Ouch, My Pride (or “Tips for Handling Harsh Customer Feedback”)

Customer Feedback Management | Customer Feedback | Customer Experience Strategy | Voice of the Customer | Voice of the Employee | Customer-Centric Culture | Customer Loyalty

Reading time: 7 minutes
George Jacob

George is a Marketing Manager at PeopleMetrics. When he's not at work, he motors around in his Mini Cooper and tries not to bother his wife and son (too much) with compulsive pastimes.

I was in a short story class once. We were sitting with our desks in a circle, workshopping a classmate’s story. Here are scenes from the session:

  1. Quiet shuffling of paper. Low-hanging compliments.

  2. Female classmate suggests a dialog could be rewritten for better effect.

  3. Author: “But that’s the way it happened.”

  4. Professor: “This is fiction class. We’re trying to help your story.”

  5. Male classmate notes the lack of plot, adds, “But maybe…”

  6. Author: [CRIES]

  7. Me: [SYMPATHY-AWKWARDNESS FEELINGS]

That’s when I realized if I was going to present things for consumption, then I’d better develop a thick skin. It doesn’t help matters to get emotional about feedback. Especially if you want to make things better.

The fact is, sometimes, feedback can be crushing. It can hurt pride, put people on the defensive, and evoke poor responses. So in the interest of your stiff upper lip, here are three things to think about when you receive harsh customer feedback.

 

1.  Customer feedback is data. Data is your friend.

Everyone likes to hear the feedback that supports their personal notions. But feedback that conflicts with those notions? Not so much.

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Your employees interact with your customers every day. They’re on the frontline of customer opinions. If you ask your employees, they can tell you generally whether customer opinions are good or bad; whether you have a customer-centric culture; and whether they feel supported to act in the customers’ best interest. If you choose to prompt customers for their opinions—for example, with an online survey—then you’d better be ready to hear the worst, directly from the source.

Try not to take it personally, but rather, think about it in terms of data. Data is good. It leads to informed decisions.

Through customer feedback management, you can ensure you’re not operating heavy machinery while drunk on the company Kool-aid. You’ll have data to prove or disprove your notions as they relate to your customers, not just the superfans in your internal audience.

Even if it hurts to hear the truth, it’s still the truth. And it’s better to know than not.

 

2.  Customer feedback is subjective.

Have you ever taken a book, movie, or song recommendation from a friend—only to find your friend has horrifying taste?

If you still consider that person your friend, then you recognize that everyone’s entitled to his or her own opinion. Everybody has a unique worldview, informed from years of their own experiences. What’s The Greatest Thing Ever for your friend may be The Worst Thing Ever for you.

Here’s one more point to consider when it comes to subjective feedback: it usually comes from the extremes. You can see this polarization if you’ve ever dug into a thread of Amazon reviews. Some reviewers have remarkable customer experiences, and others have terrible experiences. They’re the ones who have built up enough of an emotion to respond, but there’s a world of gray in between those extremes.

The key, as in personal matters, is to find the feedback that can help you and your company the most. A good customer experience partner can help you with that. So you can focus on growing your business and delighting your customers.

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3.  Customer feedback reveals opportunity.

If you open the door to customer data, you’ll find that every piece of feedback is a chance to change things for the better. Feedback reveals opportunities to discover, learn, and respond. (And if you’re not interested in such opportunities, then you’re reading the wrong blog.)

At PeopleMetrics, we deep-dive into feedback to discover the best actions for our clients. We know that some customer feedback requires immediate response, and some requires more in-depth analysis. We make sure time-sensitive feedback gets into the right hands, quickly, and then we take time to develop deeper insights.

Then we present our clients with the most actionable, biggest-impact action that the data reveals. (We call this “One Thing Analysis.”) Those actions can range from simple process improvements—like adjusted checkout or call-center procedures—to more advanced changes—like internal team restructuring or website changes. It depends on the client and the feedback.

Remember, if you decide to listen to your customers, then it’s important to put aside your pride. It’s not about you, it’s about making your customers happier. And if you keep that goal in mind, then you’ll be on your way to a brighter future.

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Posted on 02-13-2015