Trying to improve employer's on-line offering... should more emphasis be put on progressive design, or customer feedback?
October 5, 2007 9:16 AM   Subscribe

When trying to build an on-line business, is it more important to be visionary with content and user-friendly functionality, or is it better to rely on the customer survey-driven/continuous feedback approach?

It sounds like an academic question, but it's really not. I'm having a struggle at work trying to fend off my old-media bosses' views that soliciting direct customer feedback is the best way to improve your offering, whereas my own bias is for slick, but highly usable functionality that will enable you to capture a loyal customer base (google, metafilter) who will rely on your site for more than just the odd query.

I work in kind of an odd duck industry where we have a few competitors and we are mostly undifferentiated from each other (it's a very old business). I think the key to capturing more interest in our on-line offering is to be progressive, offer more, better functions, content and tools on line. Though the customer feedback component can be somewhat important, unless the questions are very carefully crafted (preferably by a disinterested party), they can be very leading and skew the answers you are trying to get.

Does anyone out there have experience with such and thing, and what tools, techniques and approaches did you use to pull your conservative bosses out of their old-school ways of thinking into a new direction?
posted by psmealey to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I imagine a lot of people on Metafilter will say, of course, slick web content, who could ask for anything more! But not everyone cares about that sort of thing. Do your clients care about that sort of the thing? If you don't know the answer to that question, the answer is probably no. At my company, the clients generally don't. And we have developed ways to work with how they want to work with us while still maintaining an in-house system that isn't all over the place. You have to find the balance- more isn't necessarily better if it's not what the clients need.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:33 AM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

One of the things we're trying to do in my day job is bring "internet culture" and the field we market to together and it seems to be paying off, judging by site traffic and overall business trends. You're definitely onto something by specifically addressing the gap that exists in your industry - by being the first that offers unique content that's fresh and updated, you're going to position yourself as a leader.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 9:34 AM on October 5, 2007


You have to push ideas outward - it's true that people don't know what they want until they see it. At the same time, you have to be open to feedback and know how to filter it. Reacting only to change requests can result in a site with a lot of very nice discrete elements which do not work together.

The response to any unannounced changes is usually negative, because you disrupted user habits. So you have to learn how to read customer feedback in more clever ways than simple positive/negative sorting. Radical changes on sites with repeat business require some customer preparation. If you have the resources, directly contacting select customers to follow up on their comments (positive or negative) can be useful.

Depending on the scale of your operation, set up a beta site with implementation tests and invite selected customers to try them out. Get Krug's "Don't Make Me Think!" for more ideas.

The best feedback of all is increased sales. If that metric improves over time, you are doing some things right regardless of what surveys say.
posted by ardgedee at 10:25 AM on October 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

The only really bad things are those web sites that are constantly popping up and asking you to take their survey. So obnoxious.
posted by grouse at 10:54 AM on October 5, 2007

Why not give your boss a new-school tool to get what it is he wants? Surveys are just hideous but blogs rock. Instead of collecting data, encourage him to engage in conversation with actual customers!
posted by DarlingBri at 11:31 AM on October 5, 2007

whereas my own bias is for slick, but highly usable functionality that will enable you to capture a loyal customer base (google, metafilter)

Funny you should use Metafilter and Google as your examples, since both are perfect case-studies of steady evolution with extensive use of customer feedback and suggestions.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:36 AM on October 5, 2007

Response by poster: I hadn't thought of it that way, C_D, but you're right. At least in terms of Google (Metafilter gives us the ponies we deserve). They are constantly launching new innovations and then testing the shit out of them.
posted by psmealey at 11:48 AM on October 5, 2007

whereas my own bias is for slick, but highly usable functionality that will enable you to capture a loyal customer base (google, metafilter)

Heuristics are nice and all, but the only way you're going to know what's usable and what isn't is by checking with your users. Having said that, I think slick/more content/functionality is equally important, just that you shouldn't be shooting for one at the expense of the other.
posted by juv3nal at 12:05 PM on October 5, 2007

Do both, get feedback, both from users and watching what they actually do (as people don't always understand their own behavior, and people who dislike something are more likely to speak out when asked)
posted by TravellingDen at 10:20 PM on October 5, 2007

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