noIf you asked me to attend your birthday party and I just stared at you silently, you’d think I was a jerk (or that there was something wrong with me). If you asked me and I said “no, sorry, I already have plans” you might be sad, but you’d understand.

So why do companies think that they can’t say “no”?

I frequently hear people worry about collecting customer feedback because they don’t want to decline customer suggestions. They think it will make customers angry. But by not responding to customer requests for features you know you don’t plan to build (whether they come in via Twitter, email, UserVoice Feedback, or wherever), you’re being the awkward staring guy I mentioned above. In the eyes of the customer, you’re being rude by not saying no.

People like honesty from the people and companies they interact with. And they like closure. Saying “no” isn’t mean – it’s actually a service to them. They don’t have to wonder if and when you’ll build a specific feature. They won’t complain about how you’re not really paying attention to their feedback. Instead, they’ll appreciate that they got an answer.

Yes, you may get some negative responses. Some people may stop using your product. But if you truly weren’t going to build that feature, that’s OK. These people would have eventually left out of frustration at your lack of response and action anyway. You’ve discarded wrong-fit customers who would have been unhappy regardless and cemented a trusting and communicative relationship with the right customers.

Just remember: say “no, because”. To return to the analogy above, if you asked me to attend your birthday and I just said “no”, you’d think I didn’t like you. This is exactly what we see with feedback. Our research shows that ideas which were declined with no explanation tend to get harsher comments. A little explanation goes a long way. Your customers are often completely missing the context that you have as an employee. You’ve been to 5 meetings where the possibility of building feature X was discussed. Your customers, on the other hand, probably don’t know that feature X would be a huge amount of effort, or that it doesn’t jive with your long-term vision for your product, or that it’s not technically feasible.

Go forth and say “no, because” to your users!

Photo courtesy of Abhi Ryan