Let me put a question to you. If you buy something – a product or a service – which you subsequently decide wasn’t up to your expectations – do you go back to the manufacturer or supplier and give them unsolicited feedback on how to make it better for you? I don’t, I vote with my feet. I think it is the supplier’s responsibility to find out how well they are doing. If they don’t why should I take the trouble to tell them? It’s their loss after all.
I know we live in an age of reviews and many people clearly do take the trouble to share their opinions. There is a distinction to be made though, between a review directed largely to a third-party audience, such as other consumers, and constructive feedback in the interests of the supplier. There is much discussion in business groups about the lack of control companies have over bad reviews but I think this distinction gives back some control to the supplier. If a) it is not the customers’ responsibility to offer feedback about products or services and b) there is a risk of unconstructive public criticism – then use a) to counter b).
Don’t be passive
You can’t stop people from writing negative reviews, whether they are ill-considered, plain malicious or even true! If you try it backfires, you look petty and manipulative – remember the backlash in the press about an hotelier who fined a customer for criticising. Instead of being concerned about things that are outside your control, focus on things you can control. Don’t wait for bad things to be said and then try to offset them. Take preventative action.
Take the lead by asking up front for constructive feedback, in a structured way, and publish it as the pre-emptive counterweight to anything that might end up in the public domain.
- Take a regular, systematic approach to proactively asking your customers what they think.
- Devise a questionnaire so that everyone answers the same questions.
- Publish the statistics and feedback you get. If you can say that 8 out of 10 cats like what you are doing, it pre-empts the potential 2 negative opinions that escape.
- Be honest about shortcomings but say what you are doing to make improvements in these areas.
Continual improvement is one of those phrases that means everything and nothing. It crops up in many areas – quality management has the Deming cycle (plan, do, check, act) and IT service management has CSI (continual service improvement, not crime scene investigation, although now that I think about it … :)). In practical terms, very broadly it is about taking responsibility for understanding what we do well, and what we do not so well, and using that understanding to adjust and refine our services and products, in tune with customer needs. If you are seen by your customers to face the truth they will respect your efforts and are more likely to remember that no one is perfect. All any of us can do is strive for perfection. But please don’t expect to reach it; it’s not called continual improvement for nothing!