Who Listens Most?

A couple of my articles recently, particularly the "What We've Never Gotten" article last week, have provoked some comments to me about who is and who isn't listening in terms of camera makers. Of course I have my own views on this ;~).

Certainly Fujifilm seems to be the company listening most to its customers right now, and is actively encouraging feedback from them. They did a good job early on in the X era in picking out a few pros that helped them identify gaps and opportunities in their product feature sets that they needed to fill (and are still filling, witness the upcoming X-T2 firmware update). At trade shows, I often see Fujifilm execs, and they're always willing to talk. They seem eager to understand the camera market from the customer perspective. Moreover, it's very clear that anything that they hear as a deficiency in their products tends to get down to the developers and addressed.

Somewhere behind Fujifilm I'd put Hasselblad (at least recently) and Leica. Both now seem very approachable, even as a customer, and both seem more than willing to listen if you engage them. Leica seems a little slow in rolling out customer suggestions for improvement, but I've noticed that issues that customers point out tend to eventually get addressed. They're listening, they're just not as quick to the punch as Fujifilm. Nor are they doing a good job of pointing out that they're listening.

Next down the list I'd put Panasonic and Sony, but both with a particular caveat: they'll listen to select customers or those that they've identified as experts that they believe can help them. And generally only on problems they're trying to solve. So, for instance, the GH line of cameras is getting a lot of attention specifically targeting the videographer customer Panasonic seeks. Thus you can see that the GH5 has a wealth of new specific video features and performance that tackles the things that Panasonic's listening uncovered from GH4 users, and not so much changes to the body and basics of the camera. Amusingly, I note that they still use very strange wording and abbreviations in their menus, even when they've got room for the whole word.

Sony is pretty much the same thing. But in both the case of Sony and Panasonic I note that it seems that the ergonomic/UI types of suggestions they should be hearing don't seem to be getting the same level of attention as specific performance suggestions. (To put some perspective on this, Sony did hear the complaints about the original NEX ergonomics/UI and made changes. But since then, not quite so much. The most recent change in the menu system is welcome, but still doesn't fully address the complaints users had.)

I'm not sure how to characterize Olympus. It seems that they finally heard that they needed to do something about their menus, but that seems to have been interpreted as "new font is needed" more than a full on restructure and naming drill. So we still have the head-hurting "exactly how do I set this camera up to the way I want it" problem we've had with m4/3 since the beginning.

Nikon falls at the bottom of the list. I don't see them doing a lot of listening. Indeed, the last two trade shows I was at, Nikon went so far as to hide their corporate attendees and make them mostly unavailable. I walked up to one Japanese executive I know and he immediately said, "Hi Thom, I have to go." And left. That's kind of the opposite of listening. 

Does it matter if the Japanese camera companies listen to us? 

You bet it does.

Not necessarily in the way that Fujifilm is approaching this ("give us a checklist of things we still need to add or fix"). But rather in the way that you understand what your customer's frustrations are. What problems are they trying to solve where the product actually gets in the way? How do they find the experience of using your product? What do they appreciate about the product and always want retained, if possible? 

Some think you can get this by surveys. To some degree you can, though I've not seen a well-designed Nikon customer survey that would get to the sort of information I'm talking about. 

Meanwhile there's something interesting happening in the digital photography software side of the business: as more companies have taken on the challenge of Adobe's entrenchment, those companies have been pursuing actual photographers en masse. They want to know what they need to work on in their product, they want presets and training from people who know what they're doing, those software companies want to figure out how to ease user problems before Adobe figures it out. So maybe there's hope for some of our workflow issues yet. 

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