Gaby Moran

Receiving feedback for the first time — especially criticism — can be difficult without the right preparation. Customer feedback is no exception.
When a company adopts a new customer feedback system, many of its employees won’t be used to so many unfiltered customer opinions — and it can take time to help them see this feedback as a valuable resource. Good employees are proud of the expertise they’ve acquired, and it can be hard for them to receive feedback that challenges their confidence. Without the right support, what should be an enlightening experience can actually cause anxiety and fear — making the transition towards a customer-centric learning culture take longer and feel much more difficult.
So what should companies do to help employees across their organization use customer feedback constructively right from the start?
Of course, a good customer experience management system can go a long way in helping you get useful customer insights to the right people in your company — but there’s much more to it than software. There are important cultural and organizational elements to implement as well. Here are strategies that are important in ensuring employees benefit from their new feedback program on day one:
Before feedback starts coming in, coach employees on how to view it and use it
Even the most open-minded, accommodating people tend to react strongly when they’re suddenly presented with new perspectives on their performance — or on the performance of their team. And a new feedback program provides these perspectives in spades.
Well before new feedback starts coming in, companies should talk to their employees about the best mindset with which to approach it. Make it clear that good performance isn’t just about hitting a target score, but also includes the ability to learn from feedback over time. When employees know feedback won’t be used to punish them off-hand, they’ll be more willing to come face-to-face with the issues it reveals.
In order to enable this mindset, you’ll also have to answer specific questions they have about how feedback will be used. A lot of employee antagonism towards feedback stems from uncertainty about its ultimate purpose. You can nip much of that antagonism in the bud by creating transparency from the start — and framing feedback as an opportunity for the entire team to learn.
When possible, let employees resolve customer issues they’re responsible for.
Customer feedback creates visibility for individual employees about the customer issues they’re responsible for. Companies can make this visibility less discouraging by letting employees play a role in resolving those issues. Whether or not they’re the one to actually follow up with the customer, an employee’s first-hand knowledge of the initial interaction can inspire the proper fix. Best Western employs this strategy by allowing individual properties to respond to the reviews customers post about them on social media sites — and as a result, employees at many of these properties now actively advocate for increased engagement with social feedback across the entire organization.
You can take this strategy a step further by letting employees share learnings from these resolutions with others in the organization. Give them a public space to record the strategies they used and how well they worked. In isolation, resolving a customer’s issue can feel like merely cleaning up a mess. But when others can learn from the experience, it becomes a way for employees to contribute to the business.
Ensure supervisors are available for frequent, ongoing coaching
When new feedback starts coming in, employees often find themselves stuck between existing processes and changing customer needs. Coaching from leaders in the company or business unit can help them chart the right course forward. Leaders should continue to promote the progress-driven mindset established before the feedback starts flowing — and should model the attitude in their own behavior as well. Leaders at the hotel company Extended Stay demonstrate serious commitment strategy, with CEO Jim Donald having traveled over 200,000 miles and visited hundreds of properties to offer advice and encouragement to their teams.
In addition to creating better-prepared employees and better-informed leaders, this strategy shows employees that the entire company is committed to learning from customer feedback — and won’t just blame employees for every moment of customer dissatisfaction.
Use customer feedback to showcase success stories in addition to challenges
A good learning experience doesn’t only focus on what people are doing wrong. Chances are, fresh sources of customer feedback won’t just shed new light on what your employees need to work on, but also what they are doing well. Be sure to share plenty of these successes publicly — including both individual successes and areas in which entire teams are doing well. The Russian telco Beeline has found several ways to celebrate these sorts of successes — including a weekly email from its CEO celebrating strong individual performances across the entire company.
At the most basic level, being complimented for a specific success is very motivating, and helps employees view customer feedback more objectively. But it can also provide clarity and preserve positive momentum. On its own, continuous visibility into customer issues can instill doubt in general about how employees should be doing their jobs. Highlight their successes to keep them from losing sight of their strengths.
These strategies can all smooth the transition to a new feedback program, but don’t let them fall to the wayside once that transition is done. New customer feedback eventually leads to larger systemic changes in your customer experience — meaning your employees will be faced with more fundamental changes to how they do their jobs. Employee ownership, strong support a keen learning culture can continue to keep them motivated and excited about what’s in store.

Photo credit: Marina del Castell