Saying NO to your customers

October 5th, 2010 § 4 comments

A friend brought my attention to this article this morning – Frito-Lay Trashes SunChips Bag After Biodegradable Packaging Criticized For Being Too Noisy. Quick summary – Company brings out new biodegradable packaging, customers think it’s too noisy and start making noise on social networks, company caves and reverts to old-bad-for-the-environment packaging.

Now, I’m a big proponent of listening to your community and feeding its responses back into product development. But here’s the catch. This process only works when you, the company or product manager, are willing and ready to say “NO”. Which is what I think Frito-Lay should’ve done in this case. I’ve thought about it, and it’s what my response to the outcry would have been.

I should explain myself. Listening to your community is a great way to get insight into how they use your product, what they want from it, what would make the product ‘something-they-use’ to ‘something-they-can’t-imagine-life-without’. It’s a way to be there for and give back to them and have them come back to you.

That’s what I see as an organisation’s responsibility to their community. But it also has a responsibility to its product (and by extension its stakeholders).
First thing to recognise about community feedback is that it isn’t necessarily the majority viewpoint. In my experience, a majority viewpoint usually consists of the majority of ‘noisy’ members in a community. (Note: I use ‘noisy’ as a term of endearment.)
Second thing to recognise about community feedback is that it can be wrong. It can be wrong for the product, it can be wrong for the company’s strategy, it can be wrong for the greater good.

And so it’s okay to say no to your community. “No” doesn’t have to be a confrontation. Do your research, get a handle on how big an issue it is for what percentage of your customers. Use that when you explain your decision and how you came to it. State in no uncertain terms why one path is better than the other. (In this case, Frito-Lay have a trump card – “We’re saving the planet!!” Tell me that won’t guilt the most noise-sensitive person into agreement ;P) Suggest alternatives to make a transition smoother. (Use a bowl for your chips?)
Above all, be human. Allow your community to connect with you on that level.

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