The Power of a Bruised Ego

Wy wife and I were recently doing some online shopping together. We were looking for lamps for our living room. My wife was the one at the controls, and at one point she got frustrated and said “This web site really sucks. I can’t even look at their furniture.”

I had mixed feelings about my wife’s comment. My shopper side was completely with her. The web site did suck. It was hard to look at furniture. My designer side, however, felt a pang of empathy for the poor designers who probably worked really hard building this.

This situation reminded me of the reality TV shows where they do house makeovers. On one that I remember watching, a couple was having a hard time selling their house. They had open house after open house, yet nobody was making an offer.

So the crafty real estate agent (as part of the show) decided to video tape the next open house. They taped people as they walked through the house, catching all the little comments that couples make to each other out of earshot of the realtor. This was just like the comments my wife and I were making to each other about the web site.

The raw comments were astounding. “This room is fugly”. “I hate these curtains…what a horrible sense of style”. Not only did people attack the style of the house, they attacked the people who were responsible, the house owners!

Wy wife and I were recently doing some online shopping together. We were looking for lamps for our living room. My wife was the one at the controls, and at one point she got frustrated and said “This web site really sucks. I can’t even look at their furniture.”

I had mixed feelings about my wife’s comment. My shopper side was completely with her. The web site did suck. It was hard to look at furniture. My designer side, however, felt a pang of empathy for the poor designers who probably worked really hard building this.

This situation reminded me of the reality TV shows where they do house makeovers. On one that I remember watching, a couple was having a hard time selling their house. They had open house after open house, yet nobody was making an offer.

So the crafty real estate agent (as part of the show) decided to video tape the next open house. They taped people as they walked through the house, catching all the little comments that couples make to each other out of earshot of the realtor. This was just like the comments my wife and I were making to each other about the web site.

The raw comments were astounding. “This room is fugly”. “I hate these curtains…what a horrible sense of style”. Not only did people attack the style of the house, they attacked the people who were responsible, the house owners!

Obviously, those people wouldn’t make such comments to the face of the house owners. It just wouldn’t be polite and they would get kicked out of the house immediately. (In the same way my wife and I probably wouldn’t tell the site creators to their face that their web site stunk)

But what surprised me is that once the house owners heard these comments, they didn’t fight them. Sure, their ego was bruised. But they realized that they were seeing evidence of why the house wasn’t selling. So they quickly agreed to allow a house decorator to come in an redecorate their house (for a fee) so that it would show better. Their earlier reluctance to put more money into the house before the sale evaporated when they saw the tape.

And, of course, after they redecorated the comments of the next round of people were very positive. “Oh, nice”. “I like this”. Etc. And, as you might expect, the house sold relatively quickly after that.

So while it was a tough pill to swallow to hear people complain and rip on the style of the house, it had a powerful effect of immediate change.

The same rules apply on the web. If you don’t know how people truly feel about your web application, you can’t make the hard decisions you need to in order to improve.

In a recent set of interviews I did for a client, we were hearing some of those negative comments. And since I was doing the interviews myself, I wasn’t sure how to communicate this extreme displeasure back to the site owners. Should I tone it down? Instead of saying “people hated it” should I say “well, there’s a lot of work to be done”?

In the end, I thought about this TV show and let all the comments go through untouched. The site owners heard the true feelings of the people who were using their web application, and realizing that they had a lot of work to do, set about immediately doing it.

Sometimes the only way to make the necessary changes is to take a direct hit to the ego. It hurts, but boy is it effective.

Published: January 23rd, 2008

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