This might seem counter-intuitive, but I’ll try and explain.
First 30 Customers
When you have only a few customers, you can lavish attention on them. The first 30 customers, you can give them your personal instant messenger, have lunch with them, go to their offices and get to know their kids. You can turn the empathy-meter all the way to 11. When you interact with customers on this level, you learn exactly where the difficult parts of your UI are. You learn exactly how people think/feel/use your system
Add a Few Thousand Customers
Then you add more customers and the situation changes. You can’t interact with customers the same way you used to. I can already hear people shouting, “But you can pick 30 customers out of the thousand and still do the same kind of treatment!” Although, technically, this is true, it often doesn’t happen. At this point, lots of customers mean lots of things to do. There is no time for the stuff you used to do with only a handful of users. Success means you need to support the existing customers. There are all kinds of tasks that didn’t exist before. In some ways, having this many customers makes it more difficult to talk to just a few.
This is the key part of what I am finding. When you add in alot of customers, you have to change the way you understand the end-user experience if you want to keep up.
Add Many Thousands More Customers
Now the game changes again. Now there is a base of people and support for your growing population of users. At this point you can dedicate people to just learning about the customers. You can tool your application with monitors to see statistically what is happening. This sheds new light on to the customer base, especially in the form of statistics.
Although this improves things somewhat, I don’t think it takes you back to the level of the first 30. That intimacy is unrivaled. It’s fascinating to me how the rules of the road change as a company experiences success. What works at one level is horrible on another and vice-versa. A good company adapts and changes to the ever-changing environment. A good designer looks for ways to keep the empathy meter up high.
Is this your experience as well or do you feel you got to know users MORE as they were added?