Feedback is Only Good If You Use It

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Why do companies that are good at getting feedback often fail at actually improving?

Yesterday, Harvard Business Review published a great article by Rob Markey, where he pointed out five top reasons why companies fail to make good use of the data. The article is short and a good read.

Their very first listed reason is a classic scientific method mistake: discover what, ignore why.

Here's the problem. If you put in effort to find out how your company is doing, what the customer satisfaction or market acquisition or return customer metrics are, but don't dig deep enough to find why they are that way, you are only halfway there, and arguably worse off. Just as security by obscurity is worse than insecurity - because at least you know you are insecure as opposed to deluding yourself into a false sense of, well, security, thinking you understand your customers' behaviours when you actually don't can lead you to confidently drive right off the cliff, and suppress any dissenting voice that says, "Hold on; why are we doing this? Are we sure?"

It is for this reason that I, as a consultant, always spend face to face time with the employees, especially more junior ones, when doing internal analysis, and always speak directly with customers - current, potential and lost - when doing a market analysis.

Here are two examples:

Why Do My Sales Hurt?

A client asked me to figure out why every sale was so very difficult. They were hitting their numbers, but it was like pulling teeth for each deal. I spent a lot of time with their sales staff, professional services, marketing, sales engineering, customer support - including those who were still with the company and many who had left - but I spent an equal amount of time having honest conversations with current, potential and former customers, as well as those who had declined to do business with the firm.

Unsurprisingly, they were more than willing to share openly. They were even more open with a third-party consultant, knowing they could be brutally honest and their specific comments would never be shared directly and identifiably with executive management.

We already knew and were tracking our cost of sales; we didn't yet know the why.

Why Is My NOC So Expensive?

A different client asked me to determine why his operations centre cost was so high, yet performance - in terms of ticket turnaround time - was so low, leading to lower customer satisfaction, higher costs, and unhappy staff, which led to higher employee turnover, leading to even higher turnaround time, and onwards down the spiral.

Once again, I spent a very large amount of time with each and every line employee - network engineers, customer support associates, human resources interns. Once again, the employees had many of the answers. All they needed was:

  1. An open ear to listen.
  2. A third-party ear to whom they could speak without fear of upsetting their managers and executives.
  3. Someone smart enough to put it all together, and distill the cruft from the cream, the cranks from the stars.

It is amazing what you can do if you are willing to listen, get someone who can, and avoid hiding the real feedback under piles of statistics.