The wrong sort of feedback

There’s a clutch of jokes that comes around perennially in the UK when our National Rail service starts to blame any type of delay or cancellation on the weather. One year, a platform announcer accused the “wrong sort of snow” of causing trains to run late.

As the UK’s rail network fears the “wrong sort” of weather, so companies are terrified of the “wrong sort” of feedback. Praise and benign comments are all very well, but things can go haywire if a customer suggests a solution that doesn’t chime with the corporate master-plan. has built a reputation on managing customer relationships efficiently. It offers more than 800 applications – the flagship product is a web-based “sales force automation” service which provides “streamlined” CRM. It’s difficult to make automated services sound exciting, but the simple interface Salesforce offers has caused quite a stir.

The company’s headquarters are in San Francisco’s Financial District, alongside the banking and corporate offices, and just off the Embarcadero (waterfront), handy for the trendy market stalls and shops in the city’s renovated ferry terminal.

Lorna Li has a pretty cool job at She’s Web Marketing Manager (social media and social networking) – which I guess means she gets to spend most of her day surfing around on social networks, upping the profile of and generally chit-chatting with as many people as possible. is a ‘Web 2.0’ company, so interesting conversations must be permitted.

Lorna arranges to meet me in the wine bar in the old ferry terminal. She’s running a few minutes late but luckily the bar staff have spotted my London accent and are doing their best to make me feel at home.

When Lorna arrives, we settle down to talk social media over a couple of glasses of local Napa Valley wine and some Cowgirl Creamery cheese.

Lorna tells me abut MyStarbucksIdea and Dell’s IdeaStorm, both built on’s Ideas platform.

Apparently, some users of IdeaStorm started asking for Linux on their PCs. Dell, convinced that this was only a minority concern, introduced a “vote down” button in order that other users might demote the issue; this backfired when users voted down, instead, a whole raft of other topics.

As one tech blogger commented, “what’s the point of seeking ideas and feedback if you’re going to delete ”merge” the ones you don’t like?”