The great thing about playing competitive sport at a high enough level is that you get instantaneous feedback from the crowd.  Do something good, and you are rewarded with cheers and shouts of joy and excitement.  Do something bad, and the result will be just as quick, although not as enjoyable.  If only the results were so obvious in our business!

Anybody who wants to improve needs to get feedback on how they are doing.  No matter how good you are, you cannot always see the whole picture from where you are standing.  Golfers can’t see their own swing. Tennis players can’t focus on the opponent’s tactics as well as their own. Football managers go into the stands to see the whole game.  As renowned author and speaker Ken Blanchard so eloquently put it, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

What’s stopping you?

The problem with relying on 3rd party feedback is that you don’t always get it, and when you do, it may not be objective.  This is why top sports professionals seek out top coaches.  The coach gives independent, unbiased feedback, in a way that they can deal with and use to change what they are doing for the better.

However, there are times when raw feedback from your customers is valuable, because at the end of the day, they are the people who count.  So what are the challenges when seeking feedback, and why do so few businesses actually do it properly?

Well, let’s put to one side the reasons often given: lack of time, fear of the results, not knowing how to do it, and saying that feedback does not help.  These are just excuses used by people who are in business for themselves, rather than to give a good service to other people.  The most common reasons I have come across not to seek feedback is that people don’t know what to ask, and when they do ask, they don’t get much response.

Why don’t people give feedback?

A YouGov survey identified that the top reason why people don’t give feedback is that they do not think anything will be done with the results. That makes total sense.  If you felt that by giving feedback something would be done to improve the situation for you or for other people, then you would be much more motivated to do so.

Just look at the online world, where you are only as good as your reputation.  Companies such as Amazon, Ebay and Trip Advisor have taken feedback to new levels of importance.  It is therefore not the fact that people do not want to give feedback, it is that they will only do so if they know it will make a difference to them or people they are interested in.

Now we know this fact, we need to apply it to our feedback process.  Yes, I did say process.  Seeking ad-hoc feedback is OK, but any data that is only gathered once in a while is never going to be as useful as data regularly compiled over a period of time that is studied, analysed and acted upon.

When to ask for feedback

Our first step therefore has to be to look at the timings of when feedback data is requested, remembering that the client must see that there is a benefit to them.  I believe that there are 5 key stages in our relationship with a customer when feedback should be requested:

  • Entry;
  • After 3 months;
  • When we do something great;
  • When we do something wrong;
  • Exit.

These are clear points in our relationship with our customers, when they will understand why we are asking and when their reply will have a good chance of achieving something.  Just asking when nothing has really happened will be like a footballer expecting a cheer from the crowd when he is standing still with the ball.

How to ask for feedback

So once we know the trigger points, we need to have a purpose to our questions.  These will probably depend on the business you are in, but a good place to start is:

  • Entry – how did you find us and what made you choose us?
  • After 3 months – are you happy with us and did we meet our promises?
  • When we do something great – can you give us a testimonial and a referral?
  • When we do something wrong – how can we fix it and make you happy?
  • Exit – why did you leave and what did we miss?

Once you have your purpose for the questions you want to ask, you must identify how you want the customer to respond. That depends on what questions you ask.

There are two types of questions you can use:

  • substantive, where you ask for a rating, e.g. 1-10, and
  • subjective, where you ask for somebody’s opinion.

Both are highly valuable, but in different ways.  Substantive questions allow you to keep score, track and analyse results.  Useful tools such as “Net Promoter Scores” allow clever ways to rate your performance and track improvements.  Subjective questions allow clients to tell you exactly how they feel.

Then work out how you are going to ask.  There is no right or wrong way.  E-mail, an online survey, telephone and reply cards all work, you just need to put yourself in the shoes of the client.  Consider what would make it easiest for them to give their feedback, and balance that with what will be the easiest and most effective way for you to record and assess the results.

Finally, let the customer know what you are going to do with the feedback – a change to a system or process, rectification of a mistake, an apology or just a thank you, to let them know you appreciate their input.

Now it is just a case of putting your process into ACTION, and start breakfasting with the champions!