Receiving unsolicited feedback puts most of us on the spot. We’re in the spotlight of other people’s expectations, and often our first impulse is to be defensive. While feedback itself is not always about a negative experience, in many cases unsolicited feedback comes in the form of complaints or objective criticism, because the person sharing feedback would like to give us a second chance to do better.
Some organisations might have the luxury of time to reflect on feedback before acting on it, however, service frontliners who receive customer feedback are forced to multitask and resolve issues in a timely manner. They have to simultaneously acknowledge the feedback, assess the problem with empathy, and respond by troubleshooting the situation. If an instant resolution is not possible, a customer-oriented frontliner knows that to appease the dissatisfied customer, the right response is to thank the customer and give the assurance that the next experience will meet the customer’s now verbalized expectations.
Handling feedback is a complex process that can be over in a matter of minutes if done right. To an inexperienced or untrained frontliner, it can trigger any of the following reactions which are warning signs that point to deeper people issues that must be addressed:
a. Fight — We see this when pressured frontliners acting in self-defence, to “take care of it” hastily without understanding the issue cause the customer to become even more dissatisfied. This is often due to the frontliner indirectly blaming the customer for the issue. In such cases, immediate supervisors need to be role models and help frontliners understand, and align with the organization’s service values.
b. Flight — When frontliners pass the buck onto co-workers or blame an internal department which should not have been mentioned in the first place, it exposes inefficiencies of the organization that the employees are frustrated with. Customers feel that “too much unnecessary information” has been shared. Employers must be warned that this shows a lack of shared accountability among frontliners and a deeper issue is triggering this kind of behaviour.
c. Freeze — When frontliners are left speechless, unable to do anything, or worse, display a nervous unconscious reaction by smiling or laughing, it will only further annoy an irate customer. This shows that the organization has failed to prepare and support their frontline employees with the skills to handle customer problems related to their daily work.
The unfortunate fact is, many frontliners have the perception that customer feedback equates to negative criticism. This point of view needs to be corrected at every level in the organization for feedback to be handled effectively and empathetically.
To reverse this mindset, there needs to be a fundamental understanding that the problem could be much worse. The dissatisfied customer could leave and never engage with the business again, or the customer could take their complaints to social media, spreading the word among friends rather than first raising it at the frontliner level. The worst possible outcome for any organisation is when a problem was never brought to light because its customers no longer cared to give them a second chance to make things right. This is what chronic failure for any organization in the service industry looks like.
The real secret to handling customer feedback is receiving it with grace and gratitude because feedback is meant to help the employee, the team and the whole organization grow. There have been companies who see customer satisfaction as a vanity metric to manage, where negative feedback tends to get suppressed. This unhealthy environment does not help anyone. Customers are not obligated to share their feedback. When they make the effort to communicate their opinion or experience, it should be embraced positively.
Humility is a core value in service that helps teams handle customer complaints professionally and with the right mindset. Learn how to practice Humility at the workplace from our Reboot S1 Episode 3.
Stay tuned to learn some easy tips to manage feedback with humility and empathy.
A passionate and proactive Marketing, Strategy, and Hospitality professional in the week | An experimental baker, home-chef, binge-eater, and binge-watcher over the weekend