Customer feedback, insight crucial to product success

By Linda Kuster | Guest Column

Statistics on the percentage of new products and services launched into the market each year that fail vary from 40 to 90 percent. Even if only half of new products fail, that is an intimidating statistic, especially when you consider the resources that go into product development.

What can you do to move the numbers in your favor? Support a product development process that builds on customer needs and incorporates feedback.

In thinking about your approach to product development, consider these activities that are typical within a stage-gate process:

Customer Discovery – Feed your product development staff with broad market data and deep insights into your customers’ and prospects’ needs, challenges, opportunities and interests. This type of information can spark inspiration, provide engineers and designers the right problems to solve, and prevent over-designing. Methods for conducting customer discovery include:

  • Qualitative research using interviews, customer videos, focus groups, online diaries and on-site ethnographies or visits
  • Customer input or co-creation channels, such as customer advisory boards or insights panels, dealer councils, feedback mechanisms on your website, and regional brainstorming sessions
  • Quantitative data from in-house data sources, published or for-sale industry research, free data published by government or civic groups, and online customer or market surveys
  • Information gleaned by surveying articles and news in industry publications
  • Monitoring discussions or posing questions in social media channels


Concept Testing and Refinement – Once you have product prototypes developed, think about the most effective way to gain diverse, unbiased feedback. Sometimes it makes sense to test the product in a qualitative manner, especially if it is important that people can see, touch, and experience the product. Other times, it may be smarter to gain input from a large sample of potential customers with an online survey that includes video of your product designs.

Make sure you test products with current and prospective customers. Understand customer expectations for performance since products that fall short of claims or garner bad reviews are destined to fail. Options for concept testing include:

  • In-store, in-field or in-home demonstrations of your product with feedback mechanisms
  • Focus groups, one-on-ones, dyads, or triads
  • Ship prototypes to businesses/homes and follow up with an interview, online diary, or survey
  • If you have an online customer co-creation group, post videos of concepts and ask questions


Final Decisions and Commercialization – Before moving a product to market, you need to make decisions about the exact suite of features to offer, where to set pricing, and whether to phase out other products. Types of research or information that can be helpful for making these decisions include:

  • Pricing research such as Van Westendorp or conjoint analysis
  • Conjoint studies that identify the ideal bundle of features/benefits to take to market
  • Market simulations or forecasts that look at share preference or sales for all your products and competitors


Marketing – Once you have your product ready to launch, let your marketing be guided by your customer/market data and insights. If you have more than one approach, test the options to make sure your marketing messages and executions are relevant, believable and impactful.

Engineers, designers, fabricators and other product development staff often have ideas. Help direct this crucial asset by ensuring that customer and market insights are grounding their work throughout your product development process.

One more word of advice – if you are introducing a new technology or product category, it is important that you know whether or not potential buyers understand your new approach, see a reason to make a change from what they are using, and have a desire for the benefits you are promising.

Happy innovating!

Linda Kuster is president at Vernon Research Group, based in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at (319) 364-7278, ext 7104 or