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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Lessons In Team

I watched a rerun of the first season of MasterChef US last night. It’s a TV game show contest for amateur cooks to win the MasterChef title and a $100,000 prize. I already knew who would win the competition, yet it was interesting to watch the episodes that I missed.

In last night’s episode, the remaining ten contestants are divided into two groups, blue and red. Each must prepare burgers for 100 hungry truckers. The winner of the challenge would be the team with the most votes for best burger from the truckers.

The blue team was led by the winner of an earlier challenge, and he picked best people to be his team members. The red team comprised of who were left.

As expected, the blue team had a very good start. They were well organized. Everyone knew what to do, and there was a clear sense of direction. When the first truckers arrived, they were all set and ready to serve the burgers.

The red team were at first a mess. They made a mistake of mixing blue cheese into the patty, and the cheese melted right into the hot grill. They basically ruined their first batch. But they quickly adapted their strategy. They made a new batch of burgers with all the tastiest ingredients thrown into it: meat, pork bacon, barbecue sauce, and cheese. They even put double meat patties when ordered.

The tide turned to the red team’s favor with votes for their burger adding up fast, and soon they were leading the tally. The judges came to the blue team with the red team’s burger and told them to taste it, and to adjust their recipe to match. But the blue team leader adamantly refused, saying that the red team’s burger was disgusting, and the blue team’s burger was better.

The truckers however, disagreed. In a short time later, 51 of them voted for the red team, making them the winner of the challenge.

Here are the interesting lessons:

(1) Do what is best for situation at hand, not what can serve your ego. The judges said that the chefs should think like a restaurant owners and serve what the customers wanted: gourmet burger, or simply the tastiest and satisfying burger. The greatest mistake would be to putting your ego first by serving gourmet meal for a non-discriminating crowd who are just looking to satisfy their hunger. The red team was able to discern this, and won the challenge.

(2) It is not shameful to admit that we are running the wrong strategy, and adjust necessarily. It’s better to be a humble winner than an arrogant loser. This was the blue team’s mistake. They were so confident that their burger was the best, they refused to accept the fact.

(3) Sometimes starting wrongly doesn’t mean that all is lost. As long as we can keep our spirit up, make improvements, and focus on getting better results, there is always hope that we can finish proudly.

(4) Never underestimate your team members, although they may not be considered as the best. What matter are:
A. Strong leadership with clear focus and ability to make quick decision
B. Spirit of camaraderie. Team of underdogs with excellent L’esprit de corps can still put up a relentless fight. A “Dream Team” can turn out to be a “Nightmare Team” if its members are more interested in assigning blame and defending ego.

Let’s go team!

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How To Handle Rumors

What would you do if you heard that a rumour about you has been spreading? What would you do if you heard that 100 people have heard the rumor? What if 1.000 people heard it? 1.000.000 people? 10.000.000 people? A continent’s worth of people?

Just recently a rumor has been circulating that Facebook is shutting down because its founder Mark Zuckerberg is tired running it. He doesn’t care about the USD 50 billion value of the social network website, not to mention the 500 million that Goldman-Sachs has just poured into Facebook, and he just wants his life back.

I got online and went to Facebook.com to see if they have issued a statement regarding the rumor. When I got there, I was puzzled. I expected a big announcement, or a banner, or at least a box containing a big title, “FACEBOOK IS NOT CLOSING” with link to the lengthy and detailed document rebutting the rumor.

There was no formal announcement. All I found was this:

Just another status on the wall. They didn’t make a big deal out of it.

This wasn’t the first rumor about Facebook. A while back, Facebook was said to go fully commercial and it would collect fees from its users.  Another rumor said that it was closing down because its servers could not cope with the millions of users that used it every day. It was also said that Facebook used photos and data of its users for its advertising without consent from the owners. All of them proved to be untrue.

Hence, the nonchalant attitude. Facebook treated the rumor just like any other rumor it had faced in the past. They did not worry about it, instead they kept working as usual.

There is a good saying that goes, “If you want rainbow, you have to put up with the rain.” If you want success, you will face rumors and bad mouthings. With over 500 million users, and its recently beating Google to earn the title as the most visited site in the US in 2010, it is just natural that Facebook became a magnet for rumors and envy.

It will be difficult to expect that you can achieve success without making some people envious. When it happens to you, just remember to keep working as usual. You have somewhere better to go and something more important to do than to brood over the untrue rumors about you.

