Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Love Thy User: 5 Tips for Dealing with Tough Customers

Sometimes we build products for ourselves, but most of the time our target market is somebody completely different. It can cause all sorts of problems when we’re asking questions and observing people completely different from ourselves. Sometimes, and this can be tough to admit, we don’t really like our users very much.

Maybe you’re not like this. Maybe you’ve never had a difficult set of users who constantly yell and scream about their needs and how they’re not being met regardless of what you do for them. Maybe you’ve never spent time building a brand new feature designed to make your users happy only to have them shrug and say, “oh, that’s not what we wanted at all.” Maybe you’ve never had a passionate community of early adopters all grumpy because their favorite suggestions aren’t being followed to the letter. But trust me, the rest of us have.

The problem is, because most of our users are so different from us, their behavior can be extremely hard to understand or predict. On many occasions, this has led people to ignore their customers or neglect to include them in the development process.

I understand this impulse. I really do. It can be tough to include somebody that you see as irrational or hard to deal with in your decision making process.

But here’s a news flash. That irrational, difficult, whiny, impossible to understand person who is always complaining? Suck it up, cupcake, and include them in the conversation. They’re paying your salary, and if you ignore them for long enough, they’re likely to stop doing it.

Here are a few ways to make it easier to get feedback from difficult groups of customers.

Keep it one on one

When you’ve got a group of people, all of whom seem hell bent on complaining about how your product is ruining their lives, don’t put them in a room together.

A lot of companies like to establish customer advisory panels or customer forums and the like, where they can get feedback from a lot of people at once. These are fine when the conversation can be kept civil, but they can quickly turn into an angry mob as the group forms a giant echo chamber of hate.

Keeping the conversation one on one allows you to spend more time with each person and understand what’s really upsetting him or her.