William Tincup, HR Examiner Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

William Tincup, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

No one would ever argue NOT to listen to customers. But sometimes it’s appropriate to change the volume on customer feedback.

I started thinking about this a few weeks back when a client asked me about features they were considering adding/pruning.  My response was to ask what the customers thought. Typical response, right?  But, the client said customers only care about the stuff that matters to them. Customers care about trees NOT the forest.  But companies mostly care about the forest . So, they downplay certain types of customer feedback.

Interesting.

Feedback… seems like a good thing, right?  Well, years ago I built a model for personal feedback… a 2×2… because I’m that guy.

On one axis, I have “direction,” and one axis I have “type.”  With direction, feedback can only happen in either a solicited or unsolicited way.  Meaning, I asked for it or I didn’t.  Period.

For “type,” it’s been my experience that feedback is either positive or negative. So overlay those four potential conditions.  The best of all worlds is solicited positive feedback. The worst feedback is unsolicited negative feedback.  Read: someone might get punched in the throat feedback.

That’s how I triage personal feedback. The source matters not to me.  My mom, my wife, a client, someone on Twitter, the random dude at Whole Foods, etc.  All personal feedback goes through the Tincup Feedback Machine.

But, building a model for interacting with customer/client feedback needs to go deeper. We need to ask a few more questions… for instance:

  1. How often should we gather feedback from customers?
  2. What do we really want to know from customers?
  3. Where should we gather feedback from customers?

With 1 – how often—figure out when we’ve reached a diminished return on feedback?  Occasionally, I tell clients to mainline feedback.  Drug references are funny.  But I usually say this because they aren’t listening to customers at all.  I also don’t think you should listen all the time to every single customer about every single thing.  Find the right volume.

With 2—what do we want to know– do we want happy thoughts that make us feel better, or do we want the hard hitting shit that confounds us?  What type of content really suits our needs?  And back to the forest / trees metaphor… can customers really ever think of our interest above their own?  Really?

With 3—where to get feedback– we have several different touch points with customers… sales, marketing, implementation, support, etc.  Where in the process is feedback more (or less) important?  It’s too damn easy to say that we care about it all. But it’s too noisy  to get it all. We just shut down and don’t listen to any of it. Figure out which touch points are the best to get feedback. Then make sure you are asking the right questions.

When you have feedback, how does the organization process feedback?  How does customer feedback fit with our values or rituals.  Do we share the positive shit and hide the negative shit?  Is that who we are?  How do we build a healthy culture that can withstand both positive feedback as well as constructive criticism?

We try to impress a lot of folks in a lot of ways… but our customers and clients know us best.  Period.  They know where we’re good and where we suck.  It’s important to listen to our customers. But it is also important to know where the intersection of feedback and diminished return lies.