The Dilemma of Scaling Feedback Collection
Aug 18, 2023
A public feedback list seems like a good idea. Atlassian had a public facing Jira project for more than 15 years. UserVoice and a dozen similar tools popularised public voting on ideas and suggestions. After all, what better way to demonstrate transparency and engage with customers than by giving them a platform to voice their opinions?
In reality, a public feedback list does more harm than good. It will become a nightmare as your product grows. The sooner you shut it down, the less painful it will be.
Here is why
The Illusion of Democracy - Public feedback lists create a false sense of democracy, where popular opinions reign supreme. But does popularity always equate to genuine customer needs? This leads to a skewed representation of what users truly need. Features that are critical, but only applicable to a smaller subset of the user-base get buried. Feature prioritisation is much more nuanced. Taking into account business goals, technical feasibility, time to market and your competition is just as important as the number of votes.
The Never-Ending Wishlist - Maintaining a public feedback list is like opening Pandora’s box. Once unleashed, the floodgates of feature requests and complaints pour in relentlessly. Hundreds, if not thousands, of items accumulate, leaving your team buried in an insurmountable backlog. At some point we had the equivalent of a full time product manager organising and responding to feedback. It’s a Sisyphean task that detracts from focusing on meaningful product development.
The Mirage of Resolution - Sure, customers voice their concerns, and you diligently document them on the public feedback list. But what happens next? More often than not, those issues linger unresolved, leaving customers frustrated and disillusioned. The illusion of progress created by the public feedback list quickly fades, leaving a trail of broken promises and shattered trust in its wake. It’s time to shift from illusion to action.
Striking a Balance
Over the years we’ve learned a thing or two about balancing transparency and sanity. Here are some strategies to consider:
Consider other feedback channels - Public voting ins’t the only way to gather feedback. Cast a wider net by incorporating direct interactions through support, user research, surveys, and focus groups. Get up close and personal with your customers. By blending various channels, you gain a more comprehensive understanding of their needs and steer clear of the popularity contest trap.
Feedback inbox - Give people the ability to submit feature requests and feedback, just not posted publicly. Make sure you respond within a day or two to the feedback. Although the request doesn’t make it into a public list, you are showing that you are listening to your customers and you can take the feedback and prioritise it internally.
Set expectations - When a customer requests a feature, be honest about where it falls on your list of priorities. If it’s nowhere on your radar, let them know. At least they can plan accordingly rather than waiting years and years for a feature that might never come.
Automate the organisation of feature requests - Automating feature request management is a lifeline. Leverage tools that categorize and prioritise customer feedback intelligently. This streamlines the process, empowers your product team, and frees up time to focus on building a great product.
The mere suggestion of killing your public feedback list may raise eyebrows and invite backlash. But sometimes, it takes a disruptive stance to drive real change. By stepping away from the allure of public feedback lists, you can reclaim control over your product roadmap, embrace diverse perspectives, and prioritise what truly matters.