How I made a mistake by listening to customer feedback


A couple of months ago I got an email from a brilliant CEO who has been using Yala for managing his company’s social media properties.

Hey Yoav,

We’ve been really enjoying Yala at Awesome Co. so far. Thanks!!

I had a thought: what if Yala could automatically share robot pictures with my audience? That’d be super helpful!

Best,

Bob.

Now, Bob wasn’t actually asking for Yala to automatically share robot pictures — his real feature request made a lot more sense than that. It was well rounded, smart, and it felt like the right thing to do. So I sent a survey around to ask some more people, and everybody said something along the lines of: yeah, robot pictures are rad. Build this!

Who am I to argue? we spent a few weeks building and polishing the feature. I got myself excited. Then we released it to the sound of crickets chirping. The feature was a flop.

I mean, some people were using it, sure, but not nearly as many as I’ve hoped or expected. What went wrong?

I’ve failed to realize there’s a dissonance between the problems our customers are experiencing and the feedback and solutions they share. This is a well known fact in academic research: people say what they think you want to hear, not necessarily the blunt and brutal truth.

Moreover: when a person who is using Yala experiences a problem, they might spend 2 minutes coming up with a solution and then share that solution with our team. The problem is very, very real, but the solution is the product of a tiny 2-minute design sprint. It’s our job to come up with solutions, not our customers’. As entrepreneurs, we can’t expect someone to figure out a solution to a problem with such a tiny investment — we wouldn’t be respecting our profession if we did.

Instead, we need to listen attentively to the ideas people share with us and try to peel away the outer layers to expose the core problem. If I understood the problem thoroughly, I might’ve known how to build the solution in a way that’d stick. Or maybe I would’ve realized the underlying problem isn’t one we’d like to solve with Yala. Who knows!

I learned two lessons from the automatic robo-pics adventure. The first, watching people is always better than listening to them. The second, listen closely for the problem and be skeptical about the solution. You shall figure it out for yourself.