Launching New Features without Pissing People Off

Your alarm goes off. 8AM. Your coffee maker is already brewing, and you head to the kitchen to grab a cup. You’re bleary-eyed, but ready to start your day the way you always do—by checking Twitter to see what’s going on in your world.

However, when you open the app on your phone, it looks completely different. They’ve added a new section to the menu bar and moved the “Tweet” button. Instantly, you feel hurt and betrayed. Why would the company designers do this? Millions of users were already comfortable with the previous layout. You send an angry tweet about it and see dozens of others doing the same thing.

This dramatic scene has occurred thousands, perhaps millions, of times. Software companies are always adding new features to their products. That’s natural; the alternative to change is stagnation.

But, these features don’t always get a positive reception, even if they end up improving the experience of an app, program, or piece of software. Why is this? Why is the initial gut-reaction of consumers to reject change?

In this article, we’ll discuss the basics behind change aversion and talk about how you can avoid it, mitigate its effects, and launch new software features—without pissing off existing customers.

What Is Change Aversion?

Change aversion is a short-term negative reaction that users have, to changes in a product or service. When something you use every day changes without warning, it’s natural to have a negative reaction.

Change aversion occurs throughout many parts of life, but it’s especially common in the world of software. A simple software change, update, or feature upgrade can cause serious discord among users of your program, especially if they’ve gotten used to the way things were before.

Of course, there are different types of changes. Infrastructure changes are made in the backend, improving speed and performance. Functional changes add new features or modify existing features. Finally, interface changes modify the actual UI and information architecture of an app or program.

Of these three types of changes, interface changes usually have the biggest negative reaction, though some functional changes can draw similar feedback.

So, why do otherwise rational software users fear change? It’s simple.

The Problem: Change Is Disruptive

Here’s a thought experiment. You come home one night to your apartment, and you find that your entire apartment has been rearranged. You don’t know where to find your remote control. Your bed is facing the opposite direction. In the kitchen, someone swapped your pans with your dishes.

Are you going to be happy about this new arrangement? Probably not. If it’s not changed again, you’ll get used to it. However, for the short-term, you’ll have trouble performing normal, everyday tasks that previously required no thought at all.

This is why change aversion occurs. Major UI and functionality changes disrupt the way your users interact with your product.

Tasks that previously required almost no thought must be re-learned. Even if the end result is a more efficient workflow, the short-term effect will be a negative reaction to your new product features or design.

So, what’s the solution to this problem? Minimize and mitigate disruption.

The Solutions: 6 Ways to Mitigate Disruption (and Keep Your Customers Happy)

People fear disruption, not change. If you can add features and improve functionality while still keeping the same general workflow, you can dramatically improve customer satisfaction and alleviate change aversion.

Here are some simple ways to do this:

  1. Tell Users About Upcoming Changes: This is one of the most straightforward ways you can minimize negative reactions to software changes. A simple announcement—“We’re launching a redesigned website! Follow us on Twitter for updates!”—can remove the element of surprise from an upcoming change.
  2. Communicate the Benefits of Software Changes: Don’t be vague when making changes. You need to communicate the benefits behind every change you implement. Will a feature removal streamline the workflow for a product? Are your UI changes intended to make the product run smoother? 

Tell your customers why you’re changing the software. If they can see long-term benefits, they’ll be less likely to get angry about short-term changes.
  3. Keep the Old Version for a Little While: After making serious overhauls to your software’s UI, you should consider allowing users to use legacy software or switch between the two. This lets users utilize their old workflow when they need to, while also getting familiar with the new features of your product.
  4. Ask for User Feedback: Nobody likes feeling ignored. If users have a way to provide feedback—both positive and negative—to your software company, they’ll feel like they have a voice. This can help ease negative feelings caused by changes you’ve made.
  5. Provide Instructions for the Transition: Incorporating FAQs, online tutorials, and introductions to new features is a good idea. You should even consider employing a support staff to help users learn new product features and address their concerns.
  6. Inform Users About How You’re Addressing Key Software Issues: When releasing information about upcoming features, talk about how you’re addressing problems that users have previously raised about your products.

For example, if your company has received complaints about an unintuitive UI design, make it clear that you’re trying to address that specific issue based on feedback from your own users. This makes it clear that you’re making changes for the customer, not just because you want to or feel like you have to.

If you can follow these tips, your software updates are sure to be met with a more positive, forward-thinking attitude, minimizing both change aversion and disruption.

Understand Change Aversion and Keep Your Customers Happy

There are always going to be people who fear or reject any kind of change, especially in the software world. But, these people are the minority. Most users who have a negative reaction to change are simply afraid that they won’t be able to use your software as effectively or that their routines will be disrupted.

So, follow this guide to understand change aversion. If you can minimize disruption to user activities, you’re sure to have a much easier time releasing new versions, features, and redesigns of your software.

Launching New Features without Pissing People Off