Stop Being a Feedback Bully. Create a Culture of Listening

After making a purchase at a Sephora store last week, the cashier informed me, with a smile, that I could provide feedback online, but it would be great if I provided only top scores – because it directly affects her salary. Yikes!

Yesterday, I saw a sponsored post on Facebook showing a mother and her young daughter in a loving pose under the header, “Click LIKE if you love your mother”…


I can easily imagine the boardroom meeting where the Sephora insights team proudly shows their CEO 98 percent promoter scores.

Customer feedback is a touchy issue. If not done right, organizations tend to hear what they want to hear, but not what they need to hear to truly improve their customer experience.

It all starts with good intentions. The chief customer officer decides to make sure his brand is aligned with customer expectations. Since the first rule of alignment is measurement, he sets out to measure customer satisfaction, or “willingness to recommend the brand to a friend.”

But, many errors in strategy can occur. For example, I once received a survey from Domino’s Pizza asking me: How was the pizza? Was it hot? Was it fresh? Did it arrive quickly? Was the delivery guy cordial? All great questions… But in the end, I never had any room to mention that the ice cream was completely freezer-burnt and inedible (Don’t you hate it when that happens?). These lengthy, closed-question surveys tend to ‘look under the lamppost’ instead of letting consumers decide what they think is important for the brand to know.

After measurement, the officer sets customer “happiness” goals, even all the way down to the frontline staff. Here, we must also proceed with caution. Frontline employees will typically take the shortest, most creative route to meeting those goals, especially if it ties to compensation, AS THEY SHOULD. So, make sure the metrics do not drive the wrong behavior, like they did for that Sephora store clerk, or for a call center agent who gets to decide if a customer is surveyed or not.

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be goals. But they should be well thought out and there should be a culture that allows for poor feedback. Otherwise, you will always have employees trying to game the system, ashamed of a bad result, instead of celebrating the learning.

Lastly, the chief customer officer and his team put together processes to take action based on those customer insights, using them to make changes to the customer experience. This is where companies tend to invest too much on the marketing side and not enough in the smaller changes that lead to transformation.

Transparency regarding what customers are saying, throughout the organization, is a clear cut way to begin making changes. If the insights remain in the boardroom, nothing will really change.

And most importantly, it’s about the individual customer – me! Executives tend to forget me, the customer, when designing these processes. I don’t want to be just a statistically insignificant part of your study; I want you to value my opinion and show me that you are doing something with it. Turn feedback from a one-way conversation into a true dialog.

In one of his many quotable expressions, Bryant H. McGill says that “one of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Brands should really listen to customers, and create a culture of listening instead of one of statistical results. A focus on results will get you exactly what you ask for, but maybe not what you really need.

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