Customers Are Talking – Opening Your Company up for Customer Dialogue

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by: John Caddell

I recently recorded a podcast with Sydney Finkelstein of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business about his book “Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and How to Keep it From Happening to You” (shameless plug: you should listen to the podcast if you haven’t yet. It covers how tricky it is to make sound, reasoned decisions in our complex business world today).

After I posted the interview, I asked Syd what he thought of it. At the end of his response, he threw this in: “I appreciate your asking for feedback – not common.”

And over the past few weeks that sentence has stuck in my mind. It is very difficult for individuals to solicit and act on candid feedback. Companies, made up of individuals, have the same problem. There’s a self-protective impulse that wants to distance ourselves from criticism and harm.

Companies do solicit feedback, all the time. It’s just that, in my view, they rarely do it wanting to get the real story. They use it as PR (”see what good listeners we are”), as a way for customers to vent, or as a way to mine success stories. They don’t really want to know the candid truth, the bad stuff.

Netflix is an exception. They are constantly asking me what I think about their service. For Example:

Dear John,

We are always making improvements to ensure you receive your movies quickly. As part of this process, we ask our members about how we are doing from time to time. Please tell us when you received The Blue Planet: Seas of Life: Ocean World / Frozen Seas, which was shipped to you on Monday, Mar 23, 2009 by clicking on the appropriate link below….

Or this, after we used their streaming video service:

Survey: How Was the Picture and Audio Quality?

Dear John,

You recently watched Pokemon 3: The Movie. To help us ensure a great experience for all members, would you take a moment to tell us about the picture and audio quality?

They’re simple surveys and take only a moment to fill out. I do it religiously, in part because I’m happy they asked. And something, perhaps Netflix’s culture, the tone of the emails, etc., makes me feel that they act on this information. It’s not only for me to vent.

I would encourage Netflix to add one thing to these surveys–a text box, where users could add any feedback they wished. In interviews I’ve done, I’ve found that this question: “Is there anything else you think we should know?” often yields the most surprising and insightful information from customers.

Aside from this, Netflix handles the customer dialogue just about perfectly, in my view. No other company I know of has a similar continual, open, candid line of communication with its customers (if you have good examples, please add them in the comments; I’d love to compile a full list).

Does your company want to engage in a dialogue with its customers?

If so, ask yourself this: do you really want to hear everything? If so, customers are ready to tell you.

Related posts:
Buyers, tell companies why they lost your business
Netflix demolishes own business model
Candid customers won’t give you 100%

[Find a compendium of "Customers Are Talking" posts here.]

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