37Signals Lost the Signal (for a Moment)

Signal vs. Noise is all noise today, as the good 37Signal folks decided to make fun of their customers, posting  their email inquiries they disliked.  “Useless, absurd, appalled, infuriating”  are words from actual customer emails but apparently this is what 37Signals think of those inquiries – or the customers themselves?

They may be onto something… after all, as long as you have great products, who needs customers?  This must be the new way, I’m just too “old school” to understand.  Time for me to read Getting Real – perhaps that will help me catch up with this great new world. (how funny that their PR agency just asked me to review it…)

Thanks Espen for finding this “gem”.

Update (4/12):  I guess the best defense is offense, just check out Matt’s response to a reader comment: “And while you call it whining, others might call it offering the other side of things in order to give some perspective. Perhaps you need to stop looking for occasions to be offended?”  

Hint to Matt:  you may want to read this post by Robert.

This will not hurt either:  The Art of Customer Service, Part II

Update (4/12):  I don’t even know what’s worse, the original post or the rather defiant attitude they show defending their stance against 140+ comments (on a blog where the average is 8–10 comments per post).  I certainly hope Jason and Matt will have a good night’s sleep, wake up fresh, and make amends.  Like Scoble did (see above).

Update (4/13):  So much for hoping for some humility.  They woke up, but they did not wake up.  This response to comments from Jason shows he simply does not get it:   “I don’t believe quoting someone directly is mocking them. And I never called these comments stupid.”

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  1. Anonymous says

    Having read “Getting Real”, one of the points that really stuck out at me (and that I strongly disagreed with) was the suggestion for how customer submitted feature requests should be managed.

    From the book: “How do you manage them? You don’t. Just read them and then throw them away.”

    The rationale here is that those features that customers *really* want will keep resurfacing anyway, so its safe to throw them away. I disagree completely. I can understand the need to push back on customers, and ensure that the product stays true to its purpose, but I think it is dangerous for a software startup to be cavalier about customer feedback. “Opinionated Software” (their term not mine), is fine — but customers opinions should count too.

  2. I love 37signals products, but sometimes their attitude drives me nuts. They are lucky that their products are so good, but I worry about their longevity. It reminds me of the ball player whose misdeeds are forgiven as long as he delivers, but gets discarded the moment he slips up. I would hate to have 37signals go away, but they do need to start listening to their customers .. just a little.

  3. Dharmesh, we’re on the same wavelength … in more ways than juist this one. I followed the link to your site … we should talk – my email link is avail from “above me” under my pic.



  4. I think there is a case for both being able to push back to your clients when they request things that are not in line with the products soul, or listening to them.

    BUT.. there is also a strong case for listening even if your initial hunch is to push back:

    If you proble your clients “feature-request” a little more and engage in a discussion, because I have come to realize that behind some very specific feature requests, there often lies a deeper unaddressed issue or need which may be solved in a way that is in line with both the products direction and the users request.

    For full disclosure: I am currently in the process of developing a product that is not wholly unsimilar to Basecamp (it is called AgendaPoint, and available at

    I recently had a case where a user requested some radical changes to how to-do lists where managed. Now, I wasn’t going to do that, but after probing what the reasoning for his request was, I was able to find out his issue was “too many clicks” to get things done, so I was able to make him happy while keeping in line with the vision of simplicity by simply minimizing the need for clicking around.

    (actually it wasn’t only “in line” with the vision, listening for the REAL issue made the product get even closer to the vision).

    The moral? Do listen, but listen for their real needs, issues and objections, which may be something completely different from their initial request. But in the end, you have more to loose by not listening, than giving people the respect and time of listening to what they REALLY want.

  5. Anonymous says

    Great post, Zoli. Too bad they lost the signal — what a shame. They had so much promise. Remind me to never send 37 Signals an email on ANY subject lest it be ridiculed in public.


  6. May God Curse Our Company the Day We Mock Our Customers

    I debated about whether or not to post this for two days now. My hesitation mainly derived out of fear of others potentiall…

  7. Anonymous says

    This is a cretinous way to run a company but at least their complete cluelessness is out in the open for all to see. Maybe they’ll learn from that.

    Otherwise we’re looking at good ol’ IT command and control. And if memory serves me right, it is this attitude that gets so many projects in trouble.

  8. I’m the author of the post at Signal vs. Noise.

    We didn’t ridicule/mock our customers nor did we intend to. We used our customers own words. We quoted directly. If you feel that quoting someone directly is equivalent to mocking them…well, we disagree.

    Fwiw, we don’t think the requests were stupid and we do value customer feedback. We showed theses comments so people can see the different realities that exist for individual customers vs. companies vs. the customer base as a whole.

    Why share this info at all? The truth is these sorts of conversations are happening all the time in companies all over. Is it better that they be hidden from the public or is it better to have an open, honest dialogue about them?

  9. Anonymous says


    Thanks for commenting here. To quote from your (actually Jason’s) final comment on the famous thread: “Everyone’s had their say.

    We agree to disagree …

  10. Gold Medal for Listening to Customers

    And the Gold goes to: Vyew.

  11. Anonymous says

    In response to this comment you made about halfway down the page back there

    ML 12 Apr 06

    Sure these emails are silly, demanding and disrespectful, but so is posting them to the company blog.

    Support emails/requests is one of the most common topics of conversation internally at 37signals. Instead of hiding behind closed doors, we’re being open about it.

    Do you take a dump on the front lawn? Some things should be private, including snarky commentary about communications from customers and potential customers.

  12. Anonymous says

    I was confused for a while… so let me just clarify: the above comment is probably addressed to Matt, the poster of the original article at Signal vs Noise.

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