The Real Reason Companies Avoid Feedback

  • Our customers don’t want to talk to us
  • We don’t have time to read through a bunch of emails
  • We don’t have a person we can dedicate to responding to customers
  • Our customers are totally happy with our product
  • We can’t afford to run user tests

These are excuses that companies offer for not soliciting customer feedback.

None of these are the real reason.

The real reason is that listening to customer feedback sucks. If you care about your product at all, listening to people talk about it, complain about it, and struggle to use it is like a punch to the gut.

Disclaimer: if you’re one of my customers, I love you dearly and I don’t want you to stop giving us feedback.  Ever.  :)  OK, go ahead and read on.

I’m writing this to atone for the fact that I’ve probably painted an overly rosy picture.  I’ve written a ton of rah-rah-go-team posts about the awesomeness of talking to customers and doing user testing and getting angry emails and how lucky we are that our customers care enough to send the very best (complaints).

And some of you have probably followed my advice and solicited feedback and listened hard and … felt like you’d been punched in the gut.  And you may have thought, I must be doing it wrong.


It gets easier, but not much.

It will always be painful to encounter one of these situations:

I Can’t Believe Our Guess Was SO WRONG. You put together a solution that is steeped in customer development.  I mean, you understand the problem inside and out.  You understand what concerns and frustrates this user and how their workflow goes and who the stakeholders are, and yet — wow..  This is usually a tiny thing, like a single line of in-app copy.  But when it confuses everyone who sees it, you wonder how on earth you could’ve gotten it so wrong.  Oof.

We Made 90% Happy, But Boy Is This 10% PISSED. You know trying to make everyone happy is a recipe for mediocrity and failure.  So if the vast majority of your customers like a certain feature or UX element, you did the right thing.  But that doesn’t make it less painful to hear that one user rail about how this is the worst thing ever and making his life worse.  Oof.

Subconsciously I Knew That, So It’s Totally Embarrassing That You Needed To Tell Me. Last week I watched a customer using one of our products.  He would navigate to a report, immediately tweak a setting, and then use it.  Then he’d navigate to the next report and immediately tweak that same setting.  Repeat.  Repeat.   He didn’t even notice to complain.  But I was watching him in horror because I realized, “I do that too.  And the reason is because we picked a really, really stupid default setting.”

I should’ve seen this earlier.  I use our product every day.  I make a point of thinking about things like good defaults.   It feels like, after all this time, I should catch things like this.   Oof.

It’s tempting to make excuses to avoid the whole thing.   Much like ditching your veggies for nachos or skipping the gym, it certainly feels better at the time.

But it’s still worthwhile.  You want your product to live a long and healthy life, right?