When it’s okay to ask

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At one point a while back in my career I spent most of my days teaching Lean Six Sigma around the company for which I was working at the time.  From a (much more seasoned) colleague I learned a witty thing to say at the end of each session:  “If you have negative feedback, please share it with me; if you have positive feedback, please share it with my boss.”  It was a clever turn of phrase that made people think a little bit and at the end of the day send them off with a smile.  But it really was a great encapsulation of what I learned was so important about feedback:  I need to know where I’m falling short so I know where I can improve, and it also never hurts for your boss to hear praises of your work.

Fast forward now to my life as a Fractional Chief Customer Officer and CX consultant (and constant pest when it comes to preaching about the value of feedback), and it occurs to me:  Maybe it’s okay sometimes to ask for a positive review.

Last week I had (yet another…I live in Colorado, after all) pit fixed in my car’s windshield.  The technician was on time, did a fantastically quick and competent job, and comported himself very professionally.  As he was wrapping up, he mentioned that I’d receive a survey soon and that a 9 or a 10 would be greatly appreciated.  Now, we’ve all received this sort of plea from time to time and at different levels of urgency and explicitness.  I maintain the philosophy of, Shame on those brands for making their employees so paranoid—based on whatever incentive or threat system they have in place—that their team members feel they have to make such an awkward request.  I don’t blame the front-line person…he or she is working for someone who enforces such obsession.  Yes, that even goes for car salespeople.

But reflecting on my own experience delivering training back in the day, I wondered what was different.  Here’s a thought:  First of all, even though offered with a bit of a wink, my invitation for feedback was accompanied by a request for improvement opportunities as well as praise.  Secondly (and more importantly), I wasn’t under any pressure to bring in great numbers, because my boss—who’s still a good friend and mentor—saw the danger of incentivizing us based on such numbers.

What’s more, it can also be specifically situational.  For example, I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with, in response to unsolicited praise from a Customer, asking for a review or to respond positively to a survey.  If a Customer ends an interaction, say, with a support team member thanking him or her for doing a bang-up job and showing gratitude for a job well done or great attention to the needs of the issue, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the agent saying, “thanks for that, I’m happy to help and glad we were able to get your issue taken care of.  Please feel free to share that feedback when you get a survey request.”  Likely the Customer will not only not feel obligated, but will more often than not appreciate the reminder and the opportunity to do the agent a favor.  Everything’s on the up-and-up and nothing really seems forced or phony.

In fact, in the consulting world, that’s a lot of what makes things tick:  Requesting positive reviews or testimonials from clients with whom you have a good reputation (you’re not likely to solicit quotes, for example, to put on your marketing materials from clients who aren’t pleased after all).  The happier the client, the more likely they are to offer you praise that you can turn into potential future business.  That’s different, of course, from soliciting feedback looking for improvements you can make, but I suppose that’s also part of the point:  Why are you asking in the first place?  As a marketing strategy, or seeking opportunities to improve what you do?

It’s one thing to request positive words and vibes if you’re planning to use them to market yourself (or to gain an attaboy from your boss).  It’s another thing if it’s cynically (by your brand, not necessarily by you as a service provider team member yourself) held out as the signal of just how well you’re doing as part of a broader Customer insights program.  One is a good-faith request for a show of appreciation, and the other is a wasted opportunity for genuine and valuable feedback.

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