Seven reasons to NOT collect feedback with a public voting board

Public voting boards are an easy way to gather customer feedback. Here's why you shouldn't use them.

Using a public voting board like UserVoice or Canny is a popular way to gather customer feedback.

But there are also risks to gathering feedback that way. Before you decide to use a public voting board, you should be aware of the downsides and make sure the reward outweighs the risks.

Table of contents

    The cons of public voting boards

    Here are the key reasons why you might NOT want to use a public voting board to collect customer feedback.

    They're not customer friendly

    A typical workflow looks like this:

    1. Customer sends in feature request

    2. Support replies telling customer to go vote it up on a board

    As a customer who's taken the time to share incredibly valuable feedback, it's a slap in the face to be told to share it again in the correct format that's better for the receiving company.

    When I get emails like this, I think "I've just given you feedback. Now you want me to waste my life giving it to you again?"

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    This response makes me think the company doesn't value feedback: if they did, they'd save it instead of asking the customer to do more work to give it to them in the preferred format.

    Assuming a customer DOES decide to upvote it in another tool, there's a lot of friction: they may have to create an account, they have to find the right feature request, and they may just upvote the feature and not share the verbatim feedback.


    You can get customer group-think

    When you have a public list of features, it's not uncommon for customers to upvote the ones they want from that list. Sounds good in theory, right? But there are two problems with this.

    1. You're often only going to get feedback on just that list. Customers will find the list and upvote features they think sound good. Valuable feedback comes from running into problems in the product, not upvoting a bunch of features on a list.

    2. Popular features get more popular. If you have three pages of features, the first page will get more looks (and votes) than pages two and three. Do you really want to base (expensive) decisions to build features on which features are most popular (instead of most valuable)?


    It's a goldmine for your competition

    Leaving your most-requested features public helps your competition understand why customers aren't happy with your product. It gives them information about what they might build to help under-served segments of your customer base. And it can help them understand how to differentiate.

    Public voting boards provide a very low-cost way to research the competition.


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    Requests can stay in limbo for a long time

    When you ask customers for public feedback, you set an expectation that you'll listen (which ultimately means solving their problems by building features). When requested features don't get built after months (or years!) angry customers will air their grievances in public:

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    This genius request talks about how too many requests are left in limbo for too long:

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    When prospects or customers stumble across these little ❤️ notes, it doesn't inspire confidence in your team's ability to deliver.


    You don't always get qualitative feedback

    If your voting boards allows upvotes without comments, you're missing out on the best part of customer feedback: the qualitative part!

    Hearing the customer's description of the problem is the most useful part of getting feedback. It helps you understand the shape of the problem so you can build a good solution. Rahul Vohra, CEO of Superhuman, talks about the value of verbatims:

    At the start of any feature, we can automatically generate a skeleton product requirements document that contains many thousands of words of verbatim customer quotes. This easily shaves a month or two of user research off any feature.

    In product development the devil's in the details. And votes without verbatims obscures the details. Which makes it less likely that you'll build a great solution for your customers.


    Over-indexing for "squeaky wheel" customers

    You know those customers (bless their hearts). The ones who speak up all the time about everything that's wrong with your product. This gives all of them a public platform to shape discussion that you'll base expensive feature development decisions on.

    To do it right you'll want feedback from your squeaky wheels. But you'll also want feedback from the silent majority. Often the best way to get this is to reach out directly to get their feedback - something voting boards don't help with.


    Disagreeing in public is difficult

    It's hard to gracefully say "no" to customers in private. Saying no to customers in public is even more difficult. It's risky because whatever you say on a voting board is a public and permanent statement. This means customers often see unsatisfying milquetoast replies to legitimate feature requests. Again, not confidence inspiring.


    As you can see, there are definite downsides to think about when considering whether to use public voting boards.

    If you've decided that you want a more private feedback management solution, take a look at Savio.


    Last updated August 6, 2020

    This is an article in our Customer Feedback playbook. Read the rest of the playbook here→

    Kareem Mayan

    Kareem is a co-founder at Savio. He's been prioritizing customer feedback professionally since 2001. He likes tea and tea snacks, and dislikes refraining from eating lots of tea snacks.

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