The Color of Feedback

As I write this from my study, my house, which is only 28 years younger than our Nation, is getting a fresh coat of Federalist-period yellow paint. “What does house painting have to do with support services?” you ask. The answer: good service lessons are everywhere — and in more ways than you might think.

Last Friday morning starting at 6:45 am I spent almost two hours with George, my painter, and Ralph, the storeowner of Economy Paint in nearby Leominster, custom creating a paint for my house. The color my wife and I had selected from the paint swatch did not cover the clapboards well because of the quantity and types of pigment in the recipe. In a deliberate and logical way, Ralph added dabs of different pigments to achieve our desired yellow/gold color with the critically important coverage characteristics.

When our experimenting led to opening a third gallon of base, I apologized for wasting two gallons of paint — not being sure on whose bill it was going! Ralph said he had a good field representative from Pratt & Lambert who would be seeing the experiment on his next store visit. While relieved that the store would be reimbursed, this also opened a whole new line of inquiry as the second cup of coffee kicked in.

What made this field rep a “good” rep was that he listened and worked with his customer, the storeowner, to help him please his customer, the painter, and ultimately me. Ralph felt confident the lessons learned from this incident would be heard at Pratt & Lambert through the field rep. Perhaps a new official paint color will be created, one that Ralph can sell with confidence. Since I live in an old house right on Main Street, I may give him a half dozen referrals on the custom color before foliage season traffic ends.

As you read this, what parallels did you find to your own issues in delivering customer satisfaction? Here’s mine. First, notice the cooperation throughout all the value-added chain all targeted at customer satisfaction. Second, this added loop of problem correction was preemptive on the part of my painter. He inspected the work before waiting for me to complain – or perhaps even worse, not complain. Third, while the product and service flowed (pun intended) from paint manufacturer to the end consumer, the information feedback flowed in exactly the opposite direction. More importantly, the feedback loop did not dead end. The feedback should be going to the root cause of the issue.

Hopefully, one aspect does not parallel your own situation. The feedback chain here was not systematic at all stages.  All the players in this chain had good intentions and actively worked to capture information, which is a by-product of every process. But if there is one weak link, then the lessons will not be learned by all. For example, Ralph said that a poor field representative would nod in agreement, but that would be the end of the story.

Capturing customer feedback should not be a casual exercise. Specific events, such as mine, should be examined in detail, but the best organizations actively solicit feedback to maximize their learning opportunities. Ideally, the feedback paths should extend back through the entire length of the product-service supply chain. Support groups should not be capturing feedback solely for the benefit of support!

New tools are being created, such an e-mail survey packages, to simplify this vital organizational practice, but don’t confuse simplicity with casualness. Capturing feedback with automated tools should be approached as methodically as creating a new paint color! Poorly constructed feedback mechanisms may do more harm than good if the information misrepresents customers’ views.

As managers in technical support, we can learn much from our “everyday” experiences — benchmarking should not be limited to competitors — but there is one other lesson here. You’ve no doubt heard that dissatisfied customers relate their experiences far more than very satisfied ones. This article embodies the opposite.  We can all help to make positive feedback a powerful consumer tool.