When giving feedback feels like playing with fire!

Have you ever experienced a situation where your brain is all clogged up with obvious feedback you must share as a customer, but your heart won’t let you do it the way you imagined?

Imagine that you are usually a very expressive and well-meaning customer, a person who never hesitates to give feedback – whether it’s informing the restaurant of the missing soap in the restroom, or the badly executed curry, or the airline supervisor for forgetting to prioritize passengers with infants, or even the local municipal area supervisor for garbage not picked up. Research shows that for every 1 customer who speaks up, about 20 stay quiet. In some industries such as online services, that number is hundred. You are that one person who speaks up.

nurse-with-babyNot always. Imagine the following situations – your child is admitted in a hospital and under the care of nurses for a long period of time. How do you give feedback about one of the nurses who is responsible for the care of your child e.g. in a Neonatal Unit. Your heart is saying – what if this nurse gets all upset and in some way takes it out on her performance with your child? After all she is human and she may think she was justified. Can she really forget that the parents were critical of her actions and her supervisor reprimanded her because of them? The same conflict plays out when dealing with a well-respected surgeon. How can you give feedback about his lack of attention to detail, or his being too tired, or his impatience in finishing an appointment especially when you know that you will probably want to visit him again? Healthcare at all levels, including at premium hospitals, is fraught with examples where patients cannot speak up, or cannot give specifics  because they have to physically confront the same person again the same day or another day.

Another example is schools. Can you give honest feedback about your child’s teacher especially in Kindergarten years when you know that your child would be dealing with this teacher for a whole year? Her behavior towards your child, even though not deliberate can get even so slightly affected for the whole year. What do you do?

Having personally experienced many of these situations, I don’t think the answer lies with the customer. And I don’t think one can under-play the human side of things. No one likes critics, and constructive feedback is still ‘negative’, and we’d much rather have praise and stay happy where we are rather than be told to improve.

The answer lies with the folks who stand to benefit enormously from feedback at this level, and who want to ensure their customers are really happy. You cannot put up ‘Give feedback’, ‘Help us Improve’ posters and hope for the truth. First recognize that patients, and families of patients, or parents of children are all vulnerable to the feedback they’re asking of them. Create structures that allow such customers to share feedback without hesitation or fear. A ‘safe zone’ can be created, as the feedback need not come with a name just because it is about a name. Some feedback can be anonymous and some can be given to a group rather than directed at a person. Nurse/teacher/doctor or her immediate supervisors need not know who gave the feedback. For example, in a school, one can have a group of parents rotate and volunteer to be the ‘feedback takers’. They receive the feedback from all parents and then present it to the school authorities. Acknowledging that we’re all on a shared boat makes it easy to aim for the collective good. Even the best preschools in Bangalore (such as Neev, Headstart, etc) are structured to help parents share feedback about their children and not about other aspects of the school environment.

Change starts with awareness. Take tiny measures to make customers comfortable and show commitment to serving them with the best of intentions.  No more playing with fire. Make it as simple as lending a hand.

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One comment

  1. Amazing post. How about if a third party establishes its foot hold as a unbiased customer feedback listener and pass on the message directly to CEO so that they can act? Do you think that will boost the confidence of customers to give more feedback.
    2- Are there any other reasons apart from the one you mentioned above which doesn’t give incentive to customers to give feedback?

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