Join Jill Griffin for an in-depth discussion in this video Getting honest feedback, part of Building Customer Loyalty.
- One of my best teachers on getting honest customer feedback is Granite Rock co-CEO Bruce Woolpert. Granite Rock quarries granite, and was founded by family members 12 decades ago. Shortly after coming aboard the company, Bruce launched a customer value listening tour. But learning how to solicit that information turned into a lesson all its own. Bruce and his team went out and asked customers, some of them who had been doing business with them for 75 years or more, please tell us what we're not doing well.
They found that customers were very reluctant to say something, customers start talking about the weather, kids, trying to change the subject. But Bruce learned two ways to cope, stay seated and stay on the subject. He taught me this, it becomes uncomfortable, you want to get up, but it's when the uncomfortable level reaches a peak that the customer says, "There is one thing I'd like to tell you." And that's the moment of honesty because the customer's basically telling you, "I'm gonna tell you the truth about this first thing "your company could do better.
"And if you take that successfully, then I'll tell you number two, three and four." Bruce learned to sit quietly, keep his mouth closed and listen very carefully. Another great teacher on how to get honest feedback is John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, the maker of hardware and software for global networks. John spends 40 percent of his time with customers. He focuses particularly on customers who are unhappy, and in some state of attrition, to understand how Cisco isn't measuring up and in what direction the customer's headed.
John gives his private number to customers, and urges them to call if they have problems. Every evening, he reviews the day's results for 15 to 20 critical accounts, among Cisco's 100,000 global customers. Accounts that have been flagged as at-risk, and requiring C-suite attention. John and Bruce have learned that the customers' definition of value is always changing, and as leaders, they need to get more of the feedback directly to understand the strategy changes they need for the future.
And make no mistake about it, it takes a courageous leader to say, "The thing that has carried us this far "is no longer going to be enough." You can never go wrong investing time talking directly with high value customers. But you can't be everywhere, and often you need to depend on front-line staff to query customers. And you've got to make that query count. A number of years ago, I was conducting a series of seminars for Call Center team in Orlando, and made four trips there in five weeks.
The Winsotts hotel across from Sea World was close to the call center offices, so that's where I stayed. Each time, upon checkout, the front desk attendant asked me, what I now call, the platinum question. "What's one thing we could have "done better to improve your stay?" To this day, I marvel at the wisdom of that question and the goodwill it invokes. Here's two reasons I find it superlative.
First, it's an open-ended question, not simply yes or no. The more common question asked in these circumstances is, "Was everything okay?" It's a bad question because it shuts down feedback, and queues the customer to move along. Instead, the better question really is, "What's one thing we could have "done better to improve your stay?" It's constructed with the assumption that there's always room for improvement, and we want the customer's insight on how to improve.
This question has heart, it says you care. Ask the platinum question every chance you get. Make sure your front-liners are capturing the information and getting it to you. You want to analyze the feedback. Are you hearing some of the same things again and again? If so, start there, figure out the root causes and fix them. And reach out to those customers, let them know the actions you're taking on their feedback.
They'll appreciate knowing you've listened, and taken action, and you'll likely be the first business that's ever closed the loop with them. And you know what? That's what loyalty making looks like.