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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Why do companies make it hard for customers to increase the value of their services?

I've never understood why software companies make it hard for users to suggest features.

Software is nothing but language. The bar for competition is generally quite low. Some things like internal Web sites, intranets, etc. get less usage so competition is reduced, but still.

It's a rare user that takes the time to (a) think about the software and how it could be better, and (b) actually bothers to put those ideas into words and suggestions and actually send them to the company.

Software, by its nature, is going to be used in unexpected ways, and no developer or company can predict all those ways, nor the pain points or inefficiencies users will notice along the way. Therefore, to have people voluntarily offer ways for them to increase the value of their product is something that should be highly valued.

Most software companies, it seems, do not. Few even accept suggestions at all, and the few that do often use a filtering tool that throws the onus back on the user to perfect and polish their idea and presentation further before they are allowed to bestow their lowly ideas upon the software kings.

Some companies have figured out they can make an entire business out of creating tools for throwing the onus back on users, and supposedly empowering users to vote up their feature request.

There are a few problems with these feature-voting sites. Everything about the potential value of a feature is assumed to be wrapped up in the vote. However, a vote says nothing about how well an idea would integrate into or match the purpose of the software. Votes don't describe the intended purpose of the feature request—not just how they're trying to do something, but what they're trying to do. Votes are not necessarily based on importance. In short, external feature-voting sites inherently lack wisdom about a product.

If software companies understood the value that was being given to them, they would cross-train all their departments to be ready to capture ideas from customers no matter where their entry point, and then figure out how to internally route that information to development planners. The would ban anyone from rejecting a product idea or sending them off to a voting Web site and especially an external one.

Insofar as there are still feature voting Web sites, they could do things to mitigate their inherent limitations by allowing votes in more ways. Do people like a feature idea? Is it important? Would they use it? Ask questions for comments about the purpose, scenarios for use, pain points, inefficiencies, etc. In short, if they're already collecting information for internal use anyway, why not parse and tease out the value even more while they're at it.

Some software companies collecting ideas also do useful things like making the process into a few basic questions about the pain point, missing, proposed feature benefits, and current workarounds. Those questions help clarify the user's thought process. Having anyone in the company ready to accept or recognize an idea proposal and capturing as much of those clarifications as possible would be ideal.

Perhaps a lot of it really goes back to how a company views its users. How does a company view its people? How well do its people understand the value of the users? If that's low, enter external vendors. If it's high, treat your feature suggestors like the valuable assets that they are.

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