An important lesson from customer feedback

I send out a (free) daily email about the podcasting industry, called Podnews.

When you unsubscribe, you get a personal message from me; and one of the things that message says is:

If you’d not mind spending one minute of your time by hitting reply and letting me know — what could I have done to make Podnews better? I’d be really grateful for a little pointer to make the service better for others.

This has been an astonishingly useful thing for customer feedback. It’s really helpful to know why people stop getting the service, and what I can do to fix that for other people.

And so, to the feedback I got the other day, which said, in part:

Each email gave me a time limit which I couldn’t adhere to.

I looked blankly at this email. A time limit? There isn’t a time limit in these emails. What are they talking about?

And then the penny dropped. Here’s how Podnews used to look like in your inbox:

I use the “hidden text” trick at the top of these emails to add a little description, but also a reading time estimate. Podnews is designed to be very quick to read, and I want to highlight that competitive point of difference in each email.

I’d not considered that it was confusing some readers. This guy had genuinely unsubscribed because he couldn’t read this email in 3.1 minutes, and I had put him under pressure.

I wrote back to clarify:

That’s interesting — you saw the “2.3 minutes to read” as a time limit? I wonder how I can rephrase that — it’s supposed to mean “this email will only take 2.3 minutes of your time”. That’s really helpful feedback, thank you.

…and they wrote back saying:

Never thought of that.

And so, as of yesterday, Podnews now looks a little different in your inbox.

If one person contacts you, that means a hundred people all think the same thing. And if I’ve learnt something after 26 years of running websites, I’ve learnt that the customer is never wrong. Your writing, or phrasing, or UX, is wrong. And it’s easy to fix.