On Continuous Improvement through Honest Feedback

By: Guest | December 17, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is by Rebecca Todd.

I have to admit the whole idea of writing thoughts that will be read on the Internet scares the bejesus out of me.

When Lindsay Bell first asked if I may be able to conjure up some words to be shared on Spin Sucks, the excitement and honor of being asked propelled me down the street, my dance-walking stylings garnering a fair share of bizarre looks in my neighborhood.

The project was not yet begun, and already the future accolades were making my head swell.

Then, as it always does, the reality set in.

My attempts to put pen to paper, or perhaps paper to key or finger to key, found me highly distracted and spending my time instead pondering the great mysteries of life, such as, “In the digital age, should we still say pen to paper, or start using paper to key? And where does finger to key fit in?”

I had 17 false starts. Nothing flowed.

In Which I Attempt to Create Content

So I forced it. Tried to shove this idea towards that, to make visible some of the eddies and currents of thought in my monkey mind. The product off all of this shoving was something almost, but not quite, completely unreadable. You could see it really wanted to make a point, that it had something it wanted to say, but the execution was subpar, to be kind.

I sent my first attempt at creation out to a variety of eyes. I picked some friends and some strangers, with a variety of aptitudes and abilities. I asked them all to please be brutal with the caveat that, being in sales, I could take it.

In Which I Solicit Customer Feedback

And brutal they were. Through their kindness and encouragement, I did not feel completely eviscerated, but knew I had a long way to go. Of the seven readers, six told me with enough work, my piece could be made functional.

But that one, that one really shook things up.

Although it worked him up much more than it did me, he was incredibly honest and told me my piece was unreadable. And yes Brian Meeks, even though I thanked you, I did cry. Just a little wee bit. Not even enough to make my mascara run. I had a smile on my face though, because I asked you to be brutally honest, and you were. I treasure nothing more than honesty, and I knew I had it.

Does this mean the other responders were incorrect? Not at all. Does it mean they were just telling me what I wanted to hear? Not one bit. Does it mean their feedback had no value? Not in the least.

Now I was faced with a choice – do I continue on with my first piece, retool it with the help of the six until it makes something approximating my point, and post it? Or do I follow the advice of the one and EXTERMINATE?

In Which I Respond to Customer Feedback

I tried to take it all in – the good, the bad, the ugly (although the bad, the worse, and the gut wrenching may be more accurate). I decided to scrap my first post and write, just to see what happened. Then, some sort of magic started.

A few of the 17 non-starters I had were focused around soliciting customer feedback, and what you do with that knowledge. I have always believed you earn the right to ask for honesty from your customers by being honest with them. Brian allows me free access to edit his writing, listens thoughtfully to my feedback, and takes what he estimates to be 85 percent of my suggestions.

I do love reading his words and like to pile on the praise, but I have earned the right to have my feedback considered through being very upfront when I believe he is off-track. Sometimes my comments are as simple and as harsh as “you can do better.” With this honesty in my dealings with him, I had earned the right for him to be honest with me in kind.

This is exactly the relationship I strive for with my customers. When I cannot fulfill their request, I tell them “no.” I do try and give them some sort of rationale, but I do not say “maybe” when there is no chance.

In return, I provide them with the opportunity to be open with me. When I ask for honest customer feedback, I receive it. Does it hurt sometimes? Heck yes. But does it provide me with opportunities to grow and learn and change? Absolutely.

So I leave you with this – how do you earn the right to ask for customer feedback? What do you do with it when you receive it? Do you ignore the Brians and focus on the more positive responses? Or do you seek out those customers with real issues and work to address their points of pain?

Graduating with her bachelor’s of education, Rebecca Todd knew the classroom just wasn’t for her. Rebecca’s passion for adventure and learning brought her to the realm of educational publishing, and she works as a publisher’s representative for Ivey Publishing. When not travelling the globe connecting with her customers and authors, she enjoys hot yoga, her dogs, and thinking about working on her Victorian home. You can find her in the comments here on Spin Sucks and on LinkedIn.

