Useful and not-so-useful user feedback

Subject: Useful and not-so-useful user feedback
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Kimberly McClintock <kimberly -dot- mcclintock -at- openlogic -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 13 Feb 2007 12:23:42 -0500

Kimberly McClintock wonders: <<Looking for experiential anecdotes regarding capturing informal user feedback, and filtering it. Here’s the situation: a Sales Engineer was supporting a customer as the customer installed our product. The customer is at another site, the SE is on-site here.>>

Based on your observations of this interaction, you may find an opportunity to refine your documentation to better support the SE and the customer, or perhaps to provide training for the SE in how to use the existing documentation. (See comment below.)

<<They used our documentation and completed the install over the phone. It’s a complicated and fragile process that involves getting several supporting applications installed and configured. The docs team wrote the documenation and tested it, it’s also been tested and tweaked several times by internal staff.>>

Complicated and fragile processes need to be simplified and made more robust. You can't solve those problems (bad design) through documentation, and anyone who believes otherwise is a fool. I'm sure you'll hear the argument "this is too complex to simplify", but that's evidence of poor design skills and ignorance of user behavior more often than evidence of a truly insoluble problem.

<<I could hear the SE on the phone with the guy at one point and knew, based on the problems he was having, that the customer had not read the critical ‘Before you Start’ section of the documenation. The result was hours of frustration on the part of the SE>>

As noted above, training the SE on how to use the docs can solve this problem. It's also possible that the "read this before you start" information wasn't as clearly identified as you thought, since both the customer and the SE appear to have missed it. Check your assumptions at the door, and ask the SE (and the customer, if possible) why they ignored this information. You may learn something -- even if only that this particular combination of customer and SE collectively amount to a single idjit. <g>

<<the SE brings up the docs and the issues he had and suddenly the documentation is up for group critique.>>

Great! Take the opportunity to work with them and learn something. If nothing else, you build a sense of cooperation, and you may even get the opportunity to point out that a problem exists because the idjit developers changed the software after the manuals had already been printed and shipped to the customer. Don't turn this into a fistfight, but do make it clear that not all problems are your fault. And that working together rather than post-hoc bitching is most likely to solve the problem.

<<I want to put a process in place for capturing the information, and teach myself and my colleagues how to evaluate & filter useful from not-so-useful feedback.>>

My definition of useful feedback: It clearly and objectively identifies a problem that I can solve. Anything else may be interesting, but it's not useful.

-- Geoff Hart
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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useful and not-so-useful user feedback: From: Kimberly McClintock

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