Five Frequent Feedback Flaws

© Naomi Karten,

If organizations really want customer feedback, why do they make it so difficult for customers to provide that feedback? Here are some examples of common flaws and how to avoid them:

1. Requesting feedback about the wrong information. At a hotel I once stayed at, I was satisfied with all the items listed on the feedback form in my room: quick check-in, clean room, and so on. However, the peephole in the door was over my head. Way over my head. When you’re my height, such things are important. How am I to follow the hotel’s advice to look out the peephole before opening the door to visitors if I can’t reach the peephole?

Customers can give top ratings to the attributes you consider important and still be dissatisfied because you’ve fallen short on the attributes they consider important. If you want satisfied customers, find out what they consider important, and invite them to rate your service on those attributes.

2. No space for feedback. In addition to asking customers to rate the items listed, many feedback forms invite customers to add their comments. Some of these forms provide plenty of space for comments — provided customers write in a one-point typesize!

A request for customer comments is a key element of a well-designed feedback form. Given lots of blank space, customers often give extensive amounts of high-quality commentary. However, it’s pointless to request comments and then not provide space for them.

3. No time to think about feedback. I got a call from an office supply store I often shop at. The caller said he was conducting a survey, and asked what I liked and didn’t like about his store. I told him I could give him better feedback if I had some time to think about it, and asked him to call back the next day. He said he would, but he didn’t. I guess he wanted feedback only from those who’d provide it on the spot.

Some people can instantaneously retrieve information from their mental databases. Other people prefer time to cogitate. Whatever method you use to solicit feedback, give customers ample time to reflect on your questions. The quality of the feedback you get is worth the extra time.

4. Inconveniencing customers. One of my favorite feedback forms is from a restaurant whose form is a postcard that requests responses to several questions. The instructions on the postcard state how important the feedback is — followed by the reminder: “Don’t forget to affix a stamp before mailing.” Instead of returning the postcard, I saved it and now offer it into evidence as Exhibit A in my presentations on feedback gathering.

Few enough people fill out feedback forms to begin with; most won’t bother if they have to pay for the privilege of doing so. To maximize the amount and quality of feedback you receive, make it as easy as possible for customers to respond. If you ask dissatisfied customers to inconvenience themselves to inform you of their complaints, you’ve just given them one more thing to complain about!

5. Not responding to feedback as promised. I received a mail survey from a hotel shortly after staying there. One item on the survey asked if I had any complaints. I did, and used the space provided to elaborate. Another item asked if I’d like someone to contact me about my complaints. I checked the “yes” box. It’s been about four years now, but I’m waiting patiently.

It’s a measure of sophisticated service to offer to contact customers about their grievances. Doing so tells customers that you value their feedback and want to set things right, and this evidence of concern can help you retain customers who might otherwise take their business elsewhere. But by not calling me as promised, this hotel fell lower in my estimation than if no such promise had been made. Don’t offer to contact disgruntled customers unless you really mean to do so.

As for me, I’m still waiting.

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