out how to balance Business vs. Customer needs. Be very careful on this one though, as many “Web 2.0″ products don’t actually make any money (or even want to make money) and just rely on investment money or an eventual acquisition. Make sure you factor this in when comparing to your business goals.
Business Plan: If you are on the Business side of this dilemma, you need to provide business justification for these types of decisions. If you have a relationship with the Technologist that allows you to share this plan, they will be more likely to understand your side. Especially if you have the data behind it (ie: “We have tested this on a small scale, and have forecasted that this feature will net/save us an extra Trillion Dollars over not using it”).
Focus Groups/etc.: Get the Customers involved. Figure out what they really want and need. This is probably the most important method, as in reality, both the Business and Design/Development teams may think they know what the Customer really wants, but often are both wrong.
Do or Die: In the worst case scenario you need to be able to walk away or just blindly accept your counterpart’s position. Obviously this is not the recommended option, but if there is no other choice it might be the only option. If you have done your homework and are convinced you are right then it may only hurt the other side to continue. Hopefully you can avoid this by the early detection method discussed above, but unexpected issues always arise and ultimately you may need to make this hard choice.