Beautiful Place of Work

During one of today’s sessions in our management meeting, we discussed how difficult it was to find the right candidate for a job opening. Some vacancy gets a mob of applicants, while some others attract nobody. But at the end of the day, both kind of vacancies return the same fruitless result.

People who applied for what seemed to be the favorite opening happened to be not the kind of candidates that we are looking for. “We have posted the same vacancy five times, and still we got nothing,” a colleague said. Even the best known recruitment website does not guarantee satisfactory results.

It seems that good talents are so rare today, we have to pry one out of the clenched fingers of another company. And getting a good candidate is just half the battle. The rest remains in keeping the good people in. Some are just eager to find another job, after spending only a few months (in some cases, a few days) with us.

To win the battle in the tight talent market today, value proposition of a company plays an important part. What can people get from joining an organization?

Any working relationship between an organization and its people can actually be reduced to a simple economic transaction between time and compensation. What do people get for the time they give to a company?

The most obvious answer would be money. This is the most common transaction in our everyday lives. We pay for everything with money, either it’s the money that we have now (paying with cash), or the money that we believe we will earn later (paying with credit). A company may pay salaries to its employees in front (cash), or at the end of the month (credit) for their services.

These days, money is only part of a compensation. A company may also pay for the time of its people in benefits. This can take in many forms, but basically, it’s very much like a barter transaction, in which a good or service is paid with another good or service. For the time the employees render to the company, in turn they get a certain number of days a year in which they will get paid without having to work.

What comprises a value proposition of a company is a combination of both compensation and benefit. Those are usually stipulated in the employment contract.

The funny thing with people is that many times, things are not as plain as they seem. Yes, people work to earn a living, for those compensation and benefits written in their employment contract. But on top of that, there are other unwritten reasons that may keep some people working in one place for years.

This is where the concept of value proposition in a workplace gets murky.

Regardless of what a company can offer to its employees, those things are never a guarantee of loyalty. The choice to stay or to leave is always in the hands of each person, not in the management’s. Value proposition is therefore not much different from beauty: it is always in the eyes of the beholder.

And the funny thing about a company is, no matter how big or powerful it is, it will always be a collective of people. Whether a company is beautiful and attractive, or whether it is ugly and repulsive, all rests in what the job applicants see in its people.

It is therefore logical to say that the only value proposition a company has, or the only thing that makes a company different, whether in a good or bad sense of the word, is its people.

To quote Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, when he explains about the success of his company, “Obviously you can buy the airplanes, and you can lease ticket counter space, and you can buy computers; but the intangible things – the esprit de corps – is the hardest thing for people to imitate.”

So what does this mean to us? We may need to follow Southwest’s example: creating an esprit-de-corps that makes people falling in love with us and dying to join our company.

Like The Little Brother I Never Had

My Mom likes to tell and retell the story of how my Dad got into the business of owning a Dale Carnegie Training® franchise. And the story always starts with me.

It was in the beginning of 1976. Jakarta had just experienced a heavy rainy season, and some part of the city was flooded. I was just 6 months old at that time. Somehow I contracted a severe case of diarrhea, and was so dehydrated that (in my Mother’s words) my eyes were turning inside out.

The doctor immediately sent me to the hospital. I cried my eyes out most of the time, and wouldn’t want to be left alone. My Aunt had to stay with me at nights so my Mom could go home and get some rest.

During that time my Dad already resigned from his job at an established government owned construction company, and started his own consulting business. Aside from doing consultation for engineering projects, my Dad had also started to do seminars and trainings. It was something that was practically unheard of in Indonesia at that time.

A Dale Carnegie Course® sponsor from Hawaii had his eyes set on Indonesia. He wanted to start an operation in the country. He already bought the territorial rights from Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc. But he needed a local partner whom he could trust to market the courses in Indonesia. He was looking for someone who was already familiar in running seminars and trainings. And when he began asking around, he got one name as a potential partner: my Dad’s name.

My Mom said that I was still in the hospital when Dad received the letter, asking him to be the partner to run a Dale Carnegie Course® class in Jakarta. My Dad readily accepted the request, and quickly went to action. In a short time, he managed to gather a class of about 42 participants for the very first class of Dale Carnegie Course® in Jakarta.

Since that first class in 1976, there has been nearly 900 more classes of the now locally called the Dale Carnegie® Fundamental Leadership Program. My Dad later took licenses to be a trainer himself, and eventually took over the sponsorship (or franchise) of Dale Carnegie Training® in Indonesia in 1985.

