You Are Not Listening To Whispers

“We are listening.”  is the startup mantra I hate.

Companies are really starting to catch on to engaging their customers through where their customers are talking (this being done with some great points by Jeremiah Owyang, Chris Brogan and Geoff Livingston). Chris says it simply:

Conversations are happening online in all kinds of places. It’s important to understand how to get in there, and how to listen where the conversations are happening.

Because of some great leadership and focus, business is finding value in tracking twitter, friendfeed, facebook, rss and seesmic (and many, many more).

But recently I have seen the trend of companies saying “We are listening” when they really mean “we are listening to the people that shout really loud.”

It is a huge mistake for your company to have a giant fake ear to the ground.

With Startup Weekend, Instant Messenger is the top answer we get to the question ‘what made you sign up for the weekend?’  A friend said to another ‘hey, have you seen this, I think we should go.’  That isn’t a traceable arena, it won’t show up in Google Alerts, Twitter Search, or even in FiltrBox.  There is no public record of it.  There is also no public record of the reaction your users have when they are not happy with something, but not unhappy enough to write you an email or blog post about it. You can’t track shrugs, eye rolls or even high fives.

Web apps, personalities and companies are often have their story retold, an part of your job at the startup is to help with this interaction.  With Startup Weekend we have to rely on being as clear and transparent with our communications so that others can tell our story for us.  If we were properly listening, we would go above and beyond and be proactive about soliciting feedback and ideas, and when they come in, implement them and give credit.  We are still learning and growing, and are planning on doing this in many ways.

If you are listening as a company:

  1. Are you prepared to empower your users by taking their feedback to heart?
  2. Are you actively seeking feedback from your users?  From former users?
  3. Do you really care?  Sometimes, you shouldn’t care about early adopters.  Is this a time to listen?
  4. How do you plan to communicate to the user?

There is a saying I love: ‘a cat will never jump on a hot stove twice, but it won’t jump on a cold one either.’  You are going to get some feedback that doesn’t align with you, some that just isn’t quality, and some that you would have never thought of.  Once you solicit feedback, really listen to what they are saying, and almost more importantly, why they are saying it.  Treat them with respect, and sometimes the most respectful thing you can do is implement what they are asking for.

If you attack them, or brush them off without respect, you will find a once supporter will now be active in trashing your company image.

I love paper prototyping applications.  Having very simple ways to show your investors, coworkers and most importantly, customers, is priceless.  If you are launching a feature, design or product, you should show as many people as you can get quality feedback from what you are planning to do, and reach out to listen to the feedback.  This is great because you don’t have to waste any time on development to show it around.  Get feedback early.

I am working on redesigning this blog (working with the great tn9design).  Yesterday I sent out the original design to 50 friends whose opinion I really value.  They were from all walks of life, and of the stellar group, 40 wrote back with suggestions and thoughts.  After we implement most of these requests, I want to share the new design with you, and I am very interested to hear what you have to say about it too.

Listen to the whispers, it is often the the best feedback.

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