Should companies stick to their guns or give in to customer demands?

The customer is always right, right? As a customer it is understandable that this old adage seems like something set in stone, but looked at from a company's point of view things are rather different. A large proportion of customers are in fact idiots. While it is reasonable to expect a company to listen to what its customers have to say, does this risk stifling innovation as customers demand that things be done a certain way?

Here on BetaNews we've had a little debate about whether Microsoft should reintroduce the Start menu. Despite the number of people calling for its return, Brian does not think it is a good idea saying that "the company should ignore these customers, even if they are the majority". I am of the opinion that it would be good to at least make it optional, particularly for enterprise customers.

In my mind, if there are a huge number of users making the same demand, it would seem to imply that something needs to change. This is something that Twitter recognizes. Just a few days ago the social network made a significant change to the way its blocking feature worked. It essentially meant that blocking someone no longer meant that they were blocked in the sense that most people would understand. Users were upset. Users voiced their disapproval. Twitter listened and reversed the changes.

Should this be seen as a sensible case of listening to the customer, or is it more like caving in? It would be a bold company that just went ahead and did whatever the hell it wanted to, but there is a fine line to walk. A company that acts upon every demand made by customers is doomed to failure.

So what’s the answer? When there are areas of contention -- such as with the Start menu -- who should get the final say about what happens. Should a company stubbornly stick to its guns and do what it thinks is best, or should it take into account what paying customers think? Would it make sense to have polls to see what the majority of people want done? The danger with going down this route is that it would be open to abuse; online polls can be sabotaged, for example.

How would you tackle balancing customer demands and development of a company's ideas?

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