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The perilous world of user feedback

May 21, 2012

Grocery IQ

Grocery IQ received hundreds of bad reviews after its latest app upgrade.

I love users, even when they don’t love me or my company back. They are an endless source of ideas, feedback and yes, even criticism.

I know plenty of people who hate users. They find them troublesome, whiny and a complete waste of time.

Which is it for you?

In either case, users give plenty of feedback on what we do right or wrong. Ignore that advice at your peril.

One of my favorite iPhone apps Grocery IQ found out the hard way. I’ve recommended this free app dozens of times to friends, because it was incredibly useful and rich in features. It stores your favorite supermarket items, and allows you to quickly build lists for your next grocery run.

Two of my favorite features:

  1. Customize the aisle layout by store. The trip to Publix is different from the one to Walmart. Getting the aisles in the right order makes for quicker shopping and scanning of my grocery list.
  2. Save favorite items for each store. I buy certain things over and over at Freshfully and other stores. But I can’t buy Diet Coke at Freshfully and I can’t get my cheap brand of peanuts at Publix. Having each store’s custom list makes it easier to plan and to shop.

Coupons.com, the owner of Grocery IQ, recently released version 2.6, which added features like scanning multiple barcodes and voice search. More notably, it also removed several features such as … customizing aisle layout and saving favorite items for each store. All that work? Gone.

It also removed a feature — one I didn’t even know existed — that stored item prices. Many other users kept track of them for household budgets and comparison shopping.

The feedback was immediate and deservedly harsh.

On Facebook, the company fielded many complaints (part 1 | part 2), but to its credit, responded with updates and apologies.

However, in the iTunes app store, hundreds of 1-star ratings dropped the top-ranked app from a 4.5-star rating to a lowly 1.5-star rating. (My own review didn’t make it, probably because the headline I submitted was “Fucking terrible.”)

It’s important to note that in the iTunes store, Coupons.com can’t respond to the hundreds of complaints. It can only respond in the description of the next update, which the reviewers have even pounced on: “We are bummed that some of our changes in 2.6.0 inconvenienced our active users!”

The company has said it is restoring some of the missing features, but for many users, it’s too late. They’ve already switched to other apps after a seeming betrayal by Grocery IQ.

Did Coupons.com ask loyal users about features before the upgrade? Did it ignore that feedback? Can it recover from this setback? Does Coupons.com love its users, or does it see them as clicks on coupons and ads?

You can avoid this fiasco with a few steps.

  1. Ask for feedback from users. And not just once … all the time. You have more ways than ever: surveys, blog posts, social media, email, calls and focus groups.
  2. Listen. Really listen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve conducted surveys for companies, only to have them go with their “gut” instead.
  3. Respond after the fact. Humble brands admit when things aren’t perfect and even concede when they make mistakes. Arrogant brands keep trumpeting how they’re helping the user, even as hundreds flee.

Your products and services will change over time, and not every user will love them. This week, Alabama’s largest website al.com will roll out a new design from the overlords at Advance Digital, which oversees a family of news sites across the country. When the same design came to New Orleans site nola.com, users left nearly 400 comments (plus more on Facebook).

AL.com - nola.com

Left: al.com front page before 2012 makeover. Right: nola.com front page after makeover.
See full-size versions of the al.com front page and nola.com front page.
(And the newly redesigned al.com front page.) 

It’s a top-down change as always, though the report says it’s “based on feedback from users, as well as an analysis of how visitors to the site access information and spend their time there.”

Early responses to the redesign were uniformly negative.

Does al.com and Advance love users? Or does it see them as loud-mouthed rabblers?

Love your users. Embrace them, and they will not lead you astray.

• • •

Need help finding out what your users want?
Contact me today for a free consultation.

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