  • Excellent post! I loved getting to watch this all come together for you. Thank you for letting me be a part of the feedback process.
    Being asked to give honest feedback can be hard because you don’t want to hurt feelings, bruise egos or come across the wrong way. The beauty is that if you have a person or brand soliciting honest feedback, fully ready to take what they get and use it and the feedback provider is honest, you can experience tremendous growth. So much so, that it is remarkable when you think of how nervous and tentative we can be to ask for or give honest feedback. 
    I think trust is a big part of the equation. If you’ve failed to respond well to feedback in the past, trust may need rebuilt.

    • @kateupdates thanks for reading both posts Kate, and for your thoughts here. I do believe we tend to underestimate our “ask” of the customer when askin for honest feedback. We know it isn’t easy to take sometimes, but it also isn’t easy to give.

  • belllindsay

    When I got this post I laughed and laughed. As I told Rebecca, it’s real and from the heart, which is the kind of writing that I love the best. Great job. 🙂

    • @belllindsay I know!! I told her the same thing. It was so … Rebecca. LOVE button.

      • @kateupdates @belllindsay thanks ladies! It was hard to get past what I “thought” I should write with what I had to say. Thank you both for your input!

  • Hey Rebecca,
    Earning the right to customer feedback comes with openness and trust. I, as a customer, am not going to provide feedback if I don’t think it will be valued, or used. However, if I really think my feedback is important and can inspire change, I will be more willing to contribute. 
    Feedback is a gift. Embrace it! And both positive and negative feedback is great as long as you can understand perspective and use the feedback (either positive or negative) to grow.

    • @GeoffReiner That is some great insight. I feel the same way. There are some companies I will always fill out their survey form, because my gut told me they actually read them. There are others, who I generally don’t bother.
      “Earning the right to Feedback” <Great concept Geoff.

    • @GeoffReiner I agree with @ExtremelyAvg  Geoff — very nice insight. The only way anyone will leave you valuable insight is if they care. It’s hard to get them to care if you haven’t treated them with respect in the first place.

      • @barrettrossie @GeoffReiner @ExtremelyAvg excellent points gentlemen! I myself am not a fan of surveys and rarely fill them out, but that’s another story…
        Earn the right is one of my all time favourite sayings in sales and customer service. We often focus so much on what we want that we do not consider the “ask” from the customer standpoint.

  • HowieG

    rebeccaamytodd I loved this. I just want to know how does someone @ExtremelyAvg with many almost finished books almost as good as war in piece but not quite as good as @ginidietrich ‘s marketing in the round could make you cry! Shame on him.
    Some people are really shy at public speaking, in crowds, or online. I made the finals of my college public speaking competition and I gave my speech in front of a few hundred people. And I went Albert Brooks from broadcast news. Enough said. But I rocked it (didnt win though!)
    Customer feedback is very important. You have a right to ask whenever you have a customer. How else will you improve or know what you are doing right. In the many restaurants I worked at in my younger years the most successful had Owners who worked the dining room and openly asked for suggestions. This is your restaurant now Rebecca! And I demand my tuna sashimi to be just a day fresher but damn you nail those rainbow rolls they are perfect and I a going to say so on Yelp!

    • @HowieG  rebeccaamytodd  @ginidietrich “Almost as good as ‘War and Peace’…” I’ll take it, but have you really read any of my books?
      As for making Rebecca cry, I felt terrible about that fact. In the end it worked out, this was a much better piece.

      • HowieG

        @ExtremelyAvg  rebeccaamytodd  @ginidietrich Touche I do need to read your books. I miss reading your comments and guest posts around the blogosphere Brian. I haven’t been able to blogo around the sphere as much the last few months. So where do I read? BTW Rebecca sold her tears on EBay for $2500 a drop. So she owes you.

        • @HowieG  rebeccaamytodd  @ginidietrich I would be thrilled if you picked up a copy of Henry Wood Detective Agency, it is available on Amazon for Kindle at $2.99 or print for $11.95. If you like basketball, specifically the Iowa Hawkeyes, I have a book about their 1986 season, too. “Two Decades and Counting: The Streak, The Wins, The Hawkeyes  Thru the Eyes of Roy Marble. It is on Amazon as well.
          Here is a link…I hope Gini doesn’t mind.  <This is the Kindle version

        • @ExtremelyAvg @HowieG @rebeccaamytodd @ginidietrich I need to read Henry Wood when I return. Just taking a brief break topside to check I here. I should have drilled deeper in to that point-even though I had a brief moment of emotional distress, overall I think it took more out of Brian to be harsh. Which I appreciate wholeheartedly.

