Asking your customers what they want is not a wholesale great idea. Not the way you’re doing it, at least. And no, I’m not gonna hit you with the Steve Jobs quote that he stole from Gerald Ford, who stole it from … Benjamin Franklin.
OK, yeah, I am. We’ll all live. “Your customers don’t know what they want.”
And that’s not making fun or light of your customers. Not At All. They are good, fabulous, wonderful people. They are WHY we do what we do.
But if you survey them all willy-nilly, they will KILL you. They won’t mean to. But even your gung-ho will take your innocuous survey as invitation to audition for a reality TV show. And if you listen to them… you’re doomed.
Here’s why. Because nobody’s reading your emails … or your blog … or your Twitter events because you’re catering to public trends – or doing what people want.
People are reading you, following you, and BUYING from you because you are a leader. And doing the mildly to wildly unexpected. That is what Leaders do.
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The Ford quote, in case you were wondering, is “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have said, ‘faster horses.’” And the truth is, they would not have been wrong. Ford did create faster horses, except they weren’t horses.
Nobody “asked” for a smart phone. But we got it. And now can’t live without it. Are you one of these leaders that can do without customer feedback? Probably not. We all need to know what’s going on from the customer’s perspective.
But every single article out there that instructs the average business-owner on how to gather feedback is not… well… not useful.
So I’m going to give you a tip from outside the business world. Back in the day and in another life, I was an academic. Yeah, like a college professor. But the one you liked a lot. I was so cool. At the close of every semester, we hand out an “Evaluation Form” to our students. Before you’re schooled by teaching veterans, it’s an intensely high-anxiety, vulnerable thing.
Mainly because we get to read them. And they’re written by kids. Well, not kids. But mostly people that haven’t yet encountered the demands of jobs, bills, or children. Let’s just say they’re critical. Even the ones who loved you can find something you could do better.
Which is useful. Y’know, sort of.
But thank goodness, one of my elders taught me how to do this effectively. In good literary fashion (my field at the time), she taught me how to frame the questions.
For instance. Before handing out the review form, I’d say, “In this class, we learned this. We explored these things. We discussed this in depth. We had a couple hiccups … like this. We we were challenged by that. But what I hope you’re coming away with is this. And I would love to know what did and didn’t work for you, personally.”
And once I learned that little trick, evaluations took a different turn. Instead of “You are the best professor ever,” Or “Could you suck any worse?” I started getting measured, thoughtful evaluations about the content and its delivery.
All because I set it up. Reminded my educational “customer” what we had done, attempted, and achieved together. And gave them a prompt. Adding “for you personally” to my pre-evaluation speech changed everything. Because it asked the student to take into account their own biases and preferences before making a wholesale statement about mine.
So the “framed” questions were relevant and useful for all involved. Instead of “You sucked,” I got responses like, “I’m a bit of an introvert, so the group discussions were hard. That’s why I didn’t talk much. But it made me challenge myself. And I got a lot out of this.” Or, “I’m such a talker, so I didn’t care for it when you shut me down the first few times. But I learned so much about listening to my peers in this class. Thanks to you. Oh, and all the stuff we studied was cool, too.”
The takeaways here are nuanced in the ways a content-provider can truly appreciate.
- – Require the responder to answer as a participant in a 2-way conversation/exchange, not the passive recipient of a product.
- – Cover the content before the answer begins – so that the answer can skip the easy and obvious for what actually mattered to each of you.
- – Give the teacher feedback about teaching while simultaneously giving the learner feedback about her learning.
So allow me to put my business hat back on to give you one example of how I use this today. Here is my “Feedback” email for website clients:
For me, in this email, there are 4 key things.
- – I reinforce that fact that I make it a habit to over-deliver.
- – I don’t ask for much – no need to write a treatise – just a couple sentences, max.
- – I ask them to write what FEELS GOOD. Which is just a grown-up way of asking about the truth of the whole experience of working with me – not just the one thing that pleased them, or the one thing that pissed them off.
- – I say what the feedback is FOR. I want to help potential customers know if I’m right for them. Not convince them to work with me.
The lesson here is: There Iisa way to ask for what you actually want to know. Stupid questions are questions that you couldn’t understand or answer yourself..
Smart questions are framed, directed, and still open.
In a last example, let me ask you this. Today, we talked about why and how it’s your responsibility to frame the questions you ask. I hope this conversation prompted you to rethink the efficacy of asking your customer, “How Did We Do?” Or “What Could We Do Better?”
If reading this made you uncomfortable – because your business is guilty of this – or excited – because you can change how your business asks questions, I would like to know!
I am literally waiting for your feedback. Just a tweet – or a message – or share – will do.
*And thank you, Elissa Marder, for this lesson which I have carried with me and translated to other worlds.