Never be frightened of feedback
Monday, May 26, 2008/
Creating a culture where customers feel comfortable giving you feedback will help keep your business customer-focused.
Andy Gove, famous for founding and being the CEO of Intel, was fond of saying: “We can only fix the things we know are not working; we can’t fix those things we don’t know about.”
As a consequence, Intel has had the culture of always getting feedback. While the company likes to hear if it is doing good things (a pat on the back is a great incentive to do better) it is interested in constantly discovering what it can do better. Accordingly, negative as well as positive feedback is welcome.
I have used this philosophy to my advantage on many occasions and these days I say “I welcome criticism; in fact I thrive on it” with the result that clients feel comfortable about telling me things that otherwise would create a feeling of discomfort. People are confident that the communication is great and that they are free to air the issues of concern without offence. The opportunities for improvement that come out of that process are quite considerable.
This brings me to the issue that has prompted this particular article. FEEDBACK! I NEVER GET ANY! The result is that I wouldn’t know whether it is worth writing the article each week or not.
It is not completely accurate to say that I don’t get feedback. Rodney Adler wrote to me recently in response to an article in which I mentioned him, and it was good because he was able to provide me with a different perspective.
However, that is just by way of illustrating a point that I wanted to make. The number of occasions on which I come across businesses that never seek feedback but decide that they know what is best for the customer!
I came across one the other day. Management couldn’t work out why they could never pay a dividend to the shareholders. I knew a bit about the industry in which they were operating and quite a few of the players in the industry. I also knew a little about the expectations held by the customers in the industry.
Guess what? When I ran the ruler over them, we discovered that they had never asked the customer what they wanted, nor had they asked the customer for feedback.
I did a little market research myself and discovered that this firm’s competitors were much more customer-focused and quite a few were constantly getting feedback from their customers and making frequent adjustments to their product offerings while introducing new products that accommodated the feedback they were receiving.
So when we looked at this business we discovered that its resources were massively under-utilised, and the reason was that customers were going to the opposition. It had never sought or encouraged feedback from its customers, with the result it was flying blind.
All sorts of statistics are quoted as to the reasons that businesses fold and most of them have an element of validity, but as Mark Twain is alleged to have said “lies, damned lies and statistics”.
My own view as to the reasons that most businesses go belly up is that they start off because the owner says something to the effect “I have a great idea for you”. The trouble is that when the business goes to market, the customers aren’t convinced that it is a great idea and that a competitor has a better idea.
No attempt is made to get feedback from the customer so the person who starts the business continues on in the belief that the customers are idiots and that they will soon discover the value of the product. Unfortunately, they don’t and the business folds. A little bit of feedback might have saved the day.
Never be frightened of feedback, no matter how negative it might be. There will always be a grain of truth that merits attention. In the end, it is the customer who decides whether your product or service is any good and not the owner or manager of the business. It is always better to find out what the customer thinks rather than to pretend that you know what he or she thinks.
So, go for it; tell your customers that you can only fix the things you know about and get them to tell you about the things they want fixed.
In the meantime, tell me whether there is any point in me continuing to write this stuff. Add your comments to the panel below.
Louis Coutts left law and became a successful entrepreneur. His blog examines the mistakes, follies and strokes of genius that create bigger, better businesses. Click here to find out more.
To read more Louis Coutts blogs, click here .
Aaron McAndrews writes: Your commentary and point of view always inspire me to think.
Jarrod Meerkin writes: Well Louis, you just made me type an email to my 1000 strong database asking “what can I do better?”. Please continue…. I might be lost without you. Louis replies: Jarrod, You have made my day.
Andrew writes: For the record, I read every one of your posts in the past year. I have not only appreciated them, but used a number of the ideas and strategies you have presented over the past six months to help my business and that of my six franchisees. So my customer feedback – well done, keep it coming, and much appreciated.
Les Broadbent writes: Lou, on behalf of all your loyal readers out there, keep writing. Your tips on strategy are gold.
Ted Langfield writes: Keep up writing “this stuff”. I look forward to your column even though now and again I don’t entirely agree with your thoughts.