Customer and employee criticism: your leverage tool for growth
Although there is often a negative perception when it comes to receiving criticism, the truth is quite different. It can be a very positive gift to your organization and can serve as a key tool for listening to your employees, partners, and customers – regardless of which sector you’re in, or the type of product or service (digital or physical experience) you offer. Criticism is beneficial … if you use it to improve and grow.
The fact that someone is taking the time and energy to express their dissatisfaction or frustration is something that should be appreciated by your organization, even though it’s not always easy to think of it in those terms.
In this article, I examine how your company can learn to use criticism to improve your customer experience, so that your business can grow. But first, let’s look at some of the reasons – beyond frustration – that generate criticism from customers.
What Inspires Customers to Criticize a Company?
People are busy. If they are taking the time to criticize something, you need to make sure you are listening. There are four initial potential cases that can generate criticism from customers:
They cared, and your organisation didn’t.
People provide criticism when they care about the company or its product/service, but they don’t feel like the company cares for them. This is valid both for employees and for customers. The consequence often is higher customer churn or lower employee retention. Check out this article on employee retention strategies.
There was a GAP between what you promised and what you delivered.
Gaps often occur when there is a high expectation about what your company promised, and the customer feels that the expectation was not met.
You didn’t listen or take action.
If a person has already made a complaint, but feels that you did not listen or take action, they can become so frustrated that they share their dissatisfaction in public (such as on social media). In reality, however, very few people will take the time to criticize an organization. If a customer feels that their initial complaint was not taken seriously – whether it’s a B2B or B2C situation – they might simply move to your competitor in silence.
You didn’t communicate the steps you’re taking to resolve problems.
People want to see that your organization is taking actionable steps to solve their problem. When you add an issue for resolution to your road map, you should inform the customer and keep them in the loop – especially if the solution will take some time. Customers care about your ability to listen – perhaps even more than they do about your ability to solve the issue immediately.
By communicating with your customer about your efforts to resolve their problem, you demonstrate that you take their needs seriously.
Open communication can defuse tension and reduce the level of dissatisfaction. Unfortunately, this will not always work to retain an already extremely frustrated customer.
What makes criticism either good or bad is your reaction to it as an organization. It is not what the customer or employee is saying, but the ability of your team – in leadership positions, marketing, product, R&D, customer experience, and services – to listen, analyze, and address their concerns.
Connecting the Dots: Stop Focusing on Your NPS Number
The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is used in customer experience programs to determine customer loyalty to a company. In many cases, the NPS serves one unique purpose: to inflate or deflate company morale. In my experience, the value of the NPS is very low and blinkered, since you need a 360-degree kind of feedback alongside it – such as VoC, VoE, CSAT, CES, sales, or retention rates, depending on your business type and the interactions you have with customers.
Instead, I recommend that you use this post-transaction question to ask something more meaningful, such as what your company could improve. Even if you always include an open field for more details as part of the feedback form, I recommend asking the bold question directly. That way, you can focus on real valuable feedback. This direct approach will enable your organization to really obtain a clear-cut and accurate analysis of your company’s situation.
Case Studies: Samsung and Software AG
A few years back, we did a test in one of the Samsung divisions, looking at feedback over a continuous and consistent time period, versus the standard single-transaction feedback. In several cases, the feedback over an extended period of time was much closer to the reality than a simple per transaction number. Because we adapted the question in order to receive critical input, we received honest – and, sometimes, harsh – but fruitful types of feedback.
Here’s another good practical example. You are probably already familiar with Software AG. Feedback consistently shows that their design lacks basic intuitiveness for many users. That said, they remain prominent in their industries, and they listen and evolve slowly toward a better user experience. The technological changes we see year after year are small changes.
Criticism Empowers Your Company to Grow
A refusal to listen to criticism can hinder the growth of your company. You need to set aside your personal feelings and focus on delivering value to your customers.
Important points regarding feedback and criticism:
- It increases your ability to clarify what you are doing, or helps you to do it better. If your intent or message is unclear, it can be misinterpreted, resulting in confusion or frustration. When you listen to criticism from a customer, it helps you become clearer with your message.
- It helps you refine your design. You have to consult your customers to understand what they want from a product or experience. Adopt a sharper focus on customer needs when it comes to design and purpose.
- Avoid apathy; choose to progress. When others give you their opinions, especially if they are given in a collaborative manner, those opinions won’t always mesh with your perspective. Take a step back to analyze what has been given, even if it is a harsh critique. Listen to everything, analyze it, and pursue what’s best for customers first.
- Resist smartly when it makes sense for your stakeholders. Be open to making adaptations to generate a better outcome for the company. Criticism is a learning opportunity. You don’t have to be right, you have to deliver value to the customer.
- Find yourself a sparring partner. Unless you are faint of heart, I would advise you to get a sparring partner – someone to challenge you and your ideas.
- Leave your ego at the door. This is not about you. Accept that things might not be perfect. Focus on the outcomes for the organization, not on satisfying your own ego.
Criticism challenges you and changes you on the inside.
You have an “internal hypothesis” about how your company helps people, or about what your customers like and want to adopt. As you develop experiences surrounding your products and services, a good solution for some sectors can be to expose your concept or product to beta testers and open it for feedback and criticism. We do this a lot in agile companies and in the design thinking process.
Getting other people involved and exploring all the pros and cons can take you much further down the path toward success. You may even experience a situation where you realize that a course of action is not a feasible solution, in which case, it is better that you stop early on, prior to generating losses for your organization.
Criticism is a powerful tool to create something meaningful.
When we create a new technological solution out of a vision, our initial thoughts are not as sharp and defined as they can become after receiving feedback and criticism, designing prototypes, and conducting real-world testing. Prof. Roberto Verganti, a Professor of Leadership and Innovation at Politecnico di Milano writes and speaks prolifically about this subject. As a leader in real innovation and change, or as a CX expert, you are likely familiar with Verganti’s well-known books.
Great things are designed out of meaning for our customers – what all of us in business refer to simply as “value.”
Criticism can save you millions.
Interpreting criticism about what you are trying to create – from a variety of sources, such as employees, customers, partners, suppliers, and users from diverse backgrounds – can allow you to find different and very valuable perceptions about what your team is trying to accomplish. Sometimes, this can save you millions in R&D – especially if you discover early on that your vision had some wrong basic assumptions or any other kind of unexpected problem.
Criticism is not a curse. It can be quite useful for your company’s teams responsible for design, services, new solutions, marketing campaigns, and the overarching customer experience. You can only manage relationships with your customer over the long term, so make efforts to listen to their perspectives and honest input. Appreciate customer criticism as a learning experience that can ultimately help your company grow.
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About Ricardo Saltz Gulko
Ricardo is the Managing Director and Co-Founder of Eglobalis which is an innovative boutique consulting agency. He talks about Experience, Change, Real Innovation and Simplification. Ricardo is a customer-centric, strategic and transformational leader who has inspired, delivered and developed professional services, new customer programs globally.
Our interview with Ricardo Saltz Gulko
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