Entrepreneurship · Customer Feedback

How do you decide when to listen to feedback?

Anonymous

April 29th, 2015

Being able to take feedback is really important for founders. It's also important to know what to listen to and what not to - I'm sure Facebook is glad they didn't listen to the people that hated the newsfeed.  And of course if everyone loves everything you're probably not showing it to the right people.  How do you figure out which feedback to take and do something with vs. which to say "thank you" to and move on?
Forget about “build it and they will come.” Products without scalable distribution channels will fail to gain traction. Instead of hiring an expensive marketing team, take this course to master SEO, content marketing, retargeting, viral loops, email marketing, and sales funnel optimization.

Chris Carruth VP/Director. Strategy | Business Development | Operations | Product | Solutions

April 29th, 2015

Ah, what a loaded question. I have been in new products since the mid-90s and have dealt with very large multibillion companies and very, very small startups.

 

Quite honestly the answer depends on how the leadership views consumer insights research. If they are user-centered, meaning design and execution of the product/service is focused on finding an unmet need and/or solving a problem, feedback is critical. If the business is internally focused then no amount of research will help as the leadership will typically dismiss what they don't like, regardless of results.

A couple of examples:

a) Large high tech company had team of brilliant engineers who were tasked with "future thinking" without regards to how they ideas could be commercialized. Of the 106 apps only 3 made it through the research process. Why - because while cool and sexy consumers were unwilling too pay, aka found no compelling value, for 103 of them. Pursuing without vetting would have been a complete misuse of company  funds and resources, not to mention ending up with products no one wanted.

b) Another client was founded by a young kid from a wealthy family who had no experience, backed by a board dominated by relatives with no experience. After two rounds of user testing feedback was the app was a bomb, with the features the founder most focused on being the least valuable and the ones he hated being the most valuable. The horrible test scores did not dissuade the founder from changing course as his feeling was  "consumers don't know what they want", followed by examples (Henry Ford most often).. The company cratered after the final product was judged to be totally unsellable.

So my counsel is two fold:

a) Consider all feedback relevant, especially if it is repeatedly and consistently the same

b) Ask yourself if you want to risk the monies invested and time spent  by thinking your product will be the exception to the rule of "the customer is always right". In CPG the very best of the brightest marketers and product developers only get it right less than 50% of the time, even with extensive involvement of consumers throughout the process. Do you feel you can do better than this by ignoring feedback or incorporating feedback?   

Not all feedback is executable, nor should it be. If your feedback is from a small group of people remember it is directional only, i.e., the feedback cannot necessarily be applied to the market at large. Small group feedback should be used to explore the "what if" in terms of features, pricing, messaging, branding, etc.

A MVP, put in front of potential users, is better than research. However, to understand what the MVP should look like, you must have users involved. Allowing for the extremely few times in history that internally-focused development has paid off, the risk of ending up with a product on the road to nowhere is extremely, extremely, high.

Anonymous

April 29th, 2015

To be flexible but persistent. Uber and Airbnb were met with a lot of skepticism, yet are unicorn companies now. Truly disruptive products are by definition not well received initially. So you need vision, but at the same time sensitive to the world around you. 

My take on user feedback:
- listen to their problems, not so much to their solutions
- you can never satisfy everybody, make a choice and understand that some people will not like it
- the question "which of the 4 options do you like best" will render better results than "what do you propose we do next?"
- seeing if people actually buy your product is much more valuable than asking them the question "will you buy my product?"

So go the lean startup way, build lots of versions of your product, have a hypothesis why your next version is better, and get it in the hands of actual users. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Every mistake is something you learned

Anonymous

April 30th, 2015

There is a difference between listening to feedback and acting on it. You should never fail to listen to feedback. But you should strive to understand more *why* it was provided than *what* exactly was said. People may know how they feel about something in the greater context, but they almost never know what they want. So listen to all feedback, but figure out your own solutions.

L. Marshall-Smith

April 29th, 2015

I totally agree with the notion of considering the trends.  For example, if you get feedback from ten customers, or even ten advisors, but two say one thing and another three say something else, do take these comments into consideration and weigh a number of factors in how and why they are being presented.  If people take the time to actually call you, or write you a snail mail letter about something, I'd take that to heart as they are going the extra mile to express an opinion that they believe will improve upon your product or company.  

Additionally, if you receive feedback from 10 people and 8 people have issue with the same thing, then definitely take a second look at the "thing" in question and see how it can be improved.  

