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Evernote’s CEO, Phil Libin, recently wrote a post on Inc about why he loves his angriest customers. I fully agree with the general sentiment:

“Complaints are great; the more detailed, the better. They tell us where our product or overall experience is failing. Plus, they are the easiest form of feedback to get. No training or solicitation required. People are naturally good at complaining.”

Hurrah! We love complaints too. Your business succeeds by solving users’ problems, and it’s great when the user comes right out and tells you what’s bothering them.

But I have to say that I disagree with Phil’s next statement:

“The vast majority [of product suggestions] are not useful. People have a great sense of what’s making them unhappy right now, but they’re not very good at predicting what will make them happy in the future.”

I see what Phil’s getting at here, but I think he’s misinterpreting feature requests as mere wish-lists. Yes, a lot of feature requests from customers are not especially useful at face value. But I have a saying: there’s no such thing as a bad idea, just a bad solution to a real problem.

Feature requests, more often than not, are spawned from a real pain point. Graciously but unfortunately, the customer has shared their solution for that pain point instead of simply sharing the point itself. “Build a blue widget” might be a bad solution, but based on the real problem that your orange widget doesn’t have enough contrast. In our case, “let me sign in with Twitter” actually meant “don’t make me register for another service” (you can read more about that in my presentation on data and customer feedback).

I applaud Phil for highlighting the value of complaints, which often hurt feelings and then are summarily dismissed. I hope he’ll give feature requests (and their underlying complaint) another chance.

Evan Hamilton

About Evan Hamilton