A recent post on TechCrunch about TaskRabbit’s roll-out of a new market structure, largely seen as a failed roll-out, offers many lessons for all types of companies. TaskRabbit rolled out a very different version of its market place last July and faced what many called a “revolt” and “rabbit revolution.” Outside of the business reasons for the change and whether it was a net positive for the company (still debatable), there are many lessons from the experience for any company.
Do not surprise your customers
TaskRabbit’s change to a new platform caught many of its customers by surprise, leading to immediate protests. TaskRabbit had tested its new platform in the United Kingdom (where it previously did not have a presence) and saw substantial improvement in its metrics. Based on these results, it decided to replace its platform in the U.S. with the new model. As TechCruch wrote, “as soon as the launch actually went live, the protests and confusion started to pour in.” The company underestimated just how strong the bidding and auction model was ingrained in its brand identity here in the U.S., and how that resonated emotionally with users.
Do not think users, including heavy users, are seeing your communications
The first key lesson is that much of your communication is not read by users. TaskRabbit thought they would avoid this launch confusion through a series of emails to users, interviews and a multi-city roadshow where executives held town hall meetings. TaskRabbit’s CEO, Leah Busque, says that if she had to do it over, she would seek out influential TaskRabbit clients and Taskers to communicate the changes to a wider base. She, however, seems to have missed what actually happened. Most people who use a platform, shop on an e-commerce site, play a game, etc., ignore all the communications from that channel because most of it is dumb CRM and untargeted messaging. Everything that TaskRabbit felt they were doing to communicate, which I am sure made a wonderful Powerpoint, was irrelevant to most users. Probably 2-3 percent opened the emails and half of those paid attention to what was in it when they realized there were not getting a special offer. People who saw the interviews or attended the town halls was most likely an insignificant part of its user base.
Trust the numbers
Another important lesson was that despite the very vocal criticism, the new platform was still an improvement. The metrics, both from the UK test and early results, were significantly better than before the roll-out. A vocal minority can create uproar, either when rolling out a new platform, changing a feature in a game or even changing a color scheme. This minority, however, may not reflect how your overall user base feels.
This point, though, is one you have to treat carefully. Your community is still your best insight into your user. It is important to understand and already have a relationship with your community so that when an incident like this occurs, you can tell if it is the same old troublemakers or if it is a widespread issue. Even if the metrics initially counter what people are saying, the negative sentiment, if strong enough, can become self-fulfilling and convince users that you do have a bad product or game.
Another lesson from TaskRabbit’s roll-out was to take feedback. While they did not over-react to the negative comments because the new platform was helping the numbers overall, they did listen to some of the most prominent feedback by adding features to mitigate the concerns raised. Listening to your users is always good practice, but especially when dealing with strong discontent. Not only are you adding features or functionality that improves the product, you are showing your users that you care, often taking the bite out of their complaints.
Whether or not the TaskRabbit new platform is a net positive for the company is still debatable, but the lessons they learned should be applied any time you are changing your product significantly. Most importantly, make sure your users are ready for and understand the changes. Do not think that just because you email them about it (or send push notifications), they know. Work on a communication strategy that will impact the bulk of your users. When you do launch, even if there is a significantly negative response, check if the data supports or contradicts the anecdotal comments. If people care about your product, some will always respond strongly, but the change may still be in your best interests. Finally, even if you have a negative response from a minority, see if you can learn from those responses how to improve further your product as well as undercut their resistance.
- When launching a major new feature or otherwise changing the product, it is important for your users or players to know about it in advance. Do not assume that by emailing them that they know. Make sure you have a communication strategy that will reach the majority of your users.
- Even if you have a strong negative response, trust your metrics, as the negative response may represent a minority of your users.
- Listen to your customers and even if you are not going to change the new feature, see if you can improve it based on their feedback.