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Stop Discouraging Customers From Sharing Their Feedback

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David Lee

If you want to stop giving "good" customer service and join the ranks of the "elite", you must learn how to make it safe and welcoming for customers to give you feedback.

If you don’t, you’ll never hear about those little annoying Moments of Truth that alienate your customers.

They won’t tell you because they, like most of us, don’t enjoy confrontation. Most of us also don’t want to appear picky or petty, so we grin and bear the little inconveniences or sources of friction that make our customer experience less than perfect.

Although they seem small enough that we would feel picky or petty if we brought them up, they are big enough to detract from our experience. For instance, think of how many times you’ve been inconvenienced and the service person doesn’t bother to apologize, and how off-putting that is.

You probably didn’t say anything about their lack of courtesy, if you’re like most of us. It would feel rather awkward to say "You know, it would be nice if you apologized."

So instead, how do most customers respond to this failed Moment of Truth? They say nothing and go away annoyed or they make a sarcastic comment that communicates displeasure but doesn’t feel as vulnerable as saying as "You know, it would be nice if you apologized." It also doesn’t provide the business with any useful feedback.

That kind of guarded interaction leaves the customer service person thinking "What an obnoxious customer" with no clue about how the customer’s behavior was triggered by his or her own actions.

Lower the Threshold For Speaking Up

The antidote to customers not giving you important feedback is to lower the threshold they mentally have to cross before they decide they’ll speak up. By lowering the threshold, you don’t require customers to get to the "I’ve had enough and I’m not going to take it anymore!" point before they speak up.

By lowering the threshold, you capture many of those little alienating Moments of Truth that you would never hear about otherwise, thus enabling you to remove the aspects of your service experience that prevent it from being a brand-building "Wow!" experience.

Here’s an example of a business that does this well:

While on a business trip through upstate New York back in the 90s, I stopped at the Blue Dolphin restaurant for dinner. On the front of the menu was the following (this is not verbatim, but a close approximation):

"We want you to be totally happy with your meal at the Blue Dolphin, whether you’re a local who might come back again and again, or a tourist traveling through. We want you to be nothing less than 100% pleased. So… if there is anything that you’re not happy about, please let your server know and we’ll do whatever it takes to make you happy."

Now, think of how different this is from the typical restaurant experience. If the server even bothers to ask you if everything is alright, it’s usually asked in a robotic manner – a la "Have a nice day."

If you do have the nerve to say something like "Well, actually… my meal tastes really bad" or some other criticism, they rarely thank you for sharing. Instead, you get a befuddled "Oh, I’m sorry…" or a facial expression and voice tone that says "Why are you ruining my day by being so negative?" A couple of these experiences and you learn that the only correct response to the "How was everything?" question is "Fine" or "Great"…even when it is not.

We quickly learn that giving honest feedback isn’t welcomed. So we don’t bother, unless … we cross that threshold and the food is so horrible or the service so bad, we don’t care what the server or anyone else thinks. We’re going to speak our mind.

If it’s only feedback on egregious failings that businesses receive, they lose critical information that could help them upgrade the customer experience they deliver.

But at the Blue Dolphin, you realize your feedback is welcome. Thus, you’re more likely to give them input on even little things that could help them improve. Instead of feeling like you’re a bother or a whiner about mentioning some small annoyance or inconvenience, you see yourself almost as a consultant providing a service.

Don’t you think the Blue Dolphin’s welcoming approach to feedback gets them a lot more useful feedback than most businesses do?

Think of the incredible number of valuable customer insights you are missing out on because your customers are not comfortable speaking up.

Stop losing out on this by making it safe for your customers, and potential customers, to give you the feedback you need to go from "good" to "elite level" customer service.

Action Steps

Here’s how you can put this to use:

  1. Come up with a script your staff can use as a framework to ask customers for feedback at the end of their interactions. So for instance: "Mrs. Smith…we’re always looking for feedback on how we can make our service even better. That means removing any little annoyances that take away from our customers having a great experience or adding things that can make it even more positive. Do you have any suggestions for me personally or for us as a company?"
  2. Put your version of the Blue Dolphin’s "We Want Your Feedback Manifesto" everywhere your customers interact with you.
  3. Share stories about customer feedback that helped you provide even better service, and how much you appreciated getting the feedback. Put these on your website, in your store, and anywhere you interact with the marketplace. Help people see that you really do mean it when you say "We really want your feedback….even about the little things."