Do you ever get tired of those incessant little surveys that companies ask you to fill out? I know I do. Often times I doubt that they ever see the light of day. We rarely get any sort of follow-up about our feedback, which can make us feel like these surveys are just a waste of time.
I’ve learned something about customer surveys, though, that makes them one of the most incredible tools for improving ANYTHING. Several years ago I was tasked with improving end-of-semester evaluations for university professors. I interviewed teachers and students, evaluated results, compared outcomes and what I found was that (…for the most part…) teacher evaluations were a waste of time! Students hated them—suspecting that honesty would be punished and seeing very little evidence it did them any good. Teachers felt the same because they weren’t able to use that garbage data to help their (now former) students. And because the higher-ups were using these evaluations in a way that actually penalized the teacher for receiving any sort of negative feedback, the teachers had an obvious tendency to pressure students for positive comments.
Everything that the evaluations were originally purposed for had been destroyed, because nobody was focusing on how student feedback could power beneficial change and improvement.
I knew something needed to change. I just didn’t realize how simple it would be. I took the system that was in place, and I made a few distinct changes: First, I made it so that teachers got more frequent feedback. Instead of only once (at the end of the semester), it was three times a semester. Second, the feedback was anonymous. This way, students had no reason to be afraid of speaking their minds, and out of this came honesty. Third, reviews were not seen by supervisors. Now teachers had no reason to pressure students into giving glowing reviews, because they couldn’t be punished for negative feedback.
Some very interesting results came out of this project. The first round, students were very candid about their remarks. Often times they would point out something the teacher was doing wrong or things they needed help with. Even though they weren’t generally critical, the reviews weren’t overly positive either. After feedback was given, the teacher was required to respond to the feedback by making improvements to the course. Whatever the change, they had to report what they were changing to the entire class. You would think that by the time the second survey came around the students would have figured out how much power they had and start making demands. Not so! In fact the exact opposite happened! Because the instructor showed that they cared about the issues the students had identified, NOW they started caring about the instructor! The second survey almost always had great remarks about how awesome the teacher was, and how much they appreciated what they’d done to help them. Students were invested and involved, and wanted to work harder to make the class more successful. So finally(!), the system actually helped improve the teaching process.
You might ask what this has to do with those pesky little surveys that we fill out as customers, and ask of our residents and staff?
Well, I’ll tell you: The survey alone has very little value. The real value is what you can show your customers when you use their feedback to make improvements.
Recently at my current post, we started sending out quick little surveys to our customers about their experience with us. The responses range from “0” (horrible) to”10″ (outstanding). At first we just gathered data to rate how well we were doing each week. And honestly, there was very little improvement happening.
Then something changed.
We started calling those customers that sent us survey results. We started asking them for ways we could improve, and then we showed them our progress. Granted, we’re not perfect, but things started changing rapidly. You might think that with a larger company it would take months to see improved results. On the contrary, customers that had given us scores as low as a 0 or 1 were suddenly giving us 9’s and 10’s after getting that follow-up call.
So what happened? I think it was the same thing that happened at the university: Our clients knew we cared. They had their concerns validated and were able to offer their own ideas on how we could improve. They were involved in the solution, and delighted in our success because they could plainly see that we were there to help them as well. Now, we’re all on the same team.
To sum it up, the beauty of asking for feedback is that it gives us the opportunity to serve our customers better. And when we use that feedback appropriately we can gain the traction necessary to steer ahead.