How Customer Feedback Can Help With New Business Ideas

I’ve been thinking about this recently because of a series of events that started with Russian piping tips.

I really think that this is something that business owners should consider if they want to maintain their incomes (or grow their incomes) over the long run.

The basic idea is that people who sell things online tend to spend so much time communicating with other people who sell things online, we tend to forget that they’re not the people we should be listening to.

We should be listening to our customers, who are, after all, the ones who are paying us.

using customer feedback for designing new products

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Buyers and sellers like different things.

When I made wedding cakes, there were a bunch of new decorators who came on the scene during the great “cake rush” of the 2008 recession (everybody wanted to be a cake decorator.)

They all insisted that a REALLY SHARP EDGE on cakes was the “standard” and that a softer, rounded edge was bad.

Little did they know that the sharp edges they loved so much were because they were looking at photos of fake cakes that were Styrofoam inside, and it’s a lot easier to get a sharp edge on those.

Well, before they all came along en masse, a soft, rounded edge on fondant was what cake decorators aimed for.

So they were basically trying to tell customers that what they were used to wasn’t “in” anymore, and that if that’s what they wanted, they were wrong.

Also, they all wanted to use fondant, which is what they use on cake shows because buttercream is a lot harder to work with. So they also screamed about how fondant was so much better than buttercream.

The problem with that was that if you asked my customers, they all seemed to prefer a softer edge, and buttercream, not fondant. And I did ask them at tasting appointments, which one do you want, and they would all choose the not-sharp edge.

Did I tell them they were wrong? Or that they were wrong to want buttercream instead of fondant?

No, I did not.

Because listening to your customers is always good for business.

orange edible butterflies

Getting product feedback and suggestions from customers.

Some of the best-sellers in my online shops came from suggestions from customers.

When someone contacts me to ask for a specific color, I pay attention. And when multiple people ask for that color combination, I go do some product research to see if that color combo is trending somewhere that I don’t know about.

Customers will basically tell you what they want, and it’s up to you to decide whether to give it to them or ignore it.

Recently I’ve started getting a lot of orders for orange edible butterflies,Opens in a new tab. which isn’t that unusual, but it’s a lot more than usual.

I’m paying attention, because if this continues, I’ll look around to see if there’s something trending that I don’t know about, and maybe I’ll push the orange ones a little more than usual.

russian piping tips icing decoration
This is what the Russian piping tips do with one squeeze of the icing bag.

People have different standards.

So back to the Russian piping tips…I did a video on how to use them, and the majority of decorators’ comments about them were that they looked sloppy, not precise enough, too soft, etc. etc.

Lots of upturned noses and dismissive comments, basically.

I thought it was interesting, then, that everyone who saw them who was NOT a decorator loved them.

I took some of the cupcakes that I made in the video to a birthday party, and I heard one guest say “I wish I could make my cupcakes look like this, they never come out this nice.”

Another person looked at them and said “Those are beautiful!” and another person said “those are so cute!”

Another incident along the same lines…I took a cake to the same party, and I had to kind of wing it because I ran out of time.

It was fine, but to my decorator standards it just was a lot of colored icing piped on with round tips to make seaweed and some orange fish on it.

So I was feeling guilty that it wasn’t more elaborate, but when I put it on the table at the party, people started taking pictures of it.

There were people who didn’t know that I’d made it who were talking about how good it was…again, a different idea of what’s good.

My point is that we need to listen to our customers more.

etsy review

Read reviews for clues.

One way to do this is to read reviews, both your reviews and the reviews of other people, to see what customers say about the products.

I’ve said this before, but you want to look at ALL of the reviews, not just the good and bad ones.

Good reviews won’t tell you a lot, bad reviews might be people who are just being cranky, but if you look at the reviews in the middle, you’ll get a lot of the “it was okay but…” responses.

Those are the ones that will be helpful when you’re trying to figure out different features that people are looking for, or ways that you can upgrade your own products to be better than your competition.

When I was starting on Etsy, I looked at the reviews from shops that were selling handmade silicone molds, since that’s one of the products I had in mind.

One woman who was selling to a lot of cake decorators ONLY sold in sets, and a lot of her reviews said “I wish I could buy these individually.”

So yes, I sell my molds individually.

Another seller had a lot of reviews saying “These took a really long time to ship.”

So I ship everything as fast as I can.

Listening to actual customer feedback, even if it’s not specifically for your own shop, can tell you things about what people are looking for.

Use customer requests for product development.

I pretty much only make new designs when someone requests one. I very rarely decide to make something new for my product line before I decide whether there’s a demand for it.

If someone asks me if I can make something, I will, then I’ll list it and let them buy it from that listing.

That way, the product is available for other people, and if it sells immediately after it’s listed, that helps the listing quality.

Some of my most interesting products (meaning weird) are things that people asked me to make, but other people also buy them.

I would never have thought to make them myself, but if one person wants something then other people probably do, too.

Listen to the people who matter.

I think that people spend so much time online talking to other sellers, we tend to put too much emphasis on the technicalities of things.

If you ask your customers what they’d like to see, you might find out that they want things that are totally different from what you think people want.

I used to ask the brides who came to tasting appointments a lot of questions about what they liked and didn’t like about cake designs, and it was always interesting to hear their responses.

They generally didn’t know or care about what cake decorators thought was important. They liked what they liked, not what decorators were saying was “in” or “out.”

So relax a little and don’t worry about the opinions of people you’ve never met, and who won’t be buying anything from you anytime soon.

Work on figuring out what your own customers want and do that. Your business will be more successful if you’re actually selling what your customers want to buy.

Kara Buntin

Kara Buntin has run a profitable home-based business since 1999, and has a background in art, theater design, and cake decorating. She's a top Etsy seller with over 51,000 sales on Etsy and her own website, and helps other home-based business owners with their business goals and SEO. She founded the Artisan Shopping Directory website to promote the artisans who are members of her EShop Success marketing program.

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