Have you talked to your customers lately?

Whether you run a young tech startup, a small business or a thriving large company, your success is driven by the quality of your connection to your customer. Establishing a strong understanding of their needs and wants is a critical and highly dynamic process.
The amount of available information and the speed at which it is shared can influence tastes, trends and purchase decisions almost in real time, driving seismic shifts in customer demands. In this climate you must stay in touch with your customers.
Here are a few quick tips to help your team stay truly customer-focused:
Gut-check assumptions 
No doubt you’ve made some assumptions about the problem you’re trying to solve. But it is crucial to engage with customers to validate your assumptions, especially before investing in product development. It’s less costly than a botched product launch.
Go broad and go deep
Remember, rave reviews from a few close friends or business associates do not indicate a home run idea; it’s important to get feedback from a broad group of unbiased potential customers and stakeholders and identify repeated customer themes (good or bad).
Avoid happy ears
Whether you are a senior executive hearing a research report or an entrepreneur talking to a customer, resist the urge to hear what you want to hear. It is important to maintain objectivity, not only in evaluating the answers you hear, but also in the questions you ask.
Welcome the pivot
Honest feedback from potential customers will sometimes surprise you. Perhaps you spent a great deal of time working on feature X but what really excites the market is feature Z.  It can be hard to force your brain (and your team) to go back to the drawing board, but it will pay dividends in the long run.
Don’t insulate the decision-makers
Success requires objective feedback. That means employees reporting up the chain can’t be afraid to tell the hard truth, no matter whom it offends or what it means for the project. A bigger gap between the decision-maker and the customer leaves a bigger chance for error. If decisions come from the top, lean on the messenger to be sure the real story is coming through.
Seek qualitative and quantitative feedback 
Charts and graphs are critically important, but the data will never replace reading a customer’s face or reactions to your product or idea. Whenever possible, work to blend qualitative and quantitative feedback to capture the true essence of your customers’ thinking.

Keep these basics tips in mind as you engage with customers. They will serve you well, whether you are operating out of your garage or in the boardroom.

Jerry Frantz manages the entrepreneurial services and investing team at JumpStart Inc. and has helped provide advisory support to more than 75 portfolio companies.