Sunday, July 5, 2015

Online Suggestion Boxes: Does Anyone Listen?

I think I am not the only one who has noticed how web sites are becoming pretty needy these days, using both pop-up ratings and suggestion boxes to try to get comments on the products and any other idea that the user may have. I first saw this (and was annoyed) when Amazon wanted ratings of my purchases and help fixing its suggested books, but many others use these functions. I just looked up one of the firms providing such tools and found that it has Barclaycard, Verizon, Telefonica, and Skype as its customers. And those are just the ones that are so famous that it posts their names on its web site.

I don't reply to such requests. I have other things to do, and think that firms should fix their problems without my help. I think many others also don't reply, either for the same reason or because they think that no one will take their suggestion seriously. But there are also people who do type ideas into these suggestion boxes, ranging from simple tips to longer proposals. So do the firms listen and adopt the ideas? Well, here is a potential problem. The more people give ideas, the harder it is to pay attention to them because there are simply so many ideas that the firm can't handle all. They have idea crowding.

Henning Piezunka and Linus Dahlander just published research in Academy of Management Journal on what happens when firms have  suggestion tools, and get idea crowding. Their work was built on a simple idea with some neat additions. The simple idea is that idea crowding means ideas are less likely to be used. Quality doesn't  help; idea crowding simply makes it harder to do anything. The first addition is that ideas also are less likely to be picked when they are distant from what the organization does or looks at. Again, quality doesn't help, anything distant is less likely to be picked even if it is great. But it is the second addition that really gets interesting. Idea crowding makes the effect of distance stronger. So when an idea is distant and there is idea crowding, the idea has to be truly exceptional to be used.

So far theory, but what about the evidence? Very simple: the research found that all the effects of crowding actually happen. And that has an interesting consequence for that really great idea you are about to type into the suggestion box. It will be used if it really is that great, but you do have to hope that the firm does not have idea crowding and that the idea is not distant. Type your idea and hope that others don’t do the same.

By the way, you can give me ideas by sending them to my email. Will I do what you say? Well, it depends on how good they are and how much idea crowding I have.