“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” A famous quote by Henry Ford. He didn’t seek out the approval of customers. But instead went with what he believed was the right direction and set out to revolutionize the transportation sector.

Yet, this quote brings us to seriously consider whether customers are the best source for developing innovative products. And to a certain extent they are. However there are instances where you should think twice before asking them for feedback.

Four reasons to think twice before asking customers for feedback

Customers don’t know the technology

For the most part, we as consumers are unaware of the capabilities of what current technology is capable of doing. And to a larger extent there’s technology and new applications out there that the general public is unaware of. Since there’s a degree of secrecy surrounding what’s happening in the R&D lab. Asking customers for feedback will produce incremental improvements to current products.

Radical improvements will make their current product obsolete

A familiar example is when Apple releases a new iPhone, iPod, Mac or software update and you just bought the previous version. Or the new software update is not compatible with your device. iPhone 3G owners know what I’m talking about.

Even though the update would radically improve the user experience to the user. The customer can be reluctant to see those improvements take place as their product has become useless.

Customers are used to what they got

Going back to Henry Ford’s quote. Customers will look to give you feedback that’ll only incrementally improve your product. Because that’s what they have become used it.

Market leaders are born when they challenge the status quo. Look beyond what your customers are asking for and sometimes go with your gut feeling. The customer is not always right.

Big money on the table

Your customers have invested a lot of capital into your product and are reluctant to see radical changes. The fear here is that their financial commitment to the product will become obsolete. And considered a sunk cost for the organization.

When big money is on the table. Customers have the incentive to see that the product last as long as it possibly can. Organizations are still using Windows XP since it was released in 2001 and have delayed upgrading to Windows 7. Prompting Microsoft to sponsor a report concluding Windows XP support is five times more expensive than that of Windows 7.

Listening to your customers is good and worthwhile. However, there comes a time when you need to innovate in order to stay competitive. And listening to your customers will be counter productive. Keeping you away from innovating new products and making you stick with products that’ll become obsolete when your competitors release something innovative.