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Hearing vs. Listening

19 May 2014 14,745 views 17 Comments

I like to say that I love feedback. I love to hear when someone falls in love with a project bag I’ve made. Or when they tell me my Craftsy class improved their photography. Or that they were complimented on something they knit from one of my patterns. I LOVE that kind of feedback. Who doesn’t? We all like to hear the nice things. So when I say I love feedback, what I really mean is I love to hear the nice things. The not-so-nice things aren’t as lovable. I still appreciate negative feedback, but it takes me a few days to come around to it.

I received an email through the shop contact form a week or so ago and it was one of those pieces of feedback that wasn’t quite as nice as I like.

I just wanted to tell you that your bags look like they might be beautiful and the photography seems great, but when you photograph the bags on the fabric that they’re sewn out of, it’s really hard to see the actual bag. And because of that I’m going to go to a store that makes the bags more appealing to buy by photographing them so you can actually see them.

When I first read it (ok, the first 10 times I read it) I heard it as a schoolyard taunt. “I suppose your stuff is ok, but I’m taking my money elsewhere. Nyah nyah.” And I dwelled on it for a bit. Why would someone say that?! Why wouldn’t they just look, decide they didn’t like the set up, and move on? Why take the time out of your day to make me feel bad?

Outside Oslo project pouch from http://shop.splityarn.com

Friends told me to ignore it. Over cocktails, another pal helped me work out a snarky reply. But after a few hours I had that feeling. There was a cry of truth in her note and my crankiness was preventing me from hearing it. All I heard was the nyah nyah and not the issue that prompted her to contact me.

I grew up in the hospitality industry. I am Canadian. It would be next to impossible for me to reply in any way other than with kindness. So three days later, the email was still sitting in my inbox, now taunting me because I hadn’t responded yet. I took a deep breath, agonized, typed and deleted, and finally replied.

Gosh [name redacted], I’m sorry to hear that my product photos didn’t meet your expectations. Was there a particular bag you were interested in? I may have some alternate photos on a different background that could answer any questions you may have. 

(And you know what? The email bounced. Argh.)

Sending that reply was what I needed to strip away the noise of her note and listen to the feedback she was giving me:

Caro, it’s hard to see the product you’re selling.

In Shoot It, I talk about finding a background for your products that is unique to you. Something your customers can see anywhere online and instantly recognize as yours, whether they’ve seen the product before or not. (Dear every seller on Etsy, your white backgrounds make you look like everybody else.) That was what I loved about the fabric on fabric shots. You knew it was Splityarn before knowing it was Splityarn. While I think photographing the background in the same fabric is fun, and *I* can see the products just fine, I’m also incredibly familiar with them. You don’t sew 45 wee pouches of the same fabric without getting to know the little suckers by heart.

I started thinking about what I could do to help make the products clearer. Photograph them on the alternate colourway of the same print? Maybe. Find a neutral fabric that coordinated? Boring.

WAIT. I KNOW! Someone in my quilt guild recently finished a project using chalkboard cloth.

I can draw the fabric motif on and clear away the visual static at the same time. It’s still unique to me (at least I haven’t seen anyone else doing it) and the background combined with the product identifies it as Splityarn. Happy making.


Outside Oslo project bag from http://shop.splityarn.com

Outside Oslo project pouches from http://shop.splityarn.com

The TL;DR version: The shop has been updated.

So next time I get cranky about something negative, ask me if I am hearing noise? Or if am I listening to the problem.




  • grumperina said:

    I really like the white pouches on the black background, they stand out very nicely, and still unique!

  • Kristy said:

    What a humble and insightful post about a lesson I know I am still learning. I think the chalkboard fabric makes a great background!

  • Heather said:

    Great post, way to look at a problem and find a great solution. Love the chalkboard background – will probably be seeing this idea all over the place now.

  • Abby Glassenberg said:

    I love your product shots, both before and now. And I love the honesty of this post. Thank you.

  • kelliinkc said:

    Well, while I am sorry for the way the customer worded her feedback to you, I am glad you took the high road and waited and allowed yourself to acknowledge the truth underlying her words. I never really had a problem with the previous way you did your fabric bag on fabric shots, but I must admit that the new, black, chalkboard background is absolutely brilliant. You may have lost that sale, but, by listening to what she pointed out, I think that you may actually end up with more sales in the long run. I particularly like the one with the inches marked and the 3 bag sizes. Great job! :-)

  • Annika said:

    I am super into your solution.

  • earthchick said:

    I liked the old pics and I like the new ones, too. You have an amazing eye – your photography is always fantastic. But good on you for listening to the constructive part of the criticism. I’m sorry for how it was worded – yuck! – but you handled it so well.

  • claudia said:

    Negative feedback is so important to learning what works and what doesn’t, but it sucks to get. I LOVE the chalkboard solution!

  • Ann Martin said:

    Your solution is fantastic and you handled the situation like a champ! So happy to be introduced to your shop via Abby’s newsletter.

  • Caro (author) said:

    Thanks, Ann! Abby is the best!

  • Kim said:

    While I see the writer of the feedback may have had a point, I don’t think her wording was very nice. Couldn’t she just have given you the gist without the extra shaming?

    Anyway, I’m glad you took something positive from it–I too like both ways (I think the first image is creative, but the second is neat too).

    (PS: here via WhileSheNaps)

  • Stephanie said:

    She certainly could’ve been nicer – but I really like the new background!

  • Marina said:

    I think the shots of your products against the fabric they were made in are incredibly lovely (and clever!). Don’t agree that they confuse the details.

    A combination of those with one or two against a white background (to satisfy those who need more simplicity) would be a total winner I think!

    Such a shame that people feel justified about leaving bad-mannered feedback…..

  • Béatrice said:

    It’s very nice to discover your shop via Abby ( sh! I am her first fan around the world.
    Everywhere, at work like in life, it is always difficult to hear unpleasant comments. But you had the intelligence to see that after the nyah, nyah nyah, there was need to consider this note as a potential problem for your buyers and you have made a constructive response by looking for the origin of the problem. I agree that it is easier to appreciate the size and the 3D effect for yours works on the blackboard than on the bottom with an identical fabric even it was very original. Sorry for my English, this isn’t perfect, like more things in the life.

  • Christina said:

    Taking criticism constructively is such a hard lesson, especially when the criticism isn’t phrased tactfully. Good on you for being willing to grow. FWIW, I love the new backgrounds!

  • Julierose said:

    Hi–I just HAD to tell you that I am totally smitten with your little zipper box bag that I purchased; I put in my crochet hook, scissors, starflower centers and two balls of yarn and went off on a cruise to Nassau and Bahamas! AND I am using it EVERY day–just the perfect size for my beginning project–crocheting afghan blocks. The zipper runs easily, and I LOVE that little handle–the whole thing is wonderful. I would totally recommend this item to any one…I, for one, having sewed for many years, know “quality” when I see it!! hugs, Julierose

  • Lynda said:

    I’ve never seen your products before now (thanks to the YarnHarlot!!),
    but I like your products against the black background better. While the photos of them on the matching fabric are pretty, the bags blend in and are “camouflaged”. Especially for someone who’s not seen them in person. Thanks for using negative feedback in a constructive way!
    I’ll be coming back for a bag or two when it’s time to purchase more knitting bags.

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