In the world of television scripting, for example, networks receive a lot of fan letters in regard to story direction, character development.  They typically equate one snail-mailed fan letter as the sentiments of 1000 people/fans.  If they get 100 fan letters all commenting on the same issues, they will seriously consider addressing these issues and finding ways to ameliorate any problems and please the fans.  

But keep in mind that you will never be able to please all the people all the time, and if you're consistently pivoting based on feedback you could end up in a trap of running around in circles and getting nowhere fast. 

Larry Shiller

April 29th, 2015

Simple: When it's true. Are the assumptions valid? Is the logic correct? If so listen and change. If not, let the person know what you're thinking. If you don't know, get better at validating assumptions and employing logic.

John Seiffer Business Advisor to growing companies

April 29th, 2015

Especially in the early stages it's better to have experiments than feedback. You want to learn what people will do rather than what opinions they express. Hence the value of "concierge" testing and phantom landing pages - when they are appropriate obviously. I don't know the example you're talking about w/ Facebook but if lots of said they didn't like it but didn't change their behavior - then frankly their opinions are not predictive of behavior. 

When you are getting people's opinions, you want to look for patterns. Does everyone say the same thing? Are their certain categories of customers or users who say similar things?

And then there's the art of being an entrepreneur which is to know when to act on feedback and when not to. If it were easy everyone would do it. 


Chris Carruth VP/Director. Strategy | Business Development | Operations | Product | Solutions

April 29th, 2015

I think if someone is looking for a formula they will be disappointed. However if they are looking to mitigate the risk of a failed product there are plenty of proven best practices that can be applied regardless of sector. There are also plenty of red flags, if one has "been there, done that" , pointing to probability of success or probability of failure.

If the money involved is yours, then by all means, be as "creative" as you want. If you are using equity capital, with an ROI expected, then no company who is mindful of fiduciary duty, will knowingly take actions that elevate the risk. Unless of course you are sure that shareholders will not come after you for failure to fulfill your duty as a Board or member of the executive team. As with other things history is full of companies who assume the latter but were hit with the former.

Chris Carruth VP/Director. Strategy | Business Development | Operations | Product | Solutions

April 29th, 2015

@Robert..introverted product development has been shown to consistently produce products that have little chance of success. A passionate view of product is necessary - but not at the expense of ignoring the market as a whole.

 

A focus group of one does not a market make...look up the stats for new product success..by any guage, even with professionals involved, they are atrocious,  ranging from 20% all the way down to 4%.

Karen Leventhal

April 30th, 2015

Here's what I've learned.  The feedback from your customers/channel partners etc is the most important. They are the one who will buy your product.  One strategy is to create a product and ask them if they like it. But even before that you can get a sense of the "pain points" of your potential customers. Your product is trying to solve a particular problem, yes?  Do you hear the same problem come up again and again from potential customers? Then that is feedback you want to take into account.  It's the pains and desires of your customers that will drive them to adopt your product. 

I've had lots of other folks who are not customers offer feedback.   If it's vague and ambiguous (e.g. "I don't just know if there is a big enough market for what you are doing") but they can offer no data or no logic behind it, I usually take a mental note and move on. I also have folks giving MBA platitudes, on lean start ups or market segmentation,  or something they heard from Guy Kawasaki.  All that may be good, but if the feedback giver has never actually started a successful business themselves (and one that is new, no less)  I take it with a grain of salt. Those platitudes were gleaned by looking in hindsight at a few highly successful businesses. You have to digest them anew and see how they do or do not apply to your specific venture. I could be naive but I don't think those "unicorn" businesses, necessarily succeeded by following some business school principles. I think they sought or stumbled upon a big societal need, and were dedicated to meeting the needs of customers in surprising and satisfying ways. 

Other folks have mentioned if you get the same feedback over and over again, that may be something to look at. But if 3 people look at your product and say it's black, and 3 people look at it and say it's blue,  then you have a viral dress on your hands.  Just kidding. If you get divergent feedback I've taken that to mean, keeping going, you might have something on your hands. 

Michael Markarian Founder at Mount Dream

April 29th, 2015

Good question Lucas. This is something I've dealt with extensively, as its the core of Mount Dream. Listen to feedback when its from consumers who are telling you their personal opinion on how they would use your product or service. Listen to what they have to say, then evaluate whether their feedback makes sense to you. Many times, they will bring up good points, if you ask the right people. Take "business advice" from people who have succeeded in the past. Don't ask consumers what you should make them (the famous Ford quote). But do listen to their response, and gauge their interest -- because if you can't get them interested, you will never get them to buy. Hope this helps.