As a web developer I have the skills to build all sorts of cool web based applications. I love being able to build features and applications that make any one’s life easier. But sometimes it backfires on me. Mainly, I can and have spent weeks, months and even years building and changing features if I’m left listendogsunchecked. Which recently happened and caused me to get stuck in a customer feedback loop.

I build a feature based on a customer suggestion about two years ago. No one else used the feature until about a year ago, two more customers have started using it. Those two customers had suggestions for the feature. All of them were pretty easy to do so I implemented them. It didn’t change the core functionality so I thought everyone would be happy. Well the changes annoyed the original customer and they wanted a few things changed. Fine, no problem. But those changes annoyed the other customer. Who then wanted further changes. I went back and forth between the customers for about a month. Neither were happy. I finally gave up, let my customers know I have to move on to other issues and will circle back later.

After about six months I got an email from my customer about those ever so important changes to this feature. *Sigh, this again? But before I made any changes I looked at the activity for the feature. This customer hadn’t used this area since our last email exchange six months ago. They also were only using part of the area. I looked at the other two customers who were supposedly using this area too. Both had similar activity. Pretty much all of the suggested features/changes from six months ago weren’t even used. Time to rethink how I deal with suggestions. Especially since I spent about 25 hours making changes to this section.

This is a double edge sword. On one side, customers are the life blood of any business. No customers, no money, no business. On the other side, needy customers can also ruin a business by taking up too much time and energy. In my situation above I was jumping every time one of my customers asked me to. I even asked “how high?” The customer isn’t always right nor should they have any say (or at least any major say) in your business.

I’m not saying you should tell your customer to “eat it” every time they have a problem or suggestion. I’m saying, what I learned is, yes I want to appease the customer but I need to do it in a calculated way. When I allow my customers to dictate my business, I loose sight of my goals. Like I said I need to be calculated when it comes to customer suggestions. I was calculated as far as the changes I was making. I made sure that the changes wouldn’t compromise the core functions of the feature. I assumed the calculated benefits to the customer since they were asking for the changes, which was bad on my part. I also failed to calculate the benefit to the business and my over all goals.

I should have looked into exactly how often my customers were using the feature and how they were using it. I also should have looked at where these changes fit in with the rest of the work load for the application. I would have seen that 98% of my customers really don’t use this feature and the ones that do, use it once every six months for about 10 minutes. If I would have taken the time to look at the rest of the work load I would have also seen that I had far more important things to do in parts of the application that 60%+ of my customers use on a regular basis. But instead I gave into the customer making a lot of noise about the changes. To top it all off as of today none of those three customers use the feature. In fact two of the three are no longer customers!

In the end I learned a valuable lesson. I need to be more calculated and ask myself these questions:

  • Where does this suggestion fit in with my business?
  • Where does this suggestion fit in with the rest of the work load?
  • If I don’t do this change, what will the impact be on my customer? On my business?
  • How long will this change take?
  • Will this change add value to my application?
  • Will this change add value to my customer’s experience? / Make their life easier?
  • If I do this change, what won’t I get done?

If most of the answers are negative, I probably should do the change. These questions aren’t just for web applications. You can work for any service or product based business.