Monday, June 13, 2011

Turning your most aggressive detractors into your biggest advocates

One of the good things about working for a company like Spoke (which hasn't always had the best rep on the internet -- but don’t tell anybody) is that when a user isn't satisfied, they're usually pretty vocal about it -- and will usually stay in our face until their concerns are resolved. It sounds like a headache but we've actually grown to love it, realizing more and more that underneath emotion there is often valuable user-insight. And being receptive to this has not only helped us to turn a significant corner in consumer-perception, but we were able to leverage that same passionate displeasure when designing the strategy that is ultimately shaping our new site.

In the past months, not only did I talk to supporters, but made it a point to engage with dozens upon dozens of our most dissatisfied users:

-"I need this profile removed immediately"

-"Someone hacked my social media accounts and defaced my pages"

-"All I'm trying to do is make sure the proper information is being displayed"

-"If I need to draft a Cease & Desist letter I will"

At the beginning, these conversations were relatively one-way streets, with users sharing a grievance about our service. But in peeling back layers of frustration, we began to sense a common theme: people wanted more control. They wanted the ability to click and edit information without a long process to get there, and as the new site began to take shape, we were able to give more and more back to our users during this dialog -- describing what we were building and how their pain-point was, quite literally, about to become nonexistent.

Even better, we reached the point where we could give demo's and show screenshots:

It turns out people get pretty responsive when a company actively seeks out an unsatisfied user-base and says "you know you're right, that could be better -- and we've actually been working on it for months now".

We started to get feedback like:

-"Everything's resolved. I will definitely watch for the new webpage"

-"You guys were instrumental in building my business, excited to play with the new-site"

Over the course of a 15 minute conversation, a representative from an electronics manufacturer went from "delete all my information and my company's information now!" to "eager to play with the full site, keep me posted", and more than one person in a sales role described a unique application of the new site that I didn't even see at the beginning.

Moreover, the goodwill impact stretches beyond just the new product. Users who previously had a below-average impression started to respond to the entire company with positive comments, praising both our responsiveness and new direction. Just a couple weeks ago, a prominent investor who was trying to remove his entire online identity (and thus had approached us rather upset) encouraged me in a final email that he sees the benefit in what we're building and expects that giving our users this much control will not only satisfy them, but empower them.

Obviously, user-feedback is essential to any growing company. But depending on the trajectory of that growth, it can be useful to understand when certain types of feedback may bring more value. A supporter is very helpful to improving on a product that they already like -- assisting with incremental innovation; however for those major changes (the kind will soon be unveiling) sometimes it's necessary to give an extra ear to those who don't love what you're currently doing. By engaging these users and building on top of those strong feelings, they will not only help you make the biggest inroads, but who knows -- they may even become your biggest allies!

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