Updated: Sep 4, 2019
There is only one way to avoid criticism; do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing!
Feels warm and fuzzy inside when customers tell you your great doesn’t it? Oh jeez our team did amazing. We’re amazing. I’m amazing. Let’s all pat each other on the butt and celebrate our “hear no evil, see no evil” philosophy. Stop lying to yourself and your team. Every company on earth can do better and grow. In our organization we preach one very important principle; If we don’t know, we can’t grow. So we ask and we ask and we ask... and we ask without fear.
Many years ago when I was a regional sales rep for a Fortune 500 company ranked in the top 10 nationally I always explained to customers and new hires that all customers are looking for 3 things when making a purchasing decision: 1. They want the very best quality product on the market 2. With the best customer service and support in the market 3. At the lowest price in the market. The problem is that there is no such company out there and if there is I want to work there because I could put my career on cruise control.
The question then becomes how do organizations achieve at least two of those customer desires and then improve day after day to exceed those expectations and outpace their competitors progress? The answer is simple; ask your customers what they need, how they need it and where you fell short. Yes, even that customer who has used you for years. Get down and dirty and have them be really honest with you on what you can do better to deliver on your mission.
Let’s hit the breaks here... when I say ask your customers how you can do better as an organization, don’t pick up the phone and say “Good morning Janet, thanks for your continued support, is there anything our company can do better for you?” That’s a horrible way to become informed. That type of passive question is way to easy for the customer to brush off and an even easier way to avoid any perceived conflict with you all together.
Instead, try something like this: “Good morning Janet, first of all on behalf of our entire team thank you so much for your continued trust in our organization. That trust means more to us than you would ever know. However, that’s not really why I’m calling today... I’m really calling because I also trust you and your insight. I know that it’s absolutely unrealistic for us to believe we do everything right for you all of the time. It’s also unrealistic for us to believe that you haven’t seen ways we can improve your experience as a customer. So today, I want for us to share our trust and explore ways we can provide an even better service and experience for not only you but all of our valued customers! So, let’s hear it Janet... how can we be better?” Then shut up and listen, but don’t take “nothing” as an answer. Allow them to share with you what their true thoughts are no matter how big or small, how hurtful or nasty.
Remember, you’re in control and you're the one asking for the feedback. Even if you completely disagree with the customers assessment, you asked for it. Remain calm, eloquent and professional. If you get defensive it not only will you make yourself and your organization look small minded, you’ll completely lose the customers trust. Not to mention, you’ll still be lying to yourself because at the end of the day the customers perception is their reality. Take their feedback, their suggestions, their concerns with as much grace as you take their praise.
Once you pick your self produced ego off the floor, the real work will need to start. Take all that wonderfully needed feedback and create action items to address them in real time. Not tomorrow or next week, but right then in the moment. Pull your key team members together and explain to them what you’ve learned. Odds are, if they're completely honest with themselves, they won’t be terribly surprised. They may even have already thought of corrective measures to address the concerns or growth areas, but have been to conflicted to share them.
Plan, do, check! With your team by your side create a plan for what you're going to ultimately do in order to grow your operational structure into a more mature organization. Then stick to the plan and fully execute without excuse. Once fully implemented (and remember, it doesn’t matter how big or small the change is) check in again to ensure the customer recognizes the evolution and also, you guessed it, ask for more ways you can improve!
Our people call each and every customer that does business with us every time they do business with us regardless of their frequency. We’ve done this since we were a little baby company with 3 employees. It’s more than an item we check off a list everyday. It’s our philosophy! If we don’t know, we can’t grow!
So put your grownup pants on, be fearless, have confidence in yourself and your team that you can handle anything thrown at you and pick up the phone and ask your customers to tell you that you suck! The respect your customers will have for you asking them and the gained insight into ways you can improve will be immeasurable.