Tag Archives: conversation

The Anonymous Channel

I was recently involved in testing changes to our help portal, and we are (finally) going to implement a feedback and rating option on our help topics. For the longest time I thought this wouldn’t really bring much in the way of feedback.  However, it was through a different feedback exercise that I started to realize the value of this anonymous feedback channel.

Based on speaking to our target audience, I understood that they have so much feedback to give, and want to be listened to so badly, they welcome ANY channel.  Face-to-face, or anonymous. Doesn’t matter.

I always thought that when people give ratings and feedback anonymously via a form online, that they wouldn’t really take the time to think about something or state what is good or bad about a document. I thought that ratings were insufficient to give the evaluator a real sense of what is needed to improve our product.

But after speaking with several members of our target audience in one-to-one interviews, they showed their passion for giving feedback on our product.  And then I realized this akin to the multiple platforms out on the web that allow people to state their minds, especially when they are experts. Whether it be blogs, twitter, Facebook, run of the mill websites, DIGG, RSS, or whatever other tool is out there, people who know something want to share their feedback. It’s not just one-sided, it’s real collaboration and cooperation.

In this case, I realized it’s not an inferior channel to interviews or online questionnaires, rather it’s an additional anonymous channel that lets an expert user give feedback using free text and star ratings that the author will eventually receive so he or she can better the product.

In short, there isn’t one feedback channel that is better than another, they are all good, whether they be anonymous or not.  Just give the audience the option to speak their minds. The rest is evaluating it later. And that’s a topic in itself.


Why Numbers Lie

So often people are asked to give feedback on a given project or piece of work, or perhaps a service or product or experience they had. And so often you get the “On a scale from 1 to 10…” measurement.

And this is just a lie.  No, it’s not a lie in the sense of actively deceiving someone, more a lie in that a number doesn’t reveal the truth behind the comment.

Numbers & Feelings Don’t Add Up

I am compiling a list of responses from a feedback loop we have built-in for our documentation projects at work. We use a 1 to 5 feedback scoring system and we allow the respondents (it’s all anonymous) to voice any concerns or ways they think we can improve our service. Inevitably the feedback we do get does not always match with the scores. We get 5 out of 5 on a bunch of criteria, yet the feedback people write in indicates otherwise. So why the discrepancy? Because people will click off numbers and don’t want to think about too deeply. But as soon as they can air their feelings or ideas, they do, and it’s much more insightful and can lead to really actionable feedback.

In short, numbers rarely convey feelings and often people don’t say what they mean.

So Why Measure Using Numbers?

Well, the short version is, it’s easily measured and evaluated. Sixty percent of respondents liked ‘X’, or the average satisfaction score was 4 out of 5. Great, but there is no nitty-gritty detail in that. The other reason is that the world is ruled by numbers guys. When you go in front of a manager who is giving you 30 minutes of his/her time, numbers make a bigger (and simpler) impression than do words. And while both are always open to interpretation, numbers “appear” to tell the truth. And we know that isn’t true. Also, it’s easy to grasp a number and not so much a feeling or a concept. Especially not in the IT industry.

What’s the Answer?

Look, you’re going to have to have numbers to justify your arguments, that is the way business works. But if you get a chance to either speak to your potential respondents in an face-to-face or telephone setting, or you can get a blog discussion going, you will get someone’s real feelings and ideas and that is the closest thing to the truth you’ll get. It will lead you down the path of taking feedback and incorporating it into whatever you do to make it better.

Web 2.0 and Feedback – It’s a Delicate Thing

I would be remiss if I didn’t blog about feedback in the Web 2.0 world. It has become utterly integral to the whole feedback loop from a company and personal perspective. If a company doesn’t have a blog or a wiki, it’s losing out on valuable feedback loops, whether it be internal or external feedback. But it’s a delicate balancing act to use these tools. They harbor huge promise and potential, but they  can also spin out of control if they aren’t used correctly. (I won’t go into Twitter just yet — it’s a different animal, even though it’s related to blogs in many respects.)

The two feedback streams I want to talk about briefly are blogs and wikis.


Everyone has one, everyone uses them, it is the place to spew ideas, feeling, concerns, have discussions with the rest of the world (literally). But how can this tool, this medium be used effectively for customer feedback? In short, if you control it, steer it and maintain it, you can garner a huge amount of feedback over a period of time, which can give you a nice snapshot.

If you deliver a service or a product, a blog can be a good way to get a discussion going. GM’s Fastlane blog is a great example where the higher-ups at the company get in on the discussions. And more importantly, start discussions. It can get you in trouble — just ask Bob Lutz and his comments on global warming — but it’s a reminder that controlling the discussion is critical to getting good feedback. Since almost anyone can post a comment, you are open to harsh criticism — and passionate defenders if you take of customers properly.

