It’s an interesting question. One where there isn’t a standard answer or a golden rule that every business should follow. What works for us, may not 100% work for you and vice-versa. Nevertheless, I thought it was best to explain how we react to client feedback since it may help your business.
We’re a business that actively responds to client feedback, but not all of it. I’d estimate 75-80% of the new features we add are a direct result of a need or wish clients have which was brought to our attention. For example, our FGXm suite of products was a direct result of clients sharing with me their needs at an industry conference about a year ago. Our FGXm features rival our FGX+ features, but each is targeted for a different payroll software platform. So when clients of payroll software platform “B” heard of what we were doing for clients of payroll software platform “A”, they wanted those features. Interestingly enough, now clients of payroll software platforms “C”, “D” and “E” are reaching out to us for the same features.
Always say NO
I try to follow some guidelines I learned from the team at 37 Signals (well from their book Rework – if you haven’t read it, I’d suggest you do since it’s the “anti-corporate” business book). Their initial response to client feedback is a resounding “no”. You can’t possibly respond to every piece of client feedback — it would stretch you too thin and make your product suffer from the Microsoft Word syndrome.
So what really is that syndrome? If you look at Word, it’s packed with thousands and thousands of features. If you ask the typical Word user though, most probably use a standard list of twenty features. For example, open up Word (I have Word 2010). I’m a developer, well part-time developer, but I’ve NEVER used the Developer tab. On the Insert tab, I’ve probably used only a third of the items there. Also, I’ve never used the Mailings tab. I could go on and on with each tab but you get the point. There’s so many features in Word but we typically only use a handful.
It’s okay to say no. Obviously you want to be polite about it and thank your client for the feedback — but just because you get feedback doesn’t mean you HAVE to react to it. I get some crazy ideas sent to me all the time. And I’m glad I do, I welcome it. But I could never react to all of it. If I did, Shugo would be in the network security industry, payroll software industry, CRM business, etc… And some of the color schemes we use in our application (we pick our application colors to be neutral on purpose) would be littered with bright blues, reds, greens and even pink — yes PINK.
Should you react positively to feedback but then NEVER react to it?
NO!!! NO!!! NO!!!
Okay let me answer it again: NO! NO! NO! (I only used one ! this time).
Reacting positively to feedback you know you’ll never react to is a major sin. It sets the wrong precedent and you lose credibility. Clients will lose faith in your ability to deliver since they’re under the impression you’ll be adding something to meet their needs. Meanwhile you know you’ll never do it. Oh and wait to you see how much more quickly negative feedback about you travels in the community than positive feedback.
Have I ever done it before? Unfortunately, yes.
Did it make me look like an @$$? Absolutely.
Have I done it recently? No way jose.
So if I did it, why am I saying now not to do it? Well, I always feel I learn the most from my mistakes. And that’s one big mistake I made in the past that I won’t repeat now. I crumbled to the pressure of always “pleasing” the client. But since I never delivered, it ended up having the opposite effect. And I won’t do it again.
As the old saying goes, “honesty is the best policy”, and it truly applies here. Don’t give false hope. Don’t promise and never deliver. Just be open and honest about your thoughts and clients will respect that. Try it and let me know how you make out.
Should you really always say NO?
Now even though 37 Signals initially responds with a NO, that doesn’t mean they do it 100% of the time. They’re not that rigid. But what they find is, when you keep hearing the same feedback or suggestion over and over again, it means there’s a need in the marketplace for it. And I tend to agree. For example, over a year ago one of our clients shared with me their need to have FileGuardian support secure email. At the time we only supported secure file transfer. So I thanked the client for the feedback but shared I didn’t think we’d offer support for that feature. Within a few weeks, two other clients shared their need for secure email and the need became evident. About a year ago, we added support for secure email through FileGuardian.
Do we follow that initial “no” rule all the time and always wait for the same request to come a few times before we react? The answer is NO we don’t.
Sometimes feedback identifies a shortcoming of your offering that you should address immediately. And I’m not talking about that feedback the prompts a fire drill because there’s a glaring bug or defect, but one that just fits. I can’t really explain it more than to see it just fits and enhances your offering.
Let me explain…A few weeks ago I was working with a client on an issue with our Outlook Plug-In. It was a minor issue but in speaking with the client I found a weakness within FileGuardian. There’s no easy way to logically search for a file that was sent or received securely. See, we designed FileGuardian to be like a “CRM”. Reporting is always grouped by client or contact. But what happens if you just don’t know which client/contact a file was sent to. You only know the name of the file itself. There’s no way you could find it within FileGuardian.
So what did we do? I bucked our rule of waiting for the need to be “validated” by multiple clients and felt this was a feature that would benefit all our clients. Plus, internally Rob and I had been discussing a way that our clients using FGX could find files sent through our system. As a result, the “File Search” feature was developed and will be added to FileGuardian on 3/29. It will allow our clients to search for any file sent or received through FileGuardian. It will even search for files sent through FGX. And don’t worry, our clients won’t have to know the full file name, it’s smart enough to do partial name searches.
Other examples of an immediate reaction
Another example of where we reacted immediately was three weeks ago a long-time client replied to one of my tweets. First I felt pretty cool that someone actually reads my tweets (@ShugoRick) but second, I was glad to hear from him since we hadn’t spoke in close to a year. Well we synced up on the phone later that day and he let me know how his team was running into some issues finding messages sent to their FileGuardian post office (this is just a website we host for our clients with their branding where anyone can send them information securely — you can send me a file securely at our Shugo post office at http://shugollc.myfileguardian.com). He let me know how when setting up new payroll clients, they would receive conversion files and other setup information via FileGuardian’s secure post office.
FileGuardian notifies you immediately when someone uploads something to your post office. But for this company, they would receive multiple uploads from a new payroll client sometimes across multiple days or weeks. Finding all that information in one fell swoop wasn’t easy with our current “inbox” search. This client thought something like Outlook’s search ability where you can search your inbox for any search term — any message having that term in the subject, body, to or from will be returned — would be a huge benefit. And I agreed. Not just for them, this would benefit all our clients.
That same day I personally looked to see what it would take to add this functionality. Good news – the change was relatively minor and we could add it immediately. I made the code changes, ran some unit tests and had our team push the changes to our QA environment that same day to have it tested. It was tested later that day and released into production two days later. I received the feedback on a Friday and the new search was in production on Sunday. Pretty crazy and cool that we could respond to client feedback so quickly and add a new feature to benefit all our clients. Oh, if you’re an existing FileGuardian client check out the new search feature under My Files \ Inbox. User see the new “Search” term area.
Why am I blabbering all about this?
Well there’s a few reasons:
- If you hear us say no to something, you’ll understand why. We don’t want to fall into the Microsoft Word syndrome and make our application so feature rich that it’s impossible to use…
- If you hear us say no to something you really really really need, get your friends to reach out to us too…
- Pretty soon we’re about to release a new feature — something we feel is another innovation like PUSH. How did this feature come about? You guessed it, feedback from clients.
Oh yeah, one last thing…
Last thing — make sure you welcome client feedback. My father has always said to me “sales is about making a client/prospect aware of a need they have and how your offering fits that need”. BUT they key is making them aware of the need. When clients offer you feedback, that’s them telling you they have a need — so basically they did the hard part for you.