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How to launch a new interface without upsetting your customers

baby cryingTechcrunch’s new interface is horrible! Have you seen what they did to Digg? What’s this crazy Facebook feed?!

Since the internet was born we’ve seen outrage after outrage about the launch of new interfaces. Much of the outrage is valid, much is fear of change, but one thing is clear: launching a new interface is a touchy thing.

Both UserVoice and Klout have recently gone through the experience ourselves. I sat down with UserVoice's Head of User Experience, Joshua Rudd, as well as Klout Marketing Manager Megan Berry to discuss best practices for launching a new interface. While it’s clear change will always generate negative feedback, the following should help you avoid lasting damage to your business.

Pre-launch

Know why you’re making changes
Don’t launch a new interface on a whim. Make sure you have sound reasoning behind what you’re doing. Obvious, but important…and you’d be surprised how many sites don’t have it!

Build with customer feedback
About to launch into building a new interface? Great, glad you have some ideas. Before you lock it down, make sure to sort through all your old customer feedback about the interface. Which of their issues can you fold into this update? It might even be worth getting a few on the phone/out to coffee to understand how they use the interface.

UNDERSTAND your customer feedback
Find out WHY customers are asking for something. Sometimes customers request a feature or change because something else is bothering them. You might be able to come up with a more elegant solution.

Test it quietly
Roll the new interface out to a small set of people without telling them. Listen for complaints, look for negative or positive changes to their activity, and then contact them and ask what they thought. Klout and UserVoice have both seen success here.

Launch

DON’T pre-announce
Don’t give people a preview to freak out over. They’ll stress, they’ll extrapolate, and they’ll cause a big fuss. Just launch.

Don’t allow downgrades/slow adoption
People fear change, and if you give them a chance to they will avoid it for as long as possible. This is just drawing out the pain. Pull of the band-aid, and switch everyone over to the new interface.

Post-Launch

dog with one ear upBe confident in your changes
Don’t get freaked out the first time someone says they don’t like your new interface. The vocal minority is hard to ignore, but keep in mind that they might not be whom you were actually trying to help. You can be confident, because you followed our first suggestion and launched a new interface for a good reason (you did, right?).

Have a place to collect prioritized feedback
Some of the complaints and feedback you get will be valid. Figuring out what is bothering the majority can be hard. Have your customers post feedback to a UserVoice Feedback forum. That way others can vote on it, and you can tell if there’s really an issue or just one person is making a lot of noise.

Be ready to fix things once you launch
Don’t launch a new interface and then dive into your next project. Be poised to fix any issues that come up (they will).


Every company, community, and product is different, and you should adjust these tactics as you see fit. But if you focus on making a confident transition based off of solid data, and be sure to follow up with your customers, we think you’ll succeed in the long run.

…or, go ahead and launch a misguided product with a long preview period and no attempt to act on customer feedback. That went great for Digg.

Baby photo courtesy of Rachel Rusinski.
Dog photo courtesy of Jgwong
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