If you follow a blog discussion, analyze it, and keep it alive, you can mine it for useful feedback and use that to improve what you’re offering.


Wikis are a different animal, and I am not just talking about Wikipedia. I am talking about chipping in, collaborating and possibly making something greater by using the wisdom of the many. Although a wiki is a collaboration tool, it can also be used to garner feedback, and in most business cases, internally. You can post ideas and documents for reviews and get feedback relatively easily. It’s more one-way than a blog, as permissions and editing rights are required here. But it’s a good tool to do virtual feedback rounds with internal experts. Just remember, you can use a wiki for more than just collaboration, but maintain control of who can access it and edit it.

What’s it all mean?

Web 2.0 tools are critical to gather legitimate, actionable feedback, but you have to be careful about who has control of the conversations and how you direct the flow of info.

The Small-Big-Small Approach


One of the things I have learned about setting up a feedback process is that you need a clear methodology before you start a feedback campaign. I have been participating in and leading a work group for a little while now, and have determined that a small-big-small approach seems to work best, but I think it would be applicable to almost any size company where you are trying to get feedback.

So let’s supposed you are tasked with leading a feedback campaign and you don’t know where to start. Make sure you can do the following things: 1) Get commitment from your superiors on the value this brings and so you can promote it, 2) Run the campaign multiple times, not just once,  and 3) go for a small-big-small approach (assuming you got the approval for #2). So what is this approach? Read on.


Assuming you have your target audience for the campaign figured out and have the tools you need to do it (I know, I am assuming a lot), try running  a small feedback campaign, targeting let’s say no more than 50 – 60 people who you know can give you good feedback. By limiting it to this size, you can keep a better overview of the whole project. Also you will probably need fewer people to support you when you start to evaluate the results (if you can, have a small but dedicated team to help you get through this). Granted, you may not get the widest sample information, but it serves as a very good baseline.


After you have completed your first feedback campaign, and you have wildly impressed your superiors with your brilliant deductions from the feedback you received, propose expanding the scope of the next feedback campaign to double the size. That way you can get a larger number of results and compare them to the first campaign. Yes, a bigger campaign means more coordination, more time spent evaluating the responses and just plain more headaches as you have to keep track of all of it. But bigger numbers do count for something. By casting a wider net, you sometimes catch some good fish. Tip: Also use the first campaign’s questions to drive the new questions of the second campaign.


When the big campaign is over and you have evaluated the results, pick out the respondents who gave you the best feedback and ask them to join a blue ribbon feedback panel. Keep it small, under 30 people if you can. this keeps it very manageable and easier to dissect and evaluate. If they have the time, and are motivated, they can become part of something that really improves your product/service. But the questions you pose in a smaller, more focused feedback campaign will have to be very well thought out and more nitty-gritty.

It’s a ton of work to get feedback, but this approach gives you a long-term view and good method of getting the feedback you need.

Listening 1-to-1

It may sound odd, but I noticed that in my recent 1-to-1 conversations with the people on my team, there were valuable feedback lessons learned.

First and foremost, I had to think of the people who report to me not as subordinates, rather as my customers. I need to find out their pain points to make them happy and productive. I needed feedback and I needed to make sure I could something with it. Otherwise it’s all hot air. And they’ll get frustrated and quit. In short, treat everyone like a customer.

Another lesson I learned was really about asking a question and not getting the desired answer. So often you ask a question and the answer you get goes off on a tangent and you wind up on a different topic. Because you get off topic doesn’t mean you didn’t get a good answer. It means something you said was either interpreted differently or as the person was talking, it got them thinking. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it leads to a goldmine of useful feedback. Don’t go into a feedback round expecting specific answers, keep an open mind.

The last thing I learned was that you need to be agile when getting feedback. Even with open-ended questions, I was getting one word answers, so I had to change my tactics. I realized I needed to get into a conversation with the person to generate feedback. I had to empathize with the person where possible and get the info flow going.

This isn’t a piece on HR, it just shows that you can learn about getting customer feedback in the most unlikely situation.

What It’s All About

Customer Feedback – What It’s all About?

Well, my friend and in many ways mentor said it best (see his comment). It’s about conversations. If you don’t communicate and talk to your audience, whether they are purchasing customers or merely interested parties, they won’t know you and more importantly, you won’t you know them.

And isn’t that what customer relationships are all about?

How many deals are broken because you don’t know who you are talking to?

Getting the right customer feedback, at the right time and mining it for actionable content is hard work — but worth it. Because once you know your customers, and their needs, you gain wisdom, insight and most importantly, you gain trust.  And without trust, you have no customers.