Excerpted from the book on mindful business management, Business Black Belt
“The one who needs to know the most, is often the last to find out.”
You must create a connection with your customer grapevine, otherwise you’ll never know trouble is brewing in enough time to deal with it inexpensively.
Some study concluded that if people like you, your product or service, they’ll tell three people. If they don’t, they’ll tell 13. In fact, something like 15% of those people will actually go out and tell 20 people what they don’t like about you. If there’s a problem, they often tell it to someone else. (Think about the last time you were pissed-off at some product, person or company, how many people did you tell?) They often won’t automatically communicate directly to you and give you the opportunity to fix the problem.
I don’t know what the psychology of this is, but people often tell everybody except the one concerned. (Confronting someone is, well.. confronting.) On the flip side, you’ve got to create a channel with a receptivity where people can address you. If customers can’t tell you what’s wrong with the product, then they’ll tell everybody else. However, once they tell you, then they’ve released much of their steam on the subject and the heat for telling everyone else will be dissipated. Create an 800# that people can call with suggestions and address problems head-on yourself. Does your “Contact Us” page invite and inspire commentary?
Ask your employees specifically what kinds of loose ends they have, what kinds of things they think are wrong that could be fixed. If they were running the company, what would they tell you to do? Give them the opportunity to tell you directly what kinds of changes they would make. Let them air-out their gripes privately with you instead of getting together with other employees, taking them away from their jobs, and bitching about what they think should be done—and never tell you. Not giving you the opportunity to make course corrections.
Is your door really open?
Make sure people can talk to you without being afraid you’ll bite their heads off. Give people at all levels of the organization an opportunity to say things like, “You know, the color on that brochure is too dark. I can’t read the text… I think it needs to be lighter…” Hmmm, OK… Maybe they’re right, maybe not, but at least they feel heard. And maybe you learn something. At least they’re less likely to go off and bitch to [a bunch? of] other people about it.
E-mail within your company is a great way to gather feedback. It’s not as confrontational as a face-to-face meeting and encourages a “stream of consciousness” message that might suck out any other venomous problems brewing in employees’ minds. You make it “safe” when you are genuinely interested in learning and improving what you do or sell. Your responses will demonstrate appreciation and encourage further communication. You don’t want to be the last to find out about the rumors circulating through your business.
What don’t you know?
Ask questions! I mean really find out by asking, “How do you feel about this? Do you think we are doing the right thing on this project?” Our software packages include an 800# and a note from me that says, “I would personally like to hear what you have to say. If you have a suggestion, idea, complaint, comment or success story… anything we can do to improve our products, service or better run our company to help you, I’d like your input. Please feel free to give me a call (800) 346-5426.” People call!
Here’s an example of a call I received many years ago:
“I’m using BizPlanBuilder. It does not integrate properly on years 2 through 5 for the cost of materials, labor, other factors. And there is a problem on the interest expense allocation and income. All of these things have to be forced. In other words, the program does not take into consideration increase in sales from one year to the next year and apply the appropriate percentage of materials, labor, and fixed costs to the increase. It only applies a defined increase to the previous year’s costs. This needs to be changed, and quickly. Nice talking with you. Bye-bye.”
Yikes! But this is great stuff and we needed to hear about it! I would prefer to hear how wonderful our products are and how cool I am, but what if this person didn’t call? How would we know to make this important change in our product? Then I wonder about other people who didn’t call. What comments might they have had for improvements? We take these opportunities seriously and act on all of them, because we know that the few that do contact us represent hundreds of others who don’t.
Your call makes a difference
Once I called another software company to order their product and their voice mail system finally transferred me to the sales department… and then lost me in an endless loop. I called again. Same thing! After ranting and raving to whoever would listen at my company, I decided to go to the source of my frustration. I left a brutal message on the company’s voice mail system saying, in no uncertain terms, what a problem their system was and how it must be killing their sales.
To make sure that my call was productive and served their company, I offered a workable suggestion that they could replay for the benefit of the salesperson who sold them the system. (I gave them the ammunition they needed to make their case.) Yep, I said my piece directly to whom it mattered most—and I let go of it. The company president himself called me back to thank me for letting him know that he had such a problem. He even offered me an extraordinary price on his product! Unexpected, and also another good idea.
Business Black Belt Notes
- Provide a convenient, safe outlet for direct feedback — direct 800 number, e-mail, “Contact Us” page, etc.
- You need to know if there are problems, because you have the authority to make changes and improvements.
- If necessary, rearrange your mental/emotional structure (mind, body, spirit) to be genuinely receptive.
- Communicate your issue(s) directly to the source—to someone who can really do something about it and not to those who cannot.