June 27, 2016

The feedback folly

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your satisfaction with surveys? And on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely would you be to recommend these surveys to any of your friends? If you answered less than 5 please say why.


Feedback is important. It can help us understand when we need to fix something, or when someone’s disappointed or upset with something we’ve done (or not). And it can give us cause to celebrate, to share our triumphs with colleagues or potential customers.

“We’d like your feedback” is a phrase that’s featured in countless emails, cards and text messages every day. But is this synonymous with “We’d like your feedback so that we can act on it”?

Genuine feedback should result in genuine actions. If I’m unhappy with my purchase, I’d like to have the fault rectified, the item replaced, or get my money back. If I’m delighted with my meal, it’d be nice to imagine that those who played a part in delivering this great experience will get applauded by those whose business benefits from their work.

Yet too often our feedback does not result in any immediate action or even genuine acknowledgement, let alone changes, congratulations or the sharing of best practice.

Asking how someone’s experience was means far less if no action can be taken in the event of a negative response. How many of us have provided constructive criticism, only to be responded to with a dismissive “Er…okay.” If all that someone who’s representing your brand or business can do is say “I’m sorry”, what’s the point in them asking for feedback?

Which is perhaps why so many companies prefer to ask for your feedback later. Rather than empowering our people to act on feedback, we’d rather collect it, collate it and send it to be processed and analysed by head office or corporate – to see ‘how we’re performing’.


Unfortunately, this can be like closing the proverbial stable door after the horse has bolted – when it’s too late to do anything, or the cost of recovering from negative feedback is far greater. It’s also possible that feedback is missed altogether – people move from being active to being passive as time goes on and may simply take their business elsewhere.

By making feedback something we collect, centralise, process and amalgamate, it loses impact and all immediacy, and can become little more than an exercise in idle boasting or finger-pointing.

If the sole or main aim is to ‘gather the numbers’ and share results, then this approach is fine. We can go on kidding ourselves that an average score of 6.2 means we’re brilliant – or celebrating a score of 3.2 because six months ago it was ‘just’ 2.9.

The other problem with collecting feedback after the event is two-fold. First, there’s the implied belief that respondents have infallible memories and can recall often mundane, everyday ‘experiences’ with great clarity and in great detail. Second, we place great faith is respondents’ ability to accurately place experiences and components of experiences on scales that remain absolute regardless of our outlook, memory recall and myriad other factors.

Our preference for gathering feedback in this way does not show we’re obsessed with numbers, the trust we seem to place in them or the ‘results’ they show us – but it does show that we’re reluctant or unwilling to entrust our people with doing the right thing, without fear.

We’re right to crave feedback. But more than that, we should crave being able to quickly and effectively do something about the things that upset or annoy our customers, and to recognise, share and celebrate what we get right. It must be something that’s acted on quickly and decisively, by empowered people.

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