Keeping Customer Feedback System from Backfiring

Customer Feedback is Good Source of Ideas for Improvements
Last night my wife and I went to a sushi restaurant for dinner. We chose a sushi place that is quite popular, located near the business district of the city.

It was a busy evening, and we had to wait a few minutes before we could get two seats in the non-smoking sections. Not unusual for a well-known eatery, so we didn’t mind the wait. We even put it to use by perusing the colorful and illustrated menu.

After a small mishap, where the waiter took us to our seats when those were not ready, we were finally seated. We placed our order, and not long after, the waiter returned with the food.

The food was good and fresh, the wasabi was strong, the service was OK. In general, we didn’t have anything to complaint, save for a fly that alighted on one of the dishes. In Jakarta, it wasn’t a big deal.

We found a customer feedback card on the table. Hoping to get special offers from the restaurant for customers who would give feedbacks, we decided to fill it out.

We paid our check, handed the feedback card to our waiter, and headed for the door.

My attention was drawn to the way the waiter reacted when she received the card. It was like she was getting a bad news. She lost her smile, and her face turned from friendly into concerned. She then went to the bar, gave the card to someone, and whispered something. I could not see how the other person react because I already passed the bar.

It was strange for me. I could only deduce that in that restaurant, feedback cards are synonymous to complaints, and any waiter who gets a card from a customer will be reprimanded.

Purpose of Customer Feedback
A feedback card is created to enable direct communication between customers to management. A feedback relayed through employees may be filtered or watered down, so that when it reached management, it won’t be true to what the customer wants to say.

It is a good source of information on how a company or organization can improve its customer service. It’s like checking for tiny punctures in a tire by putting it into a tub of water and looking for air bubbles: a feedback card helps company to quickly pinpoint weak spots in its service. It can also help company to identify good practices done by its employees that can be standardized throughout the organization.

Like any other monitoring tools, the effectiveness of feedback cards rely heavily on the attitude of the people using it. There are at least three parties involved:
(1) The customer as the source of feedback. The effectiveness of feedback is affected by the motivation behind it. Do customers write it as expression of satisfaction, dissatisfaction with expectation for improvement, or as a mean of getting back at employees whom they don’t like?
(2) The employees whose service may be the subject of the feedback. There may be among employees fear of getting bad-mouthed by customers. This fear may be even stronger when management tends to react strongly to negative feedback.
(3) The management as the recipient of the feedback. If management uses feedback to assign blames, it will render the feedback system useless. Employees may simply throw feedback cards into the trash bins, regardless of what they actually say.

It is therefore important for management to look at feedbacks in the most objective and supportive way.

Three things to mind when receiving feedbacks:
(A) Management must be able to tell the difference between sensible feedbacks, and poisonous ones, in which customers lash anger at employees who may have been just doing their job under difficult situations. When getting such inputs, management must be able to separate the poison from the cure, the customer’s blind emotion from the true circumstances.

(B) Management must take responsibility to make improvements as the feedbacks suggest. It will do no good to only penalize employees who got bad reviews from customers. Management must see any feedback in a bigger picture than just the mistake of one person. Could it be that there has been insufficient training for the employees? Could there be better way to help employees serve customers better?

(C) Even if after a careful and thorough investigation it is found that a bad feedback is genuinely a result of the mistake of an employee, management must take a wise approach in dealing with the situation. It must be seen as an opportunity for improvement instead as a hanging. The employee should be helped (a) to see how it is his or her responsibility to improve, (b) to know what improvements are expected from him or her, and (c) to see how he or she could achieve the improvements. From here, further feedback from management would be most useful and valuable so the employee could tell whether he or she has hit the target.

Any feedback is always beneficial. But what really matters is what is done about it.

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