Asking Customers for Feedback
My friend and colleague, Craig Wortmann, CEO of Sales Engine and Founder of the Kellogg Sales Institute, often speaks about the power and importance of balancing boldness and humility in sales, customer success and leadership.
If there was ever an act that requires the utmost boldness and humility, it’s asking customers (internal or external) for feedback.
It’s a delicate art and not for the faint of heart. When done with empathy, authenticity and a genuine desire to serve others, its power to build deep and lasting relationships and to make space for direct, vulnerable– sometimes uncomfortable but necessary–conversations is undeniable.
The purpose of this article is to break down Asking Customers for Feedback into actionable steps and bring awareness to some of the common traps and expert moves that will come up as you begin practicing this skill and embedding it as a habit in your daily life.
What I hope you’ll gain is the knowledge and confidence to Ask Customers for Feedback as early as tomorrow and, in time, add this tiny but mighty skill to your quiver of arrows that you feel entirely comfortable drawing on when the timing is right.
It’s up to you to practice the skill, experience its power yourself, and make it a habit.
Asking for Permission
The first step in Asking Customers for Feedback is asking permission upfront! At the beginning of the meeting, just after the Purpose Benefit Check, I say something like this, “I’m committed to making every meeting with you [better, more enjoyable, more valuable] than the last. In order to do that, I would love to get your feedback at the end of today’s meeting on how I served you. May I do that?”
This is an important step, not to be overlooked: Asking permission at the beginning of the meeting is like magic dust to the relationship. In an instant, my customer transforms into my coach, rooting for my success. Why? Because, and this is the key insight, no one wants to give feedback to someone on a poorly run meeting.
They will either say yes or no.
If they agree to give you feedback at the end of the meeting, you BETTER make time to ask for it before the meeting ends.
If they do not agree to give you feedback at the end of your meeting (this has never happened to me), graciously thank them for being direct and move on with the next agenda. item.
Asking for Feedback
At the end of your power close, approximately 2-3 minutes before the meeting wraps, ask for feedback using a modified version of the 2×2 Feedback Formula.
I’ll first remind them of the request, “At the beginning of our meeting you agreed to share some feedback on how I served you today. May I ask, what’s one thing I did well to serve you?”
[They will answer]
I’ll say, “Thank you,” because feedback is a gift!
“And what’s one thing I could do to serve you differently in our next meeting?” I’ll ask.
[Insert extended awkward silence, dubious smiles and attempts to tell me how great the meeting was in order to get out of the discomfort I’ve created. Eventually, they will share something.]
“Thank you,” I’ll respond, “That’s great feedback that you can count on me to go to work on in our next meeting.”
Now, let me be clear. The kind of feedback I’m suggesting you ask for in EVERY MEETING is NOT a replacement for your strategic business reviews, QBRs or other Milestone Conversations. Asking Customers for Feedback during your meetings is not intended to address your product or service or measure progress against a milestone or goal.
Asking Customers for Feedback is a tool to help you build a deep and lasting relationship with your customer by serving them in the unique way that they like to be served.
Asking for and receiving the feedback can be awkward, uncomfortable and hard to hear at times. But like any skill, asking customers for feedback in every meeting can help us build our confidence and our competence in this skill. And, if you’re humble enough to take their feedback to heart, I can assure you that this small act will transform your relationships with customers and unlock opportunities that you would have not otherwise discovered without this small act of boldness.
Are you sold yet?
If you’re still thinking, “No way am I going to ask my customers to give me feedback,” I encourage you to keep reading.
You’re not alone. Few people approach this new skill with alacrity the first time we suggest taking it for a spin with a customer or employee. There are questions, hesitations, worries – all of which are valid.
When Asking a Customer for Feedback, there are a few simple expert moves that are KEY to overcoming the common traps and obstacles you’re certainly anticipating.
Common Trap: It is uncomfortable to ask a customer for and get feedback
Expert Move: Focus on building a connection
Many of us aren’t comfortable asking for feedback at first, and that’s normal!
It’s vulnerable, it can be scary, and it seems counterintuitive to how our society perceives salespeople or leaders.
Making asking for feedback a part of your culture—a part of what you do—starts with creating strong, open relationships with your customers.
