Posted: 10:00 a.m. Friday, April 5, 2013
By Phil Libin
Complaints are super helpful. Suggestions? Not so much.
A Japanese marketing exec recently sent me this question:
We get a lot of customer feedback online. I'd like to relay it to management, but we don't have a good channel for doing so. What does Evernote do to funnel feedback to top management?
I have a publicly visible Twitter account, and my email address is very easy to guess, so lots of people contact me directly about what they love or hate about Evernote. When any customer can just email the CEO, the company becomes pretty attuned to feedback. Plus, we have a Facebook page, blogs, forums, Twitter feeds. We hold meet-ups and have ambassadors. We are swimming in feedback.
I'll wager your problem is not the lack of an adequate channel to management. It is a lack of adequate management. My suggestion is that you quickly go and fix this and come back when you've finished. I'll wait.
OK, now you've got a management team eager to embrace customer feedback, but you'll quickly run into other problems. As your company grows, you'll progress through the three phases of Internet customer feedback: 1. not enough; 2. just the right amount; and 3. way, way too much.
I'm joking, of course. There is no Phase Two. At Evernote, we spent about a week wondering if we were going to get enough feedback and then five years trying to survive the avalanche. The trick is understanding what feedback is and isn't good for. In short: Customer feedback is great for telling you what you did wrong. It's terrible at telling you what you should do next.
There are many types of customer feedback, but it's useful to group them into three main categories: complaints, suggestions, and compliments. Usually, it will feel as though the categories are complaints, complaints, and complaints.
Complaints are great; the more detailed, the better. They tell us where our product or overall experience is failing. Plus, they are the easiest form of feedback to get. No training or solicitation required. People are naturally good at complaining.
The problem with complaints is that they can be quite demoralizing to people who are inexperienced with being criticized online. That's because the Internet is the most efficient invention in the history of the universe for concentrating dissatisfaction into its purest, darkest, and most bilious essence. The result? For every well-written, measured complaint you receive, you'll probably get one that's a bit...disproportionate.
On the night before we launched the Evernote service in 2008, I made a quick video about its features. Apparently my audio was not satisfactory, because the first comment was, "Whoever did the voice-over in this video ought to be found and beaten to death."
I respectfully disagree, but even in that comment, there was an element of truth. The audio sucked. My narration was sloppy. We fixed it.
Don't take Internet complaints personally. And don't rush to implement the suggested corrective measures, but do pay attention. Also, train new team members on how to read Internet criticism without losing their minds.
The second most common type of customer feedback is product suggestions. We look at these, and occasionally a really great idea jumps out, but the vast majority are not useful. Your customers can't design your product for you. People have a great sense of what's making them unhappy right now, but they're not very good at predicting what will make them happy in the future. That's your job.
And if you're good at your job, you'll get a sprinkling of the last type of customer feedback: compliments. The best of them tell you how your product made a lasting difference in someone's life. Share them with the team.