The Dale Carnegie® business is more than just a business. It’s like part of our family, and part of our lives. I believe it is the only business that my Dad ran in which he involved his entire family. For his other businesses, Dad would only recruit my Mom to take care of finances, and my uncles to be consultants. But for Dale Carnegie®, all of us were in it.

Mom and Dad took the Dale Carnegie Course® as members of the first class, along with two of my uncles. Later, there were nights in my childhood where all of us would gather in the living room, talking and preparing name tags for the upcoming classes. As we grew up, Dad would took my brothers to be his assistant when he was teaching night classes. And eventually, my brothers and myself became graduates of the program.

In retrospect, I cannot help thinking that the Dale Carnegie Training® is very much like my little brother. And right now, what me and my family are doing is basically helping this little brother to grow.

There were times in my career when I felt like I wanted to pursue something else, but I just couldn’t find the heart to leave this little brother.

I can see that one day in the future, this little brother will no longer need my help. He will be able to walk on his own. Until that time comes, I have a lot to do in caring of him.

Dreaming Mr. Dale Carnegie’s Dream

When I was in my early twenties, living a dream life was not something that I was much concerned. I was pretty much content with the life that I led then. I had a job. I had friends with whom I could hang out and enjoy the fruit of my work (in other words, spend money). It was great.

Then I was introduced to a group of extraordinary people. They have only one thing in their mind: achieving their dreams.

They have a particular system through which a person can build a network of product distribution to reach a level of ‘financial independence’. On that level, one is no longer dependent on a job to earn income. Once the distribution channel is in place, and goods start to flow through that channel, the person will earn a steady flow of comission-based income.

The person, who is in their lingo is called an ‘Independence Business Owner’ can literally ‘live’ his dreams on that stage. No more waking up early every day to beat the traffic to the office. No more bosses. No limit on what he wants to do on his next holiday. No problem in getting the big house with a swimming pool and 6-car garage (and the 6 cars to fill the garage, too).

It was a fun ride for a while. Then I realized that it was not the only way to realizing a dream. It depends mostly on what kind of dream that you have.

But ever since that stint in the network marketing business, I got used to the idea that dreams are not just to fill an idle afternoon. Dreams are supposed to be materialized. A dream comes to a person’s mind when it is time for that dream to come into being.

When it comes to dreaming, my first reflection is a carefree, comfortable, productive life. I dream of living in a beautiful house, in a quiet and affluent neighborhood. I dream of working from home. I dream of working not to make money, but to do my passion. I dream of helping less fortunate people to have better life and education. And so on. I can fill a book writing down all my dreams.

I dream of living my life having things, doing things. Too many things, in fact.

I remember the story of Mr. Dale Carnegie, the founder of Dale Carnegie Training. He spent years of his life trying to be successful as an actor. He was already doing an impressive job as a salesman for a meat company when he decided to quit, and use the money he saved to take a course in dramatic arts. He ended up applying his acting skills in a role in a traveling theatre troupe. Not like what he had dreamed of.

He ended up back in New York trying to make a living as a truck salesman. Yes he was an excellent meat salesman thanks to his upbringing in a farm back in Missouri. But selling trucks was a whole different game. And he didn’t like trucks, at all.

He wrote in his book that during that time, every night he went back from work to his small, cramped, roach infested room with a pounding pain in his head. He was so sick of it. He wanted to do something else, something that he would enjoy doing. He knew that he had nothing to lose but a job that he hated anyway.

Then he focused on his most basic dream in life. It was to have a teaching job at night so he can have the day for reading and writing.

From there, he thought of all the practical things he could do to make his dream come true. He found one thing he was sure would be beneficial for adults to learn. He convinced YMCA to let him do a night time public speaking course, and he agreed to be paid percentage of the profit. Then he worked hard to make sure that the public speaking class was successful.

Thus the abridged story of the birth of Dale Carnegie Training in 1912, the oldest business-oriented training organization in the world, which has since helped over 8 million people in over 80 countries around the world achieve business and personal results.

I kept thinking about that story, and I could not help being marveled at how apt it was to my condition now. No, I’m not saying that I am some sort of Carnegie-incarnate. It’s just I’ve been feeling like I am at a crossroad.

Remember all the things that I want to have and do? I should decide now which one I want to achieve first. Like in Mr. Carnegie’s case, I must find my simplest, most basic dream, the one that can be the corner stone for the rest of my dreams.