    • @HowieG @rebeccaamytodd @ExtremelyAvg @ginidietrich great connection Howie. I worked in restaurants and backstage catering for years, and I am used to asking my customers for immediate feedback in person. I always felt terrible when I found out at the end of the meal that all was not well.

  • I’m telling you, this made me LOL…again, ” “In the digital age, should we still say pen to paper, or start using paper to key? And where does finger to key fit in?”
    If you hadn’t said this was your first blog post, it never would have been obvious. Very, very well done!

    • @ginidietrich thank you G. And I really do thank you for challenging me to get this done.

  • Great post. Feedback is important, but also hard! It’s brave to hear it for what it is and move forward. Brava!

    • @jeanniecw thank you Jeannie! It is hard from both sides I think-it isn’t always easy to give or take. But I tell you my first post was, as Brian said, unreadable. I am much happier with my own work after confronting the truth. Thanks for your comments!

  • It is not always easy to hear what people really think but it can be quite valuable because when you are given their thoughts it opens up the opportunity to improve the relationship.
    Besides if you don’t like what you hear you can accidentally punch them in the throat, not saying you should, just that you could.

    • @Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes That is one of the hidden benefits of email communications, avoidance of painful throat injuries.

      • @ExtremelyAvg @Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes hah! Luckily I am not a throat puncher, in person or via email. My brothers taught me much subtler techniques, like the “Pit Blow”. While it isn’t always easy to receive feedback, it isn’t always easy to give either. Finding that balance takes work, but is so critical. Thanks for stopping by!

  • iambrandonjay

    @tedcoine thank you so much for the follow, following back, and hope you have a happy holiday !

  • @RebeccaAmyTodd, sending your draft to @ExtremelyAvg was your first mistake. Have you seen his blog posts before the rest of us send him edits and typo alerts? Hell yes you’ve seen ’em, you’re making half the, uh, suggestions. 
    Lovely post. If you find someone who you trust, and the feeling is mutual, by all means ask for their feedback. But you have to take it with a grain of salt. People are very eager to assign their own motivation and agenda to your work, and they may not at all be a good match for you.

    • @barrettrossie @ExtremelyAvg exactly why I chose Brian! I hoped he would be as honest with me as I am with him. Of course, my next edits of his work may be a leetle bit harsher…
      It is challenging to find the balance between good feedback and negative. There is a perception that customers can skew towards a false positive or negative, so finding a middle ground is key.
      How do you solicit your feedback, if you do? Personally? Through surveys? I am always trying to find the best way to do this. Personally, I avoid surveys.

      • @RebeccaTodd  @barrettrossie  At one time, I worked in a great environment with a lot of people I trusted. Now I work at home, by myself, and along with the benefits, there are many drawbacks.
        Not having a good work partner nearby, I’ve reached out to people I didn’t know all that well. I was lucky in one case to get good feedback (thanks, @ErinMFeldman!) , not so lucky in another case. I’m glad you had a positive experience with @ExtremelyAvg , it looks like he gave you excellent advice.

    • @ExtremelyAvg @ginidietrich @RebeccaTodd — everyone. I want to be clear, I’m joking in my first paragraph above.
      My comment above was an attempt to be funny. It wasn’t. Brian, I’m sorry. 
      I was trying to tease @ExtremelyAvg (that’s Brian Meeks, btw) about the writing he’s currently doing on his blog. He’s posting a novel, or at least a longish story, day by day. He posts when a chapter or section is hot off the word processor.  I’ve been happy to read it and sometimes send him typo alerts.
      I haven’t sent any advice on the writing itself because, well, it’s good. 
      If you haven’t been to his site, I recommend starting at the first installment of “Touched” by Brian Meeks at:
      I’m a fan of what Brian is doing. He’s brave to do it and I’m happy to be part of his audience, along with @RebeccaTodd .