Wired News picked up a new term created by Chris Pirillo in a Bloggercon presentation last week. He suggested using the tag “freedbacking” when you post comments or feedback about a product or service. I think it’s a great idea to promote the concept of public feedback that’s easy for manufacturers and developers to find, but not sure if this phrase will catch on.
Companies already offer ways for users to provide feedback, for example, through e-mail and forms. But those methods are private, giving users little sense of participation. Frequently suggestions go unheeded, with not so much as an acknowledgement or thanks from the company. As a result, Pirillo said, public feedback postings are more satisfying because they allow users to compare notes with others to see if their complaints are shared, as well as the chance to disagree and debate.
We get a fair amout of suggestions (via email, a feedback form and sometimes by phone) from our users and we’re still small enough that I can read every one. They’re generally very brief and there’s not much (if any) follow-up other than a quick, sincere “Thanks for your suggestion” email. It would be great to keep the conversation going in comments on their blog or find other users having the same problems by a quick search. Of course, this requires that your users remember to tag their posts with this new funny term.
However, I think the real problem that our company needs to address is motivating our users to just give us any feedback. Most of our users are busy running their companies and don’t typically give us suggestions unless they’re already working with tech support or if we’ve contacted them for some reason. We’re getting 95% of our suggestions from 5% of our users. In fact, I remember one customer suggested that we provide rewards (such as a $50 credit for other add-ons or services) for any suggestions that we turn into new features. That’s an interesting idea, but we often get the same suggestions from different customers for features we’re already planning to include, so I don’t think that would work for us.
I stumbled across a good article explaining the "Rising Tide of Customer Defection." For a small company, it's especially important to think about this all the time and strive to keep every customer happy. For our company, this sometimes means giving daily status reports BY PHONE for the status of a bug or spending an hour on the phone training the same user every week on the same concept.
However, you always have to set expectations properly. Most small businesses try to give the impression that they're a much larger company with infinite resources. That's important to get the product out into the market and get leads, but you can't continue with that illusion after they've become a customer. In the article, Bill Zollar (CEO of Yellow) explains how they dug through boxes of customer invoices looking to see if they picked up and delivered everything on time and in-tact and did they send the customer an accurate invoice.
“…if you fail to follow through on what customers expect they can’t possibly like you.” And (as nobody should need to tell any businessperson) customers who don’t like you are more likely to defect.
I think it's always better to under-promise and over-deliver and that's something that's very hard to do in the software business. Adding a new feature for that hot prospect sounds so tempting, but as Kathy Sierra says, "Don't give in to feature demands!"
I was really impressed with the following passage from a paper by Danah Boyd asking Is MySpace just a fad?
Bugs make technologies seem alive, particularly if they're acknowledged and fixed. They give texture to the environment and people are impressively patient with it if they feel like the architects are on it. It makes the architects look vulnerable which brings them back down to earth, making them real and fallible, but giving them the opportunity to do good. They let the benevolent dictator really serve the people.
Of course, that's no excuse for developers to write sloppy code, but it's good for tech support to keep this in mind. I've had situations where a user was very upset (sometimes yelling at me) for some obscure bug and they were shocked when I actually got the bug fixed, tested and delivered the fix quickly I think most of our users have become accustomed to dealing with the lousy tech support for QuickBooks and other products and they don't expect a response like that. For example, we found a problem in the QuickBooks SDK that is causing us real grief with our application and I don't expect QuickBooks to get this resolved anytime soon. My point is that sites like MySpace are changing the way users expect bugs to be fixed. The larger, more traditional software companies need to adjust their tech support and development to support this new group of users.