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How Getting Feedback from Angry Users Helps to Develop Better Products

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Every time you change something in your product, angry users can show up. These users are engaged and they care about your product. Listening to them can help you find golden nuggets of user insight to improve your product.

Nadia Tokerud spoke about figuring out the needs of angry users and getting their feedback at ACE conference 2022.

Different kinds of changes can cause users of our products to become angry. It can be anything, as Tokerud explained:

I’ve seen people get irrationally angry over tiny colour adjustments. For some people it’s any change at all, for others it’s the changes that make us have to adjust the way we do things, or even learn to do it in a completely different way. Even if the site has become more intuitive for new users, there are always those who need help when change happens.

We need to remember those existing users and remind ourselves that not everyone is a digital native who picks up new things easily, Tokerud said.

It’s important to talk with angry users because we make better products when we do, Tokerud argued. Anger is a strong emotion, so it’s a fair bet we’re dealing with someone who just wants a better experience. It’s our job as creators to provide that, Tokerud said.

Tokerud explained how we should approach angry users to get their feedback:

The main thing is to not be defensive. You’re not perfect. Your product is not perfect. Be humble and curious. In my experience, people will open up to you if they feel you actually listen to them.

Some people just want to be angry, but most people are decent, so it’s worth it to at least hear them out, Tokerud concluded.

InfoQ interviewed Nadia Tokerud about getting feedback from angry users.

InfoQ: Why do users get so angry?

Nadia Tokerud: There are plenty of reasons why people get angry. I think anger is simply the most accessible emotion. And sometimes we sound angry without really meaning it.

In a recent episode of Cinema Therapy on YouTube, the therapist Jonathan Decker said "Every time you feel anger, it’s actually something else in disguise" (Source: Therapist reacts: Big Hero 6 and grief). I feel there’s some truth to that for us to learn both as creators and as humans.

InfoQ: What can we learn from our users and how can that help us to build better products?

Tokerud: There’s not one simple answer to this. It is good business to make things people will actually enjoy using. No matter how they try to tell you how they feel, they do it in hopes of getting something they’ll love. It should be basic common sense to at least try to find out what they’re saying.

Some people would arrogantly say "but the users don’t know what they want!" Of course they don’t. That’s why it’s our job to create something that solves problems and creates delight. We can’t do that without at least trying to understand them. To understand we need to listen.

InfoQ: What’s your advice to get useful feedback to improve our products?

Tokerud: People will tell you what they feel, what solution they think they want and what problem they think they have. If you’re lucky, at least one of those will be true. As Dr. House says, "Everybody lies". And we’re especially good at lying to ourselves. There’s a method for doing a root cause analysis called "The five whys". It can be summed up as "be an annoying five-year old" and keep asking questions until you get to the bottom.

There will always be people willing to talk to you, but you need to put yourself out there and accept that you’ll hit a wall a few times. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t try to defend yourself, but let the person you’re interviewing talk. Your users don’t really care about your feelings, nor should they. Vent and complain to your colleagues instead. They’ll probably love screenshots of the most absurd complaints. I know mine do!

The thing that has surprised me the most about people is how happy they get just being invited to talk to you about your product, even if you’re considering getting some protective gear before meeting them, just in case.

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