Being obsessive about the customer-facing activity of your business requires some discussion about the company’s process for gathering feedback.
Ironically, these systems and processes for gathering feedback tend to be at their worst when the customer would benefit most from being heard. It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine that the process for responding to feedback typically trails a company’s collection of feedback.
Why is feedback broken?
Because feedback is a multi-faceted beast, it tends to be broken in any number of three ways, including these:
- No one is collecting it.
- Someone or something has made it incredibly difficult to share.
- When it’s collected, it goes nowhere.
- When it’s collected, it isn’t tracked (no source, no situation, no financial impact etc).
- When action is taken on it, there’s no effort to follow up.
- When action is taken on it, there’s no communication to the rest of your customers.
- It isn’t used to improve the rest of the company.
Feedback has four parts
Feedback is a four part activity, so be sure that none of the pieces are broken.
The pieces are: Collection, Valuation, Action and Communication.
Collection is a matter of letting your customers be heard. Many times, simply giving them an outlet for their feedback will satisfy them. In some cases, people simply want to vent and may not care if you respond (you should). Finally, feedback often comes in the form of a suggestion, and in many of those cases, people don’t expect a response.
Collection is more than simply saying “Thanks, we got your comment”, but that should be the absolute minimum if that’s all you can manage. There’s always time to improve, since every day is a good time to improve something.
Valuation is an often ignored part of the collection process. It’s easy to take a complaint, tell someone you’re sorry and give them a coupon for next time (or some such), and then move on. Unfortunately, that wastes the value and opportunity that hides deep inside the feedback.
Valuation assesses the feedback and its impact on your clients, and your company. For example, you may get feedback about certain things which only come from the customers who buy your most expensive products, but only during third shift on the weekends. The when and where both matter since many businesses function a bit differently during “off-hours” or non-prime shifts.
Sometimes feedback points out “reaching demand”, a client behavior (doing something, hiring someone and/or spending on something) that identifies a need that should become a part of your offering. Other times, feedback points out a failure point in a product or service that needs attention. It could be about quality and workmanship, or a lack of clarity in marketing materials or sales processes that creates a disconnect between expectations and reality.
Valuation helps you assess what parts of the company can be improved by the feedback, beyond the context of the complaint.
If your company’s feedback loop ends at “Sorry, here’s a coupon for next time“, who misses out the most? Your management team.
That eliminates an opportunity to take a high-level view of the problem for further action. Nordstrom is famous for its empowerment of employees to make things right in these situation, and their feedback loop doesn’t stop at the employee.
While these complaints might seem to be “employee failure alerts” that a line employee might want to hide from their manager, they often point out where management needs to provide better support and/or infrastructure to their staff.
Without complaint awareness, it can be difficult for managers to see trends that (going back to valuation) can be incredibly wasteful and expensive. This is particularly true when there are lots of part-time people involved across changing shifts – negating the ability to see such trends.
Many times when you file a complaint, you get a response indicating that the company isn’t staffed to respond personally to each complaint. If you can respond to each one, I suggest doing so. If you have thousands of clients and get a lot of feedback, it can be overwhelming to respond individually.
However, individual responses can often be avoided if you respond in a way that serves many. Use your website, email list or text subscriber list to discuss complaint resolution, including the actions taken. Share internally with your team as well.