Greg asks:

When your product just launched and the user base is starting to grow, you’re happy about any positive feedback you receive from your first users. But just as soon, you start receiving feature requests from the same users. While it’s easy to say “No” to a feature as a team internally, I found it less easy to tell a customer that their suggestion won’t see the light of day anytime soon (for any number of reasons). How do you respond to such requests — especially when the feature “makes sense” as an extension but might be too much of a niche (a power-user feature) or not a top priority right now. The answer might be to just say it, but I thought I’d ask anyway to see what your experience has been and how users responded.

We say no to a lot of ideas — including most of our own ideas. But it’s important to remember that no can be temporary. No now may be yes later. Or it may be no forever. The trick is to figure out which camp a certain no falls into and then respond appropriately.

For example, if someone asks you to add something to your product that you absolutely know you won’t be adding (Gantt charts to Basecamp, for example), you can be clear. “We appreciate the suggestion, but we will not be adding Gantt charts to Basecamp. We’ve taken an entirely different approach to project management with Basecamp…” And so on. If you are going to give an absolute no, it’s nice to briefly explain the thinking behind that decision. It helps people understand that you’ve thought about the no.

However, if the idea sounds reasonable and interesting, but you just don’t have plans for it right now, you can turn that no into a thank you. “Thanks for sending the suggestion over. While we can’t guarantee we’ll be adding this feature, we can promise you we’ll review it and possibly consider it for a future version.” Even though we say no to just about everything by default, we do read and consider every suggestion. Some make it in, some don’t. Some show up in weeks, some may take years. Plans change, markets change, products change.

But most of all, being clear, direct, and honest is the best policy. Don’t string a potential customer along. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Just be clear and set realistic expectations. Telling someone yes when you really mean no is a recipe for a bad experience down the road.