Top 5 Ways to Alienate Your Customers


Diary (Photo credit: kevinspencer)

I’ve been using a website pretty regularly for the last year. I really don’t want to list the site name but let’s just say it’s a diary type application. They just changed the whole site and are receiving some passionately negative feedback from their customers. With social media and customer feedback so prevalent, I thought these were now common sense. Obviously some companies didn’t get the memo. So here’s the short list for those who haven’t been paying attention.

Top 5 ways to alienate your customers

  1. Don’t ask for current customer feedback
    • Before you change anything. Most log-in type websites require your email and online survey tools are prolific. You should be surveying your customer base regularly anyway, but especially before you make significant changes.
    • During a beta period. Give your customer the option of which site to use. Watch the site traffic. Now you automatically know which site works for which segments of your customer base.
    • After you make changes. The new site didn’t provide any method of providing feedback. Eventually I found the outsourced “help” forum, where many other folks were venting. Loudly. Partially because they couldn’t figure out how to provide feedback.
  2. Rely on only one method of communication. It appears they may have announced the upcoming changes on Facebook. There were no splash pages on the site promoting what was happening. There was no warning email sent to the current customer base. Not everyone uses every social media tool or cares enough about your company to follow you. It’s your job to make sure your customer hears your message in the way they will hear it, not just the way you like to communicate.
  3. Copy the current “hot” site instead of focusing on your niche. The old site’s strength was that it looked just like an offline diary: simple chronological, text-based listing, a format that’s actually pretty unique. The new site looks just like Pinterest or Tumblr. If that’s what people want, they’d use those sites. If you are going to compete, there needs to be something that sets you apart.
  4. Continue to ask for feedback without really addressing the feedback you’ve already received. One of the first comments they received was “I hate this, give me the old layout back”. The response was “we had to do it this way for speed but we are releasing a ton of stuff as we go, thanks for your patience“. Eighty-seven comments and a month later, they were still saying “just tell us what you need”. You can’t just ask for feedback, you have to listen to it and do something about it. Try “I’m sorry, here’s the back door to get back to what you are used to, we plan to keep it up as long as it’s being used”.
  5. Don’t provide an “out”. I understand that businesses must continually innovate and change. Sometimes, a business is no longer financially viable and may need to start with a completely new paradigm, including a brand new customer base. When that happens, you don’t just toss your old customer base aside. That ruins your reputation and could prevent you from ever being successful in any venture. It’s so simple to:
    • Communicate what’s happened including the new vision
    • Provide your old customers the ability to easily take their information with them and close their account

The saddest part of all for me was the complete entrepreneurial failure. By establishing themselves as a diary site, they set an expectation of the service: A diary is a record (originally in handwritten format) with discrete entries arranged by date reporting on what has happened over the course of a day or other period. (Wikipedia definition). It was actually a pretty unique space on the web, with a clear customer segment defined in the name. When they needed money (because the original concept did not consider how to best monetize the site – business plan failure), they tried printing blank journals that looked worse than other blank journals that are readily available. With print-on-demand so prevalent, why not create a beautiful journal with the person’s entries from the last month, maybe even a lockable version like the old-fashioned diaries? Or give your current customers an upgrade option with additional features like picture attachments or generated graphics based on text. You could have charged more, would have sold more, and really would have set yourself apart.

For those of you searching for diary alternatives, my new setup (including screen shots from the old one since no download tool was provided) is a separate notebook in Evernote. I’m also exploring which looks to have some real positives including privacy, simplicity, a mobile version, and a pro version that will hopefully keep them more financially successful and stable.

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