Adding value to gathering feedback

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

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.

Taking action

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.

Communication

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.

Stop worrying about your commissions

Recently I was doing a little business with a large Microsoft distributor – a sale that required a license agreement.

Initially, the deal couldn’t be finalized because I use a PO Box for my business address. Trouble is, they “don’t allow” license agreements with a business that uses a PO Box.

Irony: That I can easily send money directly from my bank to the Caymans (or pretty much anywhere) from my iPhone, but heaven forbid that I receive paper business mail to a PO Box housed in a United States government building. But I digress.

When I provided a street address (one that cannot receive USPS mail – which the distributor/manufacturer will likely attempt to use for mail if history repeats), the salesperson’s autoresponder email came back to say he would be out for the next four days. It’s always nice to know when my rep is not going to be around and I appreciate the effort to inform, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the fulfillment of my order. We’ll get back to that.

Follow up

My reply included the requested info and a comment about PO Box use by rural businesses. The response? An automated order fulfillment email from the manufacturer. I received nothing from the distributor who fulfilled the sale or the salesperson. Salespeople – This is a missed opportunity to follow up and learn more about your new customer. It is not me encouraging you to deliver a prefab sales pitch.

The PO Box thing annoys both because my business uses one and because it’s patently stupid to decline to accept them. A fair number of businesses that I’ve interacted with over the years have claimed they can’t accept a PO Box as my company’s official business address.

Their party line is “companies who use a PO Box are more likely to commit fraud and PO Boxes are not secure“.

When I give them my “suite number” at the local UPS Store as my physical business address, I can see how that completely eliminates the possibility of fraud. As for “not secure”, given that a PO Box is in a Federal building under multiple locks and keys, it’s probably less secure than a street-side box that you can drive up to and whack with a ball bat.

Sarcasm aside, this isn’t about PO Boxes. They’re simply a good example of an excuse.

Excuse vs. Reason – What’s the difference?

The words uttered by a salesperson that most frustrate a customer tend to be excuses rather than reasons.

“Your salesperson is out of town till Tuesday” may be true, but it’s an excuse because that absence has nothing to do with order fulfillment/delivery. Fulfillment is a process owned by the business (not the salesperson) and is completed for the customer’s benefit, not the salesperson’s.

Can the salesperson pay attention/follow up to make sure nothing goes wrong? If they’re smart, yes. Should the process be dependent on the salesperson not being out of town? No way.

Some might say that “It’s his order, his relationship, he has to personally handle anything related to the sale in order to earn his commission.”

They’re wrong because they’re worried about the wrong thing. While you may not get the commission from Mary’s sale by helping her client when they call or email, the commission from her sale helps your employer as much as your sales do. Not helping that customer doesn’t hurt Mary, it hurts your employer.

Stop worrying about ownership and commission. Notice that I didn’t say stop worrying about commissions (plural) – I mean stop worrying about each individual one as if they are some combination of birthright and sovereignty.

Worry about the right thing

So what should you worry about? Helping your customers eliminate their worries. Make their lives easier.

Do so and you’ll have more and better customers who stick around. You’ll get more referrals. You might end up training/managing a group and get a commission from their sales. Then you get to focus on training them to take better care of the customer.

Never forget that the reason to make the sale is to get/keep a customer. Not the reverse.

Get customers and ignore them? No. Get, cultivate, care for and keep them.

Feedback and the Great Client

Feedback-wise…

  • A great client is one who asks tough questions incessantly, almost always in a polite manner.
  • A good client is one who asks tough questions regularly, sometimes politely.
  • A bad customer is one who asks poor questions, regardless of how they ask them.

Tough questions are your friend. Theyâ??re like competitors because they make you better. Or at least, they should.

As for those that aren’t yet great? Your job is to help them achieve it.

Customers: Not the enemy

If your customers are treated like the enemy when they give feedback about your products, services, customer service and so on; that’s exactly what they’ll become.

How are you treating your customers when something you did (or something they *perceive* of you) manages to set them off?

It’s easy to take it personally…but do your best not to.

The high-value feedback you might normally miss out on is hiding right behind the bluster.

It’s often the most valuable you’ll get. It’s coming from a customer who cares in a vulnerable moment.

Soak it in. Thank them. And take action.

PS: That doesn’t mean you let people become abusive. Defuse, then discover.

Things you’d never say to a CEO?

Today’s guest post is from Pragmatic Marketing and asks the question…

If you could say one thing to your company president without fear of reprisal, what would you say?

Here are the results.

The question is, what would your folks say to you…and are you big enough to let them do so?

