Businesses are always told to care about what users say. But should they
Apple has often followed the opposite path: More than Apple listening to us, it’s we who listen to Apple. However, something different seems to be happening this time with regard to Apple’s recent release of iOS7, its new operating system for mobile devices.
The folks at Apple have given us what they believe is a great new mobile experience, but there has been a spate of positive and negative comments about iOS7 on social media.
Many people have complained about the long time it took to download the system, and reactions to the product itself have been mixed: While there have been many positive comments about the new features, a significant number of people have been critical.
If feedback signals an error (like some reports of security bugs in iOS7), there is no doubt that this has to be addressed and fixed. But how should a company handle negative comments about its design choices – about features that function perfectly but some users simply do not like?
Here is some advice:
Read the data carefully
This is especially important for unsolicited comments on social media. Customers who are satisfied are usually less vocal; they are less likely to post comments than those who complain. Social media tend to track a higher share of negative criticism.
Neutralize possible negative reactions
If a firm is concerned that users could be initially uncomfortable about a new feature (or about the elimination of an old feature), it should pre-empt their frustration by explaining in advance the “why” of the design choice.
Listen to first-time users
When customer criticism focuses on issues that a firm had not anticipated and, therefore, had not defused at the outset, this feedback should be considered seriously. An analysis of feedback from new adopters can help discern if the new feature is actually poor or inadequate.
Preserve the integrity of the product
Even if a specific feature is strongly criticized, one should keep in mind when reacting that a product is not a bunch of independent features; it’s an integral experience. A change in a specific feature could compromise the overall identity.
Consider whether a compromise is to blame
Sometimes design teams concoct a radically new feature but decide to water it down out of fear that customers would not accept it. When this happens, users experience the hassle of changing or adapting to the novel feature or design but do not receive its full benefits.
Once you have carefully interpreted the market feedback, there are three possible actions.
Change the feature if you determine that you made the wrong assumptions about people’s aspirations, but be careful to preserve the overall integrity of the product.
Keep it as it is if you think that people will come to appreciate it in time, but explain better the “why” of your design choice.
And, finally, push even further and make the feature even more extreme if you realize that users are not capturing its full benefits because your approach was too mild.
(Roberto Verganti is the author of “Design-Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean.” He is a professor of management of innovation at Politecnico di Milano and a member of the Design Leadership Board of the European Commission.)