Monday, 28 September 2015

Value the feedback you are given - it can help to transform your business

I read a book a little while back called The Cluetrain Manifesto. It's about the changing way in which companies reach and interact with their colleagues, markets and consumers. The book was hailed as a marketing revolution when first published, and I have to admit that I was really taken by the message overall and the overriding message was that "smart markets (customers) will find suppliers (businesses) that speak their own language." It starts to explain the success of companies such as Amazon and Zara, as they fully understand their customers desires and provide for it.

The book hasn't reached all areas of the business world, though-

"In our rapidly changing world, this books message is more vital than ever. Companies may be wired for business, but they still struggle with how to talk to their customers like human beings."

The website below looks in more detail at the 95 Theses that underpin the book, in a way that I don't have space for here-

One area that the Cluetrainers looked at throughout the book was the use of the company intranet as a means of establishing how colleagues felt, the common problems and sharing best practice. From a company intranet session designed to find out how employees feel, the following caught my eye recently.

If there was one thing that you could change about the company, what would it be?

Which to choose? The company seems to be going far down the route of squeezing profit. I agree that squeezing profit from wasteful spending and slack controls in necessary and positive. I strongly disagree when profit is squeezed out of colleagues and customers. The current drive to spend as little as possible on staffing is a very negative way to do business. The queues at our tills, the lack of available assistance on the shop floor, the excessive prices and the demands to do twice as much with less staff go against the very essence of what COMPANY X stands for and what it represents. The company cannot see COMPANY Y as their competition, because COMPANY Y survive on price and no service. What used to set us apart from the rest of the High Street was the excellent customer service that we provided (and still do when time permits.) This fact seems to have been lost in a haze of cost-cutting and making do. Customers come to us because they expect trained, dedicated people to be available to assist them. Our products need far more explaining than those COMPANY Y sell. We need more time with our customers, we need to be able to provide clear, workable solutions to our customers needs. The massive cuts in staffing, along with the extra workload on the staff that remain, disables our ability to do this. Please think very carefully about the direction in which you want our once-great company to travel. You may find that you don't take that many of us with you.

Now, to me, the message itself wasn't that important - it's the interaction and where the interaction will go from here. I'll assume that this was anonymous feedback and that the company has no way of directly talking to that one person who made this statement. But that shouldn't stop the company going into some level of investigation to find out a few things-

  1. How many other people in the company feel like this.
  2. If customers also feel the strain of less staff.
  3. If the cuts in staffing have gone too deep.
  4. If these trends are reversible
Now I always look at these issues with direct reference to how my readers (you) can apply what I've written to your business and improve the business for you, your team and your customers.

I think that anonymous feedback can give people the voice that they perhaps don't have when faced with the boss, the owner or their line manager. But as an employer of people, you need to be as approachable and inclusive as possible when it comes to making decisions that affect your team and your customers.

I'd say that regular team meetings are an absolute must, and some should take place away from the place of business - a team meeting followed by a game of bowling or a meal out will have a wondrous effect on the team and can make the messages more memorable. But don't forget - these messages are a two-way communication where you learn as much from your team as they do from you.

You could also consider a customer feedback idea that goes beyond the usual lazy tactics of multinational retailers (where they have a contact web address at the bottom of the receipt and the chance to win money.) A genuine customer panel of people that are invited to certain events (even the same events as your team from time to time) will ensure that they buy into what you are doing, give you feedback and become advocates for your company or brand.

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