Brett Spiegel

Director, Business Strategy

Research and Perspective

Ignoring User Feedback

How to Identify the Customer Feedback that Matters

There’s no avoiding the fact that we live in a hyperopinionated world where every consumer is a critic. Some sites like Amazon even ask customers, “Was this review helpful to you?” Even reviews are getting reviewed these days. 

As a product owner, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of feedback sources that are available to you. The angriest and most delighted users are posting their thoughts across the web — in app store reviews, on social media, and through customer service channels. On top of that, countless press outlets are also having their say, scrutinizing every nook and cranny of our digital products in teardown articles. 

And that’s only the beginning. The feedback you see online is only coming from the tails of your user base bell curve. This is the vocal minority of people who actually have something to say about your product. The silent majority of your users are demonstrating their feelings through actions, and gathering their feedback requires a proactive approach — methods like data analysis, in-app surveys, and usability testing. Once you factor these folks into the equation, you have a full picture of feedback. 

Amid all these sources and all the noise, it’s awfully difficult to separate the golden insights from the hot air.

To Heed, or Not to Heed?

UX designers, developers, and product owners are told time and time again to see things from the user’s perspective. So that means they should implement every suggestion they see, right? Not always. 

This is where it’s so important to go back to square one, remember why you created this product to begin with, and assess how your feedback pertains to your product-market fit — a concept Dan Olsen highlighted in his book “The Lean Product Playbook.”

Does the feedback you’re receiving have a direct impact on your ability to uniquely reach the market you’re intending to reach, or is it a simple functionality complaint being made by a small (but vocal) group of users who aren’t properly utilizing your app? If the latter is the case, you can choose to ignore these complaints, or you could perhaps make a tweak to your interface to address their needs. 

For example, think about how this philosophy applied to Facebook back in 2006 when the News Feed was introduced and users became upset because they couldn’t immediately figure out how to work this new feature. Facebook knew that the News Feed would only contribute to its product-market fit once people learned how to use it. So the company held true to its vision, and today, it’s hard to imagine Facebook without the News Feed.

Now, think about what happened last year when Twitter’s CEO floated the idea of removing the platform’s 140-character limit. Remember that uproar? In this case, this was a change that posed a substantial threat to the company’s product-market fit. Its core identity revolved around providing quick snippets of real-time information — and eliminating the character limit would have all but eliminated that differentiating factor. After seeing the backlash, Twitter smartly dropped the idea and instead found a happy compromise.

Separate the Useful From the Useless

Analyzing user feedback is the furthest thing from prescriptive. Some sentiments will be invalid, irrelevant, or uninformed, while others will highlight your biggest vulnerabilities. So how do you know which advice to take to heart and which to ignore?

Consider the source. Any feedback worthy of consideration should represent a wide sample size — that’s a given. But don’t forget to also specifically focus on the people who know you best — your most loyal VIP users — and weigh their feedback strongly into your final conclusions. Although they may be small in number, this group will often have deeper insights than users who downloaded your app yesterday and may not fully understand how to use it. If a majority of your VIPs say something isn’t up to par, they’re probably right. 

Test the assumptions. Spending valuable time developing an unwanted feature is as bad as removing one that was actually useful. That’s why it’s crucial to validate user feedback before acting upon it. You can do this in many different ways, ranging from focus groups to prototypes to A/B testing within small user segments. Each method will yield slightly different insights, but the results will ultimately help you gauge which changes will be most impactful and which might actually be detrimental to your

Trust your gut. Not to lump all developers into one category, but I feel safe assuming that you’re an analytical thinker. That’s a valuable trait to have — and it’s probably why you’re successful at your job. With that in mind, use your analytical brain when assessing user feedback. If you believe in your heart of hearts that users are wrong about your product, then trust that feeling. Sometimes, they just need more time to realize the value of a feature. Other times, their dissatisfaction may not have anything to do with UX at all. 

User feedback is a guideline, not a commandment. Don’t let the vocal minority change your product for the worse, and don’t alienate your VIP users by listening to them. Take all opinions with a grain of salt, always keep your product-market fit in mind, and at the end of the day, trust your gut. You’re the expert.