Speed Boat

Goal: Identify What Customers Don’t Like About Your Product or Service

Customers have complaints. And, if you simply ask them to complain, they will. This may be OK, but be careful: the seemingly harmless snowflakes of a few minor problems can quickly become an avalanche of grievances from which you can never recover. I’ve sat through a few of these “let it all hang out and complain about anything sessions,” and just about everyone leaves the room tired, and frustrated. Think ‘angry mob’ and make certain you know where the exits are located.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can ask your customers what’s bothering them if you do it in a way that lets you stay in control of how complaints are stated and discussed. In the process, you’ll find fresh new ideas for the changes you can make to address your customer’s most important concerns.


The Game

To collaborate online, click on the Speed Boat image. For in-person use, draw a speed boat on a whiteboard or sheet of butcher paper. You’d like the boat to really move fast. Unfortunately, the boat has a few anchors holding it back. The boat is your system, and the features that your customers don’t like are its anchors. Customers write what they don’t like on an anchor. They can also estimate how much faster the boat would go when that anchor was cut. Estimates of speed are really estimates of pain. When customers are finished posting their anchors, review each one, carefully confirming your understanding of what they want to see changed in the system.


This metaphorical game can be altered to suit your needs. For example, Jonathan Clark’s Speed Plane uses an airplane instead of a boat and replaces anchors with luggage. Customizing the game will make it more relatable to your business and can result in more valuable feedback.


Why It Works

While most customers have complaints, few customers are genuinely “against” you or your product. Even if they express extreme frustration, the reality is that they want to succeed in using your product. Giving them a way to express their frustration without letting a group mentality or a single person dominate the discussion is what most customers want. Speed Boat creates a ‘safe’ environment where they can tell you what’s wrong.

Many people don’t feel comfortable expressing their frustrations verbally. Giving them a chance to write things down contributes to the “safer” process. It also helps give them an opportunity to reflect on what is genuinely most important. The opportunity to reflect is especially important for those customers that just seem to be somewhat unhappy people (you know, the ones who complain a lot about the little details). Asking them to verbalize their issues, especially in writing, motivates them to think about these issues. Many of them will self-identify trivial issues as just that: trivial issues, and, in the process, focus on the truly big issues. Thus, they end up getting to voice their complaints, but they’re put into perspective, and when they get used to THINKING about their complaints, especially quantifying what the impact is, they are more reasonable and contribute more to success – theirs and yours.

That said, there are products where the sheer number of seemingly trivial complaints adds up to one truly large complaint: the product or service offering is just not that good. In this case, Speed Boat works because we don’t restrict participants to the size, shape, weight, or number of anchors that they add to the boat.

Speed Boat at Work: