Don’t make it hard for customers to be heard.
Provide training and tools to employees to document customers voices. Train employees to learn as much as possible from customers. Value the time employees spend listening to customers and learning from them.
Most customers won’t speak up, those that do speak up provide valuable insight. Don’t waste what they offer.
Create a management system focused on continual improvement that is engaged in seeking out customer feedback and continually improving the value provided to customers.
Most organizations do the opposite of this. They make put many barriers in the way of customers speaking to anyone that will listen. They put systems in place to discourage feedback from customers.
Those organizations use surveys of customers that seek to limit customers voices to a few well defined paths that don’t learn from customers at all. How large USA companies design customer surveys.
- Did you think we were great, very good, good or other?
- If you didn’t think we were great which front line employees should we blame?
Sure they word it a little bit differently, but that is close to what I see almost every time I get a survey to complete. And there is no room to explain that the problems are not the fault of front line employees but decisions by the company to waste customers time. A few organizations behave differently. But not many.
Related: Customer delight requires understanding your customers needs and desires – Don’t Ignore Customer Complaints – Customer Focus by Everyone – Stated Versus Revealed Preference – Quality of the Entire Customer Experience
I find Paul Graham’s ideas very useful. I disagree with his recent tweet though.
Update: See note at bottom of the post – Paul tweeted that his original tweet was wrong.
Base your assessment of the merit of an idea on the actual merit of the idea, not the category you place the person in that is expressing the idea.
His reply tweet addresses the problem with the first one in a very specific case. But you have “bugs” that are part of your management system, “policies,” products or services. Few customers will bother to voice those problems. Rather than ignoring some of what you hear, you should evaluate the merit of the complaint.
If the complaint is not something that should be addressed or explored fine. But that has nothing to do with the category of the person (“complainer” or not); it has to do with the merit of the complaint.
I understand some people are annoying because they make lots of meritless complaints. Ignoring the meritless complaints is fine with me. But just as I think ignoring advice because the person giving the advice doesn’t follow it is a bad practice I think having a policy of basing decisions on something other than the merit of the complaint/suggestion is unwise.
This is especially true since organizations on the whole do a lousy job of listening to customers and understanding customer desires. We need to greatly enhance the practice of customer focus not seek to reduce it. Every organization is unique, however, and if customer focus is exceptionally great, I can understand the idea of the tweet: that we are devoted to customer focus and each new insight, but we have taken it too far and need to discriminate better. I still think discriminating based on the merit of the complaint is a better than doing so based on our categorization of the complainer but in that case (which is very rare in organizations) the advice isn’t nearly as bad as it is for most organizations.
Sam Goodner, the CEO of Catapult Systems, wrote about his decision to eliminate the annual performance appraisal.
the most critical flaw of our old process was that the feedback itself was too infrequent and too far removed from the actual behavior to have any measurable impact on employee performance.
I decided to completely eliminate of our annual performance review process and replace it with a real-time performance feedback dashboard.”
I think this is a good move in the right direction. I personally think it is a mistake to make the measures focused on the person. There should be performance dashboards (with in-process and outcome measures) that provide insight into the state of the processes in the company. Let those working in those processes see, in real time, the situation, weaknesses, strengths… and take action as appropriate (short term quick fixes, longer term focus on areas for significant improvement…). It could be the company is doing this, the quick blog post is hardly a comprehensive look at their strategies. It does provide some interesting ideas.
I also worry about making too much of the feedback without an understanding of variation (and the “performance” results attributed to people due merely to variation) and systems thinking. I applaud the leadership to make a change and the creative attempt, I just also worry a bit about how this would work in many organizations. But that is not really what matters. What matters is how it works for their organization, and I certainly believe this could work well in the right organization.
Related: Righter Performance Appraisal – When Performance-related Pay Backfires – The Defect Black Market – articles, books, posts on performance appraisal