Facebook redesign and the customer is not always right

by David Spark on March 27, 2009

Listen to me on ABC Radio, The Curtis Sliwa show talking about Facebook’s changes. Stream or download (Time: 6:03).

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The old maxim in sales, “The customer is always right” does not hold true in technology. Because we’re being trained how to use technology by the people who are creating it. And this holds true for user interface design.

Yet when someone is introduced to a new technology, like social networks and Facebook, that they never thought they needed before, as soon as they have it they now claim they’re an expert on how it should be developed.

This is exactly the dilemma that Facebook is dealing with. The overwhelming hatred of the new redesign is forcing the social network to take some action to appease its customers.

Most organizations would love to have the problem Facebook is having. To actually get customer feedback. Facebook get tons of it. Many businesses think, “If we only knew what our customers wanted, then we could give it to them.” Unlike most businesses, Facebook is a social network where the process of feedback is inherent in the product.

Facebook and all other businesses that deal with customer criticism have three options. They could:

  • Cave in to user demands.
  • Play back and force and cave into some demands, but ignore others.
  • Ignore all user comments because you have the vision. Your plan is to bet your customers will see that vision eventually and follow you.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, said himself that users can accept change if you roll out that change over time. In this case he didn’t listen to his own advice. Users couldn’t accept this change because it wasn’t rolled out over time. It just arrived.

The problem is when you have millions of users (200 million for Facebook by one estimate) can you afford to ignore them? What if only half a percent are complaining? That’s the estimate of people who responded to Facebook’s redesign.

Steve Jobs got away with developing the iPhone without an audience committee because Apple wasn’t previously in the mobile phone business. But look at Apple today. Many of the revisions in iPhone 3.0 are the result of customer demands.

My feeling is Facebook is going to have to play this like a really good magician. Make users believe they’re being listened to, then without their seeing, create something else. A magician tricks us, not giving us what we want, but in the end we’re delighted.

Here’s a list of Facebook’s planned changes, according to Chris Cox, Director of Product.

This news item is for the Spark Minute week of 3/30/09 which can be heard daily on Green 960 and 910 KNEW in San Francisco, CA.

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