Your customer’s pet peeve

This post discusses one of them: http://totusmel.blogspot.com/2009/07/communicate.html

Inconsistency is a good one, but…yours might be different.

I don’t mean your pet peeve, I mean that thing your business does to irritate your customers. Or those things. Multiple annoyances.

How often do you irritate a customer?

Daily. Hourly. Every other minute. Right now?

How many customers a day do you manage to tick off or at least mildly annoy?

What the heck are you thinking?

There’s a top secret, super-duper method for solving this problem. It takes years to gain the expertise to pull this off…or not.

The secret? Ask them.

They’ll be more than happy to tell you.

If there’s no thermometer, does that mean there’s no fever?

Many people have had their mom, a grandma or someone put their hand on your forehead to detect a fever.

Despite “Doctor Mom” having no digital measuring device in her hand, she can still tell if you’re running a fever.

Maybe she can’t say that the fever is 102.372 Fahrenheit, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t sick.

Measurement matters

Many times we’ve talked here about the importance of measuring results, whether they are marketing, operational, people or otherwise.  I’ve told you NOT to guess about the results of testing an ad’s (or a media’s) performance.

That’s all well and good when it works.

When the ad doesn’t work, no measurement is needed.

The phone doesn’t ring. The email doesn’t fill up. The website e-commerce store doesn’t jingle with new orders. In the case of mom and the feverish forehead, her hand never gets close enough the feel the heat.

Trouble is, you’re still sick.

Feedback works the same way

The same goes when you aren’t getting feedback from your customers. If you aren’t, or if it’s all the same – you really need to look hard at the reasons for that.

Have you ignored their feedback in the past?

If so, the lack of quality feedback (or *any* feedback) at this time might not be the good sign for your products and services. It might mean that they just don’t think there’s any reason to bother telling you anything.

Or it might mean they don’t care anymore.

Often it can mean that there is an operational or logical problem in your feedback gathering, response *and* (this is the critical one) follow-up processes.

Taking a pulse

If I went down through your customer list, could you and your staff recall your last interaction with a reasonable number of them? Could they tell me which ones are difficult / challenging and which ones are lovely or fun to work with?

Could they relate with any accuracy the last communication they had with them?

Is there a pulse? You’d better know, without putting your fingers on your business’ carotid.

Is this why some artists (and others) are starving?

Family Values - Italian tragedy style
Creative Commons License photo credit: eliazar

Over at The Online Photographer, there’s an ongoing discussion about a photographer who is experimenting (good for him) with a mechanism to do what some artists never manage to do – trade their art for someone else’s cash and have both people happy with the exchange.

Because his experiment is a little unusual for the art world, it has generated a substantial discussion.

I was pleased to see that the experimenter had taken the time to do some research, consult with pricing experts and find out what impact minute changes in pricing might have on his results.

Many people wouldn’t likely have bothered with that level of effort.

What I didn’t find the least bit interesting or surprising about the ensuing discussion was the number of people with a litany of excuses (they called them ‘reasons’) why this experiment wouldn’t work.

If you are “leaning into the fear” (thanks to Perry Marshall for that gem) and trying something new, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone – probably someone who has NEVER leaned into their own fear – will find a page full of ‘reasons’ why your effort won’t work and why you should just go back to that job at Wally World and keep on doing that thing (whatever it is) as a hobby in your spare time.

You know, “Be realistic”.

Don’t roll your eyes

A little advice: Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t argue with them. Don’t try to justify your efforts to them.

Just say “Yeah, you’re probably right, I dunno what I was thinking” (or similar).

It’ll shut them up (since you appear to have acknowledged they’re right) or allow them to move on to their next topic, and you can move on with your project (and perhaps with the process of proving them dead wrong).

Feedback is valuable.

Unless it’s toxic (you should be able to tell the difference), it’s easy to discard. Sometimes you might even hear feedback that helps you toward your goal. A dime’s worth of serious value out of $5 worth of advice is still a dime you can spend to move a project forward, so long as you give them change with that “you might be right” comment.

Smoke em if you got em

Some time ago, it was suggested that my move to Montana would last no more than 6 months and that I’d soon be back in my old location with my tail between my legs.

That was 10 years ago. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Artist or otherwise, you can do that big, supposedly audacious thing too, whatever it might be.

Why Gary Vaynerchuk watches and listens. What about you?

Today’s guest post comes from WineLibraryTV’s Gary Vaynerchuk, the gregarious crown prince of online wine merchants.

Today, Gary talks about what he does with feedback – of all kinds – both the kind he agrees with, and the kind he doesn’t – and why both have their place.

How do you handle public criticism like Gary discussed?

How does your staff handle it?

Training….

And finally, do you even know when someone is talking about your business online?