One way to apply this expert move is by including time in your meeting agenda to connect with customers at the beginning of the meeting, before diving into the “meat” or content of the meeting.
A great way to establish a relationship, either with a new customer or a familiar one, is to use connection questions. For example, “What are you most looking forward to right now?”
The more you learn and discover about your customers, the more open your relationship with them will be, which makes asking for feedback more comfortable.
Common Trap: You will take every opportunity to get out of asking for feedback
Expert Move: Add feedback to your meeting agenda
Let me repeat that: You will take every opportunity to get out of asking for feedback.
To help hold yourself accountable, make time in the meeting agenda to Ask Customers for Feedback at the end of the meeting.
While this agenda item will come at the end of the meeting, you’ll also want to include “permission for feedback” at the beginning of the agenda.
Common Trap: The feedback a customer shares is vague or isn’t feedback at all
Expert Move: Strike a feedback alliance
Often, we make the mistake of asking for generic feedback, which doesn’t always help us understand how to improve, although it can be useful.
The expert move is to form an alliance with your customer to ensure you get specific feedback you can implement right away.
When asking for permission at the start of the meeting, you might say, “I’m committed to making this Friday afternoon’s meeting fun and energizing as we head into the weekend. I would love to get your feedback on how well I do that! Would you be willing to share your feedback at the end of our meeting?”
Because of the specificity of the request for feedback, the customer is NOW looking for those times in the meeting that they experience as fun and energizing, and their feedback is aligned with what you are focusing on.
Common Trap: There are multiple stakeholders in a meeting
Expert Move: Get a sampling or select a single representative to be your coach
When there are multiple stakeholders on the customer’s side of the conversation or meeting, it might take away from the relationship to ask each person for their feedback, since this can take a lot of time.
The expert move is to source 1-2 responses from the group, perhaps focusing on particular stakeholders who may be decision-makers or key to the conversation and/or work being discussed in the meeting.
Another strategy is to assign one individual from the customer as your “coach” at the beginning of the meeting when asking for permission.
Common Trap: Customers will try to wriggle out of giving feedback
Expert Move: Restate commitment and listen empathically
Because giving and receiving feedback can be uncomfortable, and even scary, customers may try to “wriggle out” of giving you feedback. It’s your job to remind them of the safe and open space created by the alliance you formed when you asked permission for feedback.
The expert move to do this is restating the commitment you made in the alliance and holding space for others to give their feedback.
Finally, have the discipline to wait through their (and your) discomfort, because you know what is waiting on the other side: relationship, connection, and your greatest opportunity to show that you care about this individual by serving them in the unique way that they want to be served.
Common Trap: Customers lose trust when feedback isn’t implemented
Expert Move: Explicitly integrating feedback
Asking for feedback from your customers is great, but it’s not enough on its own. To build trust over time, it’s important that you show your customers that you’re listening to and incorporating their feedback.
One way to show you listened to and intend to act up their feedback is to recall it in your follow-up email.
Your feedback at the end of our meeting was:
Did well: You appreciated the fact that I prepared an agenda in advance, that we followed it, and ended our meeting on time!
Do differently: You like to come to meetings having done your homework and would have appreciated some pre-reading about Habits at Work.
Count on me to put this feedback into practice going forward. Thanks again for your willingness to share it with me.
Recreating the feedback you heard in a follow-up email signals that you listened AND makes the feedback easy to reference when you prepare for the next meeting, ensuring you actually put the feedback into practice, provided you think the feedback is valid, of course.
While all feedback should be acknowledged, not all feedback received is valid and should be implemented. As a customer once told me, “You should be humble enough to ask for feedback and strong enough to know when to ignore it.”
The question is: Do you have the boldness and humility to Ask a Customer for Feedback during an upcoming meeting?
If so, here is my challenge to you:
- THIS WEEK, choose a “customer” (this person can be a customer of your business, an employee of yours, your child or anyone else that you “serve” by helping them make progress in their life)
- At the beginning of your next conversation, share your commitment to them, label what you’re going to do (E.g. ask them for feedback at the end of the conversation), and ask them permission to get for feedback later
- Then, when the time comes, ask for feedback using the modified 2×2 formula
- Take notes and ask clarifying questions so that you can actually go to work on the feedback shared
- Put that feedback into practice!