Making sense of customer feedback


Lately I’ve been spending some time with a startup (into interior décor design) helping them interpret customer feedback on their beta product.  The beta users gave all kinds of suggestions that ranged from “tweak-it-a-bit” to “break-it-down-and-rebuild-it”.  Many a time the customer hadn’t even used it yet felt a sense of colossal urgency to offer feedback. I asked one customer to explain what exactly he meant with the sole intention of prodding him to figure out what exactly does he want from us and will he buy if we make it for him!


Ah, you guessed it – he never came back.


 Feedback has got a flip side too.  It influences your innate creativity and dilutes your deep, original ideas with shallow and sometimes even clichéd interest of another. It applies a sudden pause to your thought streams that gives in to the advice.  When you’re clueless about something, seek advice by all means.  Trust, but verify. It’s because an advice is just that and not necessarily a masterpiece.  It just opens up a new vista, shows you another way around a knot.  You know the destination and you’ll go it alone.  Along the way you’ll falter and fall, break a few limbs but in the end, you figure things out – and that learning sticks with you.


Steve Yegge, has another entertaining rant in the startup context that I would use here –


“Self-professed experts will tell you that requirement gathering is the most critical part of the project, because if you get it wrong, then all the rest of your work goes towards building the wrong thing. This is sooooort of true, in a skewed way, but it’s not the complete picture.


“The problem with this view is that requirements gathering basically never works. How many times have you seen a focus group gather requirements from customers, then the product team builds the product, and you show it to your customers and they sing: ‘Joy! This is exactly what we wanted! You understood me perfectly! I’ll buy 500 of them immediately!’ And the sun shines and the grass greens and birds chirp and end-credit music plays.


“That never happens. What really happens is this: the focus group asks a bunch of questions; the customers have no frigging clue what they want, and they say contradictory things and change the subject all the time, and the focus group argues a lot about what the customers really meant. Then the product team says, ‘We can’t build this, not on our budget,’ and a negotiation process happens during which the product mutates in various unpleasant ways. Then, assuming the project doesn’t fail, they show a demo to the original customers, who say: ‘This is utterly lame. Yuck!’ Heck, even if you build exactly what the customer asked for, they’ll say: ‘Uh, yeah, I asked for that, but now that I see it, I clearly wanted something else.”


I’ve developed the habit of listening to all advice I can get, synthesize them with present realities and carry them out only if it’s practical and convenient.  That’s how I figured out why my trash can is overflowing!


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