Feedback, should we use it?

Our dreams for our organizations, products, and services go long into the future.  Whether or not we get there depends in large part on what we do with feedback.  Being around for the long haul means we must, as my dad would say, continually meet or exceed our customers’ expectations.  The last thing we want to do is over-promise and under-deliver.  Nothing is more aggravating to customers than feeling like they were not told the whole truth (be it about costs, timelines, quality, etc.).

The reality is that with the expansion of globalization and development of technology, today’s environment has become increasingly volatile, ambiguous, changing and uncertain (VACU) as George Ritzer and Paul Dean put it in their book, Globalization.  This means that innovation becomes critical for anyone seeking to meet or exceed their customers’ expectations into the future.  Why?  Beyond increased competition and changing markets, technology and globalization heavily impact our customers’ preferences, wants, and needs.

Here’s where feedback is crucial, but not just any feedback.  Generally speaking, feedback from our customers provides great insights into which direction we should look for future innovations.  But not all feedback is equal.  Feedback, especially complaints, needs to be evaluated to determine its validity and potential for successful innovation.  This is especially true of very specific feedback offered by one customer.  Extreme caution should be taken not to make generalities about all your customers based specific feedback offered by only one customer.  This is even more true if this feedback was unsolicited.  How many times have you heard (or said) “Everyone wants to do it this way…” when it reality, only one person expressed their opinion about moving in that direction?  Unsolicited feedback is usually about the person offering it, not about them wanting to actually be helpful to you.

So, what do we do with ‘constructive feedback’ (aka complaints) from customers?  In his book Thinkertoys, Michael Michalko suggested that complaints be grouped together with similar suggestions, thereby highlighting major areas of customer critique.  If there are a number of similar complaints, they need to be considered first as they have a higher likelihood of impacting more of our customers.  If you have a number of one-off complaints, sift through them quickly to see if any of them offer insight for additional innovative improvements that could impact a significant number of customers.  Sometimes one-offs can offer breakthrough ideas, so don’t dismiss them, but do sift through them quickly since at the onset they do not impact the majority of your customers. 

Once feedback has been categorized, weigh the solutions for meeting or exceeding your customers’ expectations into the future.  Need help determining which problems are actually worthy of solving?  Michalko suggested a filtering process wherein the direct and indirect benefits of implementing a solution are weighed against the energy, time and financial costs of discovering solutions.

Should we use feedback? Absolutely! But not all feedback is useful. Make sure to use it wisely.