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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Pain, Pleasure and the Big Durian

I don’t do it so often, and I felt like I was ready to snap at anyone over the tiniest thing. I wonder how could thousands of people stand that, day in and day out?

I’m talking about driving in Jakarta’s rush hour. There is no rushing in rush hour in Jakarta, or the Big Durian as some call it after the prickly and smelly fruit popular in the South East Asia region. Everyone moves so slowly, it normally takes twice as long to drive the same distance as in normal traffic. That is if you’re lucky. If not, like when it’s raining hard with thunderstorm, then make it three times as long. Or ten times as long if it’s your downtrodden unlucky day, like when there’s a big flooding in the city.

Some calculated that the traffic jams cost the city about 550 million dollars annually. Enough to build about several hundred new school buildings.

So far there is no immediate nor long term solution. The government tried to get car drivers to take public transportation. But it may take years before that could happen.

I am humbly thanking God that I live only 5 minutes away from my office. But even that is not forever.

Time is becoming more and more precious for Jakarta people. You get less and less things done in a day. And the less things done are not at the office. It’s at home. Less time to rest, less time to spend with family, less time to do your passion.

Everything so mixed up here in Jakarta. Like I said, the people here have a love and hate relationship with the city. We love the high standard of living (at least compared to most regions in Indonesia), but hate the jams, and hate having to lose time in traffic.

What to do, then? For now, some take the attitude of “just enjoy it,” after a recent tagline in a cigarette commercial. Some focus on the love, some focus on the hate. And some just numb their souls and stop caring. Just going through the motion, and pretending as if it doesn’t cause any pain. Some others party and dance the pain away into the night.

For me, I would say I’m focusing on the love part about the city. I keep reminding myself to be thankful for all the good things the city provides. I am trying to keep myself from blaming and cursing, which, to be honest, are not easy to do.

How about you? What is your take and attitude about the place you live in?

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Believe in Your Dreams

This is an experience that I have kept to myself for over two years. In a selling skills class that I recently co-facilitated, I thought it would make a good illustration for a point that I was getting across, so I shared it for the first time.

I suppose I might as well share it here.

It was in 2008. I was on a trip to the Dale Carnegie & Associates Annual International Convention in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Before leaving for the trip, I made quite an extensive research on Vancouver and its surrounding areas, fully intending to make the best of the trip.

I noticed that Vancouver was not so far away from a winter vacation village of Whistler. I heard about the village during my network marketing days from my diamond uplines. In motivational meetings for the independent business owners in their network, they shared their experiences enjoying award trips to Whistler. They spoke about snow, skiing, dining in Whistler in great details that I became pretty curious about the place.

I once watched an episode about yam cha tradition in Hong Kong. It is a custom of Hong Kong people that is somewhat similar to English high tea. While in England it is customary for people to have tea and bite sized snacks and cakes in afternoons, in Hong Kong people have tea and dim sum, whenever they feel like hanging out in tea houses. The program was so interesting, I could not help wanting to have yam cha in Hong Kong. Of course you can get a decent serving of dim sum almost anywhere in the world. But there is something special about having it in a Hong Kong yam cha.

Based on my research, I found that Whistler was about 2-3 hour bus ride from Vancouver. That means it would take 4-6 hours just for travel time, not including exploring the area. No matter how dying I was to see Whistler, it was not the practical choice of sightseeing.

Since our flight from Jakarta to Vancouver transited in Hong Kong, I was hoping that we could spend a few hours in the City, to enjoy a yam cha. Unlucky for me, our itineraries only allowed a short time in Hong Kong, not enough for a short trip to the city.

Here’s when things got strange.

Since our flight would not leave until midnight, and the entire convention was scheduled to be concluded the night before, we had an entire Saturday free. We planned to use it for a long tour. In lieu of visiting Whistler, Adam, my colleague and travel companion, suggested that we took a tour to a nearby destination, about an hour drive from Vancouver. I was all up to it, and we reserved two seats in the tour.

The day before the tour was supposed to take place, Adam got a call from the organizer. Due to low number of participants, the tour was cancelled! Since we had hours to kill, we decided to take the Whistler tour. So I got to see Whistler after all!

Adam (left) and I on the Peak to Peak Cable Car station in Whistler

We returned to Vancouver from Whistler at dusk. After a few hours of rest, we did a final packing of our luggage, and checked out. When we emerged from the hotel lobby into the street, we found that it was snowing. The snow was heavy enough to line the roads with thin ice, making them very slippery and dangerous to travel on.

It was already difficult to find a cab that was willing to brave the elements and take us to the airport. It was even worse because at the same time, we were competing for taxis with people who were leaving a party at the Convention Center across the street.

With the help of the hotel doorman, we finally got a cab. After piling our luggage into the trunk, giving a generous tip to the doorman, we got into the cab and started to the airport.

A few minutes into the drive we could see cars, SUVs, jeeps, that were slipping off the icy road into the ditch. Our cabbie was visibly upset. “This is dangerous. It’s wasting my time. I had better take you back to the hotel,” he said.

