There’s a trap that a lot of companies fall into. In one way or another – whether it’s surveys, or forums, or focus groups, or whatever – companies ask their customers or users for feedback, suggestions, “ways to make things better”. This, in and of itself, is awesome. It’s how companies can best determine what their paying customers are looking for, direct feedback-loop closure from the people who pay the bills to make it all possible.
But too many companies – both ones I’ve worked for and ones I’ve been a customer of – will respond to a lot of suggestions with answers like:
- “That’s just not feasible.”
- “That can’t be done.”
- “That doesn’t scale.”
- “That makes things complicated.”
- “We can’t do that.”
And all of those things may be true, but all of those statements, as written or spoken, are “shutting down the conversation” statements. They don’t brook any sort of follow-up dialogue. They tell your customer “that idea is SO bad, that I’m not even going to explain to you how bad it is and why.”
Contrast those with:
- “That’s just not feasible, because the number of volunteers it would take to man those areas would be more than we have.”
- “That can’t be done, because there’s a regulatory requirement to keep portions of that data private.”
- “That doesn’t scale, because once you’ve got more than a couple hundred thousand rows in that table, your indices are going to look like shit.”
- “That makes things complicated, because then we have to deal with two completely different products that go to the printers, two sets of inventory, etc.”
- “We can’t do that, because the capital expenses of the widgets are too high.”
You can see how each of the second set leaves the door open to discussion. It says “Your idea is good, but we thought about that before, and we rejected it not out of hand because it’s just a bad idea, but for the following reason…,” leaving the possibility for the suggester to reply in a couple different ways:
- “Ah, shit… I hadn’t thought of that, you’re right. Never mind.”
- “That’s true, but maybe we don’t need that particular piece of data that’s regulatory-encumbered, we’ll just use all the non-encumbered data, and that’s actually enough.”
- “Man, those indices are gonna suck. I wonder if there’s a way to make them easier to manage and be more efficient…?”
- “You can probably get widgets as cheap as $0.whatever … is that more or less than what they were going for the last time you looked at this problem?”
Even if you don’t believe they are, and you rarely will — treat your customer as though they are at least as smart as you are. Yes, your company has been doing this for a long time. Yes, you’ve got really bright, really focused people working on these problems day in and day out. But you’re not the smartest people on the planet. There’s only one guy who is, and he’s definitely keeping a low profile these days it seems. Walk your customers and users through the reasons why you’ve considered that idea in the past and rejected it. Maybe they completely agree with you and just accept the answer. Maybe they point out some flaws in your internal logic, and a dialogue ensues, where it’s still a bad idea, and now you have another piece of data about why it’s a bad idea. But, maybe they have a completely novel way of solving a problem, which you haven’t thought of before. Taking that suggestion achieves two very valuable things:
- You’ve improved the product offering in a way that is directly valuable to your customer base. It was their idea, after all.
- You’ve demonstrated the willingness to do so in a very tangible, concrete fashion.
There’s certainly always going to be “vetoes”, but any time you can back up your veto with the “why”, it goes down much smoother with the folks who have to hear it.