Bret asks:

I often see people on forums telling complainers to shut up with the “vote with your wallet” line. How does 37signals feel on the matter? Is it better to have a vocal customer who’s willing to stick with the product despite a perceived shortcoming or would you prefer that such a customer move on?

The first thing I’d say is this: It’s tough to be 100% happy with anything. Sacrifices rule the day — each person needs to figure out where their limits are. So if it’s one thing that’s really bothering someone, maybe they can find a way to adapt (or we can find a way to improve). But if it’s one thing after another, maybe that product just isn’t a good fit for that customer.

The second thing I’d say is this: You can learn a lot from a vocal customer. Even customers who continually bash your company or your product have value. So the goal shouldn’t be silencing them, it should be listening to them. You don’t have to do anything they say, but being aware of what they’re saying can give you insight into a perspective that you may otherwise not have had.

We hope you’re happy here

What’s most important to us is that people who use our products are happy using our products. If someone is unhappy with our products, we’d love to hear why. Maybe we can make them happy. But maybe we can’t — that’s certainly possible too.

So if we don’t think we’ll be able to make them happy, and they’ve found another product that makes them happier, we encourage them to use the other product. Sometimes we’ll even recommend an alternative if we can.

Don’t fight a losing battle

At a certain point there’s no sense in trying to make someone happy who you can’t keep happy, and there’s no sense in someone suffering endlessly when they constantly run into things that don’t work for them. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. Luckily there are a lot of choices, different approaches, and alternatives out there. Choice is on the side of the consumer.

Be honest up front

This sometimes comes up in pre-sales emails. People will ask us why our product is better than this or that product. We may riff on the fundamental advantage of simple, focused tools like ours, but then we’ll say something like: “There’s really no way for us to tell you what’s best for you. We encourage you to try all the products you’re considering. That’s the only way you’ll ever know for sure which product feels right. We hope it’s our product, but if it’s not we understand.”

Some salespeople may say that’s a terrible strategy, but we prefer to give the most realistic answer, not the “obviously we’re the best no matter what” answer. Because in the end, what feels right is what works best. Comparing products by comparing features isn’t really an effective way of making a decision. You have to compare the experience and you can only compare the experience by trying the products.

So yes and no

So, yes, I do encourage people to vote with their wallet, but at the same time I don’t encourage companies to chase all wallets either. Every wallet isn’t going to be a good fit in your pocket.