TEDxBrighton only receives positive feedback

It’s a bit mean to hilight just one culprit here – this isn’t that rare – but it’s something I’ve been meaning to talk about for ages. Sometimes, bad or broken user-interface has a direct, measureable impact on a business, due to increased customer-support costs (usually CS is paid by the minute or by the hour), or due to incorrect marketing and sales campaigns that are funded in future.

I’m not a UX person, I’m a games person. So, of course, it’s the game-design side that interests me here. Are there any free, public reports on the same phenomenon in games? I have vague memories of this coming-up at at least one of the games companies I’ve worked for, but we couldn’t find sufficient evidence at the time. IIRC, the argument was over “where is the point of diminishing returns?”, given the idea that decreased costs in support-queries justify *some* additional spending on the user-interface for a game.

Anyway, in the case I just saw, people who applied for TEDx but failed to get a ticket are auto-subscribed to a mailing list whether or not they asked for it (not unusual, but the practice always stinks of spam to me), and if they unsubscribe (manually) then their comments just get ignored: the website has been constructed so that the feedback form can’t be submitted.

I’m sure it was an accident (I’m assuming they checked the form before going live, but that it only works in one web-browser. All I know is that it didn’t work in Firefox). Either way, it would seem to ensure that “the first licensed TEDx conference” has great feedback when the licensors come to evaluate it.

Will this cost them? Not so clearly as other examples (see below for anecdotal evidence), but cost may come when they fail to take into account the negative feedback that people tried to give them, but was never received. (I’m assuming that nearly everyone who unsubscribes will have negative feedback – although in the past, when I’ve been monitoring un-sub forms, we’ve often seen 5-10% positive comments in there too. Sometimes you even see people “apologizing” for unsubscribing from your mailing lists!)

Going back to the issue of *actual* financial loss … this reminds me of a couple of talks at last year’s UX Brighton conference, and the websites listing black-hat/white-hat ways of “manipulating” the audience by making the “unsubscribe” and “refund” forms legally valid but practically impossible to complete.

In those cases, the gain/loss is usually quantifiable (allegedly). Although the practice was unanimously reviled by people at the conference, someone stood up and admitted to some experience in it – with the observation that although it “Worked” the client had then asked to un-do the process, because it increased the number of angry people phoning Customer Support (instead of using the website), and CSR staff are expensive enough that the practice had decreased profits.

5 thoughts on “TEDxBrighton only receives positive feedback

  1. Tom Bailey

    Hi Adam,

    Interesting post. In response to this and the last one…

    We decided to leave people on the newsletter list in the genuine hope that peoples understandable disappointment at not being able to attend may be, in some small way, offset when they get a nudge letting them know the films of the live talks are on-line. An important part of the whole TEDx thing.

    I can assure you that we lack any interest (and frankly, the skills) to manipulate the process in the way you suggest above. The newsletter list was the most straight forward way to manage contact with a large number of people who are interested in the event. Nothing more sophisticated than that.

    Furthermore, everyone opting out of the list and giving a reason gets read, and TED carries out no such evaluation on the application process so there is no massaging of the data going on. Frankly – as a small team of volunteers producing the event around our day jobs- we really don’t have the time.

    Our feedback forms from the day will, of course, be passed to TED high command, warts and all.

    We are very aware that there a large number of interesting, active, busy people who are disappointed not to be able to attend the live event.
    Some more about the process here: http://tedxbrighton.co.uk/event-information/news/a-note-about-the-ticketing-process/

    Many thanks

    Tom Bailey
    Producer
    TEDxBrighton

  2. adam Post author

    Thanks, Tom.

    In case it wasn’t clear, I didn’t believe this was deliberate – but I was very surprised that something as simple as a two-field web-form wasn’t working?

    Also, as noted, I find the issue of UX / HCI “costs” fascinating. Tiny changes in interface are usually considered “unmeasurable, but having benefit/cost” – but in customer-support / interaction situations, they appear to have much clearer, directly measurable effect.

  3. adam Post author

    That post you linked is great – goes some way to de-mystifying the process. I still don’t understand why this process wasn’t made public *before* it happened – for instance, if I’d known almost half the places were purely randomly allocated, I wouldn’t have included all the personal information you also took. I’m assuming you’ve deleted the info you took from everyone who didn’t get tickets?

    But you still glossed-over a big chunk with the words: “based on the balance of the other form criteria”.

    You don’t have to answer any of this, people will attend the conference, and I’m sure it’ll be a success without it. But IMHO you’re throwing away the opportunity for insight and feedback from your audience.

    W.r.t those “form criteria” – What “balance”? What was being sought? What was being avoided? Why were you even asking these questions, as opposed to some other form of selection?

    PS: I’m also assuming you’ve now fixed your unsubscribe form, so that you can, in fact, receive the feedback…

  4. adam Post author

    Sorry, to be clear: The main thing I think you lose by keeping the selection process secret is that many people will have answered your questions poorly. I say this based purely on personal experience of sifting through similar responses to surveys.

    i.e. your process is undermined by the fact you didn’t give people info up-front.

    Not much you can do about that now, but I hope it makes clearer why I’m higlighting your approach, and declaring that I personally advise against it.

  5. Tom Bailey

    Hi Adam,

    Thanks for your responses.

    We’d be the first to acknowledge that there were flaws to the process but it was laid out with only ever the very best, fairest intentions and we’ve certainly learnt a lot from doing this first one !

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