When lawyers get between you and your customers

I play ice hockey. I love it. Of course, hockey is a sport that requires gear; lots and lots of gear. After all, you not only need skates and a stick, but lots of protective equipment, bags to carry the equipment in, tape of various types, and so on. Since I play in multiple locations around the world, and have kids who play, I have quite a lot of hockey gear. And, since I have always liked Bauer, the majority of my equipment is Bauer.

Two weeks ago, I purchased a Bauer rolling equipment backpack, a massively oversized school backpack with special skate pockets and rolling wheels with a handle. Overall, I was pretty happy with the bag, but saw room for improvement. Being the good consumer that I am, I reached out to Bauer, using their special email for “Product Ideas”, and told them that I had some feedback to make their bag better, and would they like it?

This should be the dream of every company. Every company longs to make products that its customers will buy. The more the product suits the customer, the more they will buy (and the more they will spend on it). For example, when I looked at bags, the Bauer was cheaper than the Graf alternative by $10, so I took it; if Bauer had been the same price, I would not have bought it. However, and here’s the important point, if the Bauer had the changes recommended in my feedback, I would have bought it, at the same price as the Graf and even up to $10 more.

The number one way to succeed as a company is to listen to your customers. Every company that succeeds spends enormous amounts of time and money trying to better understand and communicate with their customers. Unsolicited voluntary feedback is a gift.

So, how did Bauer respond?

I received a lovely email from a lawyer, their “Intellectual Property Manager,” asking me to sign a legalese “Submission Agreement” with them.

I get it: people come up with ideas, give them to companies, and expect to get paid for them later. So when someone who is not an employee submits a brand new idea to a company, a contract should be put in place. But who thought to have the lawyer be first contact, and start with a contract?

Lesson for the day: never put a lawyer in charge of customer relations or product development.

About Avi Deitcher

Avi Deitcher is a technology business consultant who lives to dramatically improve fast-moving and fast-growing companies. He writes regularly on this blog, and can be reached via Facebook, Twitter and avi@atomicinc.com.
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