Before I share what this most crucial and basic mistake is, I need to build some credibility here. What gives me the right to point this out? As a management professional for more than a decade and now an entrepreneur, I have seen this problem in big corporate giants, in startups and as a mentor and manager to teams, I recognize this in people. Heck, I recognize this in myself too.
The critical thing that individuals and companies ignore to their detriment — that thing is “Feedback”
Whatsoever be the guiding philosophy of your life, whatever be your belief system, it is widely accepted that your ultimate goal in this human avatar is “improvement” . Be it the enhancement of worldly treasures or an “upgradation” of your soul, for improvement of any sort to happen, you need to compare the direction in which you are going to the ultimate goal — just in case you derail. Feedback mechanisms fulfills this purpose in your life.
While Feedback mechanisms are most critical for your personal growth — unless of course, you are on a hedonistic path — what is explored here is the Feedback mechanism within an organizational framework.
The feedback culture within an organization
There are two areas where “feedback” plays a critical role:
- Feedback about the product/service
- Feedback to the employee
You don’t often speak of customer feedback and feedback systems for employee management in the same breath. But I have come to realize that in principle, they are both the same. If the company has the right DNA, it will be getting it right on both the fronts. And both are critical to the growth - you cannot aspire to grow your company by ignoring any one of them.
1. The Importance of customer feedback
The cost of customer acquisition is 5 times higher than retaining a customer. Listening attentively to the feedback is one way to ensure that your customer is happy — and if not, find out how to remedy the situation before you lose their business.
These are some of the popular methods of soliciting feedback.
- Surveys — all it takes is a google form to create a survey. But the challenge often is to get people to respond to these forms. The B2C companies even offer “rewards” for your time to get the consumer’s responses.
- Emails — a personalized mail almost always gets a response compared to a nameless survey. Of course, this is more realistic in a B2B environment
- Ignoring your captive audience — Let’s take an example. Your product is an APP which provides food-delivery service. You have 50 employees. If every single one of your employee is not using your APP frequently, if they are not recommending them aggressively to their friends and family, you can be rest assured that there are problems in your product/service. Putting the team at gunpoint and making them use the product is not the solution. Instead, have a culture and process to identify and capture this “feedback”.
- Usability Testing — You may only have a “Minimum Viable Product” or the equivalent of a feature that you are coming out with. Design may only be 70% complete. Open up the feature for a usability testing. This will give you tremendous feedback about how difficult or easy your product is to use. And it saves you valuable time.
- Customer Interviews — Now this is a tricky one. Because the customer may not always know what they want. David J Bland calls it the “Product Death Cycle” and explained it with this tweet shown below. The solution is then to try and identify the root cause. And this would be best done by a group of senior members including representation from the product, tech and sales teams. And be ready for some honest soul searching.
Given that there are such elaborate mechanism in place to solicit feedback (there are even companies which build products ONLY to help you get better feedback), why do most companies still get it wrong?
- Don’t just sit on the feedback — When there is no clear mandate to the lower rungs of the organization, from the CEO downwards, the feedback just sits around gathering the metaphorical dust. Sometimes the intention to act may be there. But the company is so busy juggling multiple things that feedback and the required corrective actions are relegated to the lowest end of the totem pole. This mostly tends to happen to start-ups in their growth phase
- Close the loop — Yes, when it is a Service Level Agreement captured in writing with penalty clauses written in BOLD, companies usually tend to close the loop. But what happens when it is a feedback provided verbally or via email to your team? What if it’s an innovative idea provided by a teammate? They are usually met with the right platitudes and then lost in the system. There should be a mechanism to capture this and to update the provider of feedback on what is being done about the same. If you cannot act on it at the time, that should also be communicated.
- Responsibility across teams — The term “Customer feedback” immediately takes your attention to the “Customer Service Executives” (CSE). For an organization that has made customer feedback a priority, this responsibility should not be delegated just to the CS team. Your sales team, the operations team, the relationship managers — even your geeky developers who hates human interactions should have this embedded in their DNA to be conscious of feedback .
- Measure the effectiveness — depending on the seriousness of the feedback (read, how angry the customer was), companies tend to provide a “Band-aid” solution. While Band-aids have their merit (we all have had to do it at some point to placate an irate customer), it should not be the end of the story. There should be a process to measure the effectiveness and the customer satisfaction on that solution.
- Transparency — If a particular process improvement is suggested by a junior member in the organization, they may not have the visibility in the system to know what is happening to the suggestion. Perhaps, the company has parked the idea as it is not in line with the bigger organizational goals. If so, this has to be communicated to the team member. This is incredibly important in creating a culture where people feel empowered to give feedback.
- Confirmation Bias — This is the death knell of all feedback processes. You will start to interpret feedback to suit your belief system. This is especially strong in start-up founders as they are so emotionally invested in their idea. So in the earlier example of Food- Delivery APP, even if 49 of the employees do not use the APP regularly do not explain away the behaviour saying that since they stay with parents they get their lunch from home and therefore do not need the APP. If the internal team which perfectly fits the target audience do not use the product, then it is a RED flag and a big one at that.
Panacea to these troubles
As with any relationship, here too, COMMUNICATION is key. Getting customer feedback is not a ritual to be done at the time of renewal(for B2B cos) or new product launches (for B2C cos).
Actively seeking feedback should be the mantra of any company that do not want to be extinct in an environment where shelf life and attention span of the users are eerily on the lower side.
Perhaps another UTOPIAN idea could be the creation of a “Chief Feedback Officer” whose responsibilities could be:
- To ensure that collecting “feedback” is not a one-off activity but a continuous process for the life-cycle of a product or service .Here you need to first define what the life-cycle of a product is — Often startups do very well in the first stage where the focus is on generating the 1st One Crore in revenue. The hunting may good but not so much on the farming side.
- To ensure that all feedback is captured and shared with concerned people — to build accountability.
- To ensure that the important ones get the due attention it needs ( the C”F”O needs to be knowledgeable and matured enough to test the relevance of the feedback itself)
- To ensure corrective actions are implemented — this includes assigning ownership to the respective teams and follow through to see the tasks are completed
- To ensure further measurement is done to test the effectiveness of the above action
- To do further corrections if desired results are not achieved
There are few, if any, in the world of business who has not heard of Sir Richard Branson. In addition to his quirkiness and phenomenal success as an entrepreneur, the businesses led by him epitomizes Customer Satisfaction. In his own words,
“ Your education really begins on the day that you open the doors to customers.”
This should be a mantra for all business owners to live by.
Part II — The critical thing that individuals and companies ignore — to their detriment ( to follow soon)
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