Adam and I had this sinking feeling inside us. “Please, sir, we need to get to the airport. We will pay you extra,” Adam persuaded. Still grumbling, the cabbie turned the dial on his radio to check for clear routes to the airport. He took the Prius off the main road into residential areas.

After a few minutes of darkness, the cab returned to the main road, and a few minutes later, we could see the airport! I was dancing gleefully inside. In gratitude we paid the cabbie more than double the fare.

We made good time, and we still had time to grab a bite at Burger King, the only outlet that was still open in the airport food court at that hour. We boarded the plane on time, but the aircraft had to sit for an hour or so on the apron to wait for the snow to lessen, and to give the ground crew the chance to de-ice the plane.

Nearing Hong Kong, the pilot announced that the flight would arrive late, and missed all the connecting flights. The passengers were advised to contact ground crew for change of flights.

Getting off the airplane, we found a row of tables where passengers could get new boarding passes to replace the one for the missed flights, and hotel vouchers to clean up and rest. When we checked our flight, it was still hours away. Adam called his friend in Hong Kong, and it turned out that there was a shopping mall halfway between the airport and down town Hong Kong where we could find a dim sum restaurant!

We cleared immigration, took the high speed train and arrived in the shopping mall that Adam’s friend told us. We found the dim sum restaurant. After a few minutes of figuring out the menu and how to place an order (since nobody in the restaurant could speak English), we had the precious dim sum served on our table, along with a pot of tea. We commenced our yam cha.

Ready for yam cha!

I could not believe it! I already gave up hope of ever seeing Whistler, and somehow the circumstances changed that gave us, or actually forced us, to detour to Whistler!

I thought we would not get the opportunity to enjoy a yam cha in Hong Kong due to the very short conneting time between flights. Thanks to the snow storm in Vancouver, we missed our connecting flight to Jakarta, and got extra time to have dim sum!

Providence? Divine intervention?

Looking back to this experience, I learned two important lessons:

  1. Never give up on your dreams.
  2. When plans don’t work out, sometimes better things may come out.

Keep believing!

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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The Artist

"Impression of a Swatch Magazine Ad" July 22, 1993

I sometimes watch “Miami Ink” or “LA Ink” on TLC. Although I don’t have tattoos, I cannot help admiring the artists’ skills. They are capable of creating not just a simple black and white tattoos, like the ones you can get cheaply on the beach, but a true work of art. The drawing, the coloring, etc.

The shows remind me of how satisfying it is to be able to render something into a two dimensional drawing. I used to sketch when I was in high school, and I could spend days working on just one sketch. I would make a general outline, and from there I would work the details.

One example of my work is included in this post.

It is unfortunate that I hadn’t been born a true melancholy person. I lacked the discipline nor the patience it took to work slowly and methodically on something. I was always on a rush to finish my drawings. I so wanted to finish it immediately that neither my work nor my skills had the opportunity to be developed.

That is probably the reason I am more comfortable with photography, especially in this digital era.

I still feel like this is a waste of talent, since I don’t sketch much anymore. I wish I could make the time to hone my drawing skills. But then again, time is the one thing I could not afford.

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When In Doubt

“To believe with certainty we must begin with doubting.”

Stanislaw Leszczynski
Selected Polish king 1704-1709, 1733-1734 (1677 – 1766)

We always have doubt when we first travel to a strange place. I remember the first time me and several friends going to a certain destination in Bandung relying entirely on vague directions scribbled on the back of a crumpled receipt from a fastfood restaurant. I had to reconcile three things during that journey: the unclear directions, the dubious street map, and the actual condition that we found. After a frustrated, futile search to find the elusive landmarks described in the direction, we added the fourth item into the confusion: direction we solicited from people that we met on the street.

There was a point in that experience when all the four items so contradicted one another that we found it impossible to be certain of which information was the most reliable. When that happened, we had to make a faithful choice to use one as our own sole guidance.

Facing challenges in our lives, either personal or professional, can be quite a nerve jarring experience. The tough reality is that every day is a new path down which we have never traveled before. There are people with similar experiences from which we can draw ideas, but there will be one or more differences in our circumstances that make our problems uniquely different from that of other people’s.

We therefore can only use them as “possible solutions” instead of the only solution.

One of my favorite TV series was “Star Trek: Next Generation.” When facing a situation dire to the safety of the Starship Enterprise, Captain Jean Luc Picard would call a quick, standing-up conferences of his top officers. He would concisely state the problem, and ask for their ideas. He would then make a decision that was either an adoption of one of his officer’s idea, a combination of several ideas, or his own idea. He could never be sure of the outcome, but he would ask for inputs and decide one that was considered to be the best under the prevailing circumstances.

That is what we can do when having to make tough decision.

1. State the problem
2. Understand the cause
3. Gather important information on possible solutions
4. Choose one that is considered to be the best.

In my experience with my friends, we ended up choosing to forget the maps and the written direction, and go with the bystanders directions.

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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.