Right now my original dream is this: To have sufficient source of living that enables me to work for my passion without worrying about making money.

From there I must know the answer to the following questions:
1. What is my passion? What is the one thing that I am willing to do without getting paid?
2. If I don’t get paid for doing my passion, what will be my source of income?

To tell you the truth, it is the answer to the first question that is still elusive. The reason for that, believe it or not, is that there are several things that I would gladly do without getting economic compensation. In fact, everything that I’m good at I am willing to do for free. A problem arises when I am required to pick just one.

Perhaps, like Mr. Carnegie did, I should be more pragmatic and practical, and reverse the question. It is no longer about identifying things that I’m willing to do for nothing. Instead, from all those things, I must pick one of them that will yield the most benefit, and therefore people will be more willing to spend money on.

This is critical not only because it will be the most profitable skills to develop. It will also be the best use of time.

With that criterion in mind, I came to the conclusion that teaching, training and coaching skills are ones that people will find to have more practical values compared to my artistic interests.

Luckily, I have a less vague idea for the second question. I found a strong answer for this during my network marketing days. Day in day out we were reminded to build the distribution channel into a sustainable business, which in turn will replace our jobs as our livelihood.

I used to think that I have to build a business from scratch to achieve that. Now, I see my job in my company as a business building activity that will someday enable me to let go of my day job.*

The first time I read Mr. Carnegie’s words, I said to myself, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to spend the whole day just doing things you like?”

It never occured to me that I will have the opportunity to make the same choice.

*(Some of you are probably raising your eyebrows. What do I mean by my job is a business building activity? This is something I picked up from Cliff Hakim’s excellent book “We Are All Self Employed.” In essence, we are our own boss. Whatever job we do now is actually just a learning opportunity where we are trained in a trade, that may someday be useful should we decide to start our own business.)

Being a Dale Carnegie Trainer

A few days ago, I received a message in my LinkedIn inbox from another user of the professional networking site. When I took the time to write down my answer, I found it to be very profound and thought provoking to me as a Dale Carnegie trainer. Here is the question and the answer. Parts marked by [ ] are comments I added for the benefit of the readers of this post. I express many thanks to Ms. Preeyaa Gandhi for her enlightening question.

Dear Mr. Siregar,

I am one of the big admirers of Dale Carnegie and Dale Carnegie Training. I came across your profile while browsing DC Global Graduates. Wow! you got a quite impressive profile- vast and in depth experience from DC Training. I know you would be extremely busy but I would greatly appreciate your insight into DC Trainer experience.

Looking forward to hear from you.

Thanks,
Priya

(There are interim responses between us, but for the sake of brevity, I chose to omit them from this post.)

Dear Ms. Gandhi,

A long time ago, way before I became a trainer, I heard one Dale Carnegie trainer marveled at how advanced Mr. Carnegie thinking was in his life time. I didn’t take much notice of that by then. Now that I have been a trainer, I cannot help but to realize how true the statement is, even for today.

If you have read Mr. Carnegie’s biography (part of it can be read in a booklet called “The Little Known Secret of Success”), you would know that one challenge that Mr. Carnegie faced when he first started [a public speaking class with YMCA in 1912, the predecessor of] what is now known as Dale Carnegie Course was , how to come up with immediate results for his class members.

[The deal with YMCA was that he could only earn part of the weekly proceed of the course. If he wanted to keep earning money, he must make sure that his students returned the next week. If they felt they didn’t get anything from the course, they certainly wouldn’t be back.] It was one question that led Mr. Carnegie to the discovery of the teaching techniques that we use today.

Even today, as the world becomes more and more advanced in technology, [and quick results are becoming the norm rather than an exception] the same rule applies. Dale Carnegie trainers must come up with immediate results for our customers, or else. This forces us to think deeply about our customers, about THEIR challenges, about THEIR needs, so we can make our programs relevant to THEM, and so we can come up with immediate results for THEM.

And working in Dale Carnegie means that the same rule applies to my job as well. How can I bring immediate results to my team? How can I make everything as practical as possible so that everyone can immediately benefit from my ideas? How can I help my team to immediately generates higher performance?

In essence, what I learned from my job in Dale Carnegie Training is:
– To put others first
– To come up with ways to help others get results, immediately.

I think that’s what I can share.

Thank you for your interest, Ms. Gandhi. I hope this will help.

Regards,

Stephen