Unhappy customers: your greatest source of learning

When it comes to customer feedback, bad news is good news. To encourage customers to come to you, tell them, “If you have bad news, tell me. If you have good news, tell the whole world.” Take the bad news and make use of it in your product development.


“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” This is something Bill Gates once said. What did he mean? He meant that your true customers, if they are your target customers, and they are unhappy with you, they are the absolutely best source of feedback on your product, and you should listen to them always. You should see that your people listen to them, because they need to hear from the best customers what they are complaining about, and how they are complaining.

​If a customer complains, it doesn’t mean they are going to abandon you, necessarily. It actually is a sign of commitment. They’re taking the time to complain to you about the product, because they want it to work. Usually when I get feedback like that, I tell myself that the person is actually saying, “I would love to love you, but right now I cannot.” When I think that way, I can receive the information. I don’t have to be defensive; I just listen to what are the real problems and why are there problems.

​As engineers, we usually think that it’s the customer’s fault, and they should have read the manual, and they shouldn’t do it this way, and it’s not a supported feature. All of that is irrelevant. What’s relevant is how the customer would like to use the product, and if you haven’t designed it that way, you better get it there, based on the feedback from your customer. That’s why Bill Gates said it, “Your most unhappy customers are your best source of product feedback.”

​When it comes to customer feedback, bad news is actually good news. What you can tell your customers, to encourage them to come to you, is to say, “If you have bad news, come to me. If you have good news, tell the whole world.” So take the bad news and make use of it in your product development. If there’s good news, and of course at some point there will be very good news, let the customers talk to each other, and talk to the whole world about it.

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  1. This sounds like something from a relationship counselling session. But this can be reflective of how your customers feel. Your customers want your relationship to work that s why they engaged you in the first instance. There are obvious signs a customer is unhappy and failure to spot the warnings can be symptomatic of a relationship that s already broken down beyond repair.

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