What to Do When Your Product Goes From Beloved to Hated on Amazon
This story appears in the October 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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Hanson Grant was sitting in his dorm room at Babson College, trying to figure out how to write on the walls. “I couldn’t drill holes to set up a whiteboard, and I couldn’t paint my walls with dry-erase paint,” he says. “So I thought, What if I could peel and stick a whiteboard on the wall?” That led him to develop a film that affixes to surfaces, turning almost anything, even his desk or closet, into a dry-erase board. He raised $10,100 on Kickstarter. A local NBC news story brought in 200 orders overnight through a website he set up. USA Today, the Today show, and others followed, fueling growth.
Related: How to Spin a Bad Online Review
A year later, in 2015, Grant put his product on Amazon, hoping to keep the momentum going. Think Board quickly rose to the top five in multiple categories. But then the reviews poured in. They were bad. Really bad. And they slowed sales on his own site. By 2016, he’d graduated, taken on Think Board full-time, and recruited a friend as COO. “I looked at him and said, ‘Well, things were really good. Now we’re losing money every month, and we’ve got to figure out how to turn this around.’”
At the time, Think Board’s film would stick on only some surfaces. Very smooth walls, desks and doors? No problem. If those surfaces were painted? Not always. And although that sounds like a glaring problem, it hadn’t tripped up customers before. The company had been explicit about the limitations on its website, and it built a customer service team to patiently explain how to use the film and promptly refund unsatisfied buyers. But on Amazon, with its strictly formatted sales page, buyers skipped over those caveats. And then, “instead of reaching out to us -- all our other customers know we’re very easily accessible -- they would just leave a negative review and get all pissed off,” Grant says.
That led Grant to two realizations. One: “We used customer service as a Band-Aid,” he says. And two: That Band-Aid wouldn’t work on Amazon. He had to listen to not only happy customers but unhappy ones, too -- even if their unhappiness was rooted in a misunderstanding of his product.
In 2016, Think Board spent six months developing a more versatile film that could affix to any smooth surface. Once Grant had a prototype, he began offering it for free to customers who were disappointed with the original version; it was a way to appease them and also test the new version in the real world.
Related: 6 Tips for Hearing Tough Feedback
Then he refashioned his customer service. Now he includes a 100-day money-back guarantee. And when a customer buys the product, they’re entered into a 200-day email schedule. The first email thanks the person for buying; a few days later, it introduces the company and provides Grant’s cellphone number in case a customer needs help. Future emails give tips on how to use the product. They also ask for feedback, which serves two purposes: diverting people from leaving bad reviews online, and helping Think Board refine and develop new products.
At day 99, an email warns that the money-back guarantee is about to run out. If you want a refund, it says, you must act now. And how many do? “Very, very few,” Grant says. He finally built a product that stuck.
To hear more of his story, check out our latest podcast episode of Problem Solvers below. Or subscribe on iTunes, Google Play,or wherever you get your podcasts.
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