A Penny for Your Thoughts

I’m a fan of the classic sci-fi TV series The Twilight Zone. Fortunately, there are plenty of occasions to watch these classic tales, as it seems every holiday finds at least one channel airing a marathon. Not too long ago I had the opportunity to watch a few episodes including A Penny for Your Thoughts.

This episode tells the story of Hector Poole, a bank clerk played by the great Dick York. On his way to work one morning, Hector stops to buy a newspaper. As he tosses some change into the newsman’s box, one of the coins lands standing on its edge. Miraculously, this one-in-a-million occurrence also provides Hector with the ability to read people’s minds.

The typically quiet and meek banker suddenly finds himself privy to the secret thoughts of the people around him. Hesitantly at first, but with growing confidence, he begins to use his new-found power to affect the world around him. He alerts his boss to a potential robbery, earns a promotion, and even connects with a pretty coworker who’s been too shy to make the first move.

Haven’t we all wished for the ability to know what other people are thinking? Even though there are potential pitfalls, knowing what’s going on in the minds of those around you, say your customers or employees, could prove to be incredibly beneficial. Knowing how your customers feel about your products or services would allow you to identify ways to make them better. Understanding what motivates your employees would allow you to design better programs and be a more effective leader.

Well, I have good news for you. It is possible to know exactly what’s going on in the minds of your customers and employees right now. All you have to do is … ask.

I’m amazed at how many organizations brag on their customer service, but never take the time to ask the people using their products how they really feel. The leaders of these companies have convinced themselves that they provide great service – possibly on the feedback of one or two close friends who simply feed their egos. All the while, customers are suffering and quietly seeking out other, more caring businesses to interact with.

The same goes for employee engagement programs. Rather than ask employees what they want or need in order to feel valued, management chooses to believe everything is rosy.  A Human Resources executive recently shared with an experience she had with just such a person. She had prepared a report summarizing employee suggestions for improving the workplace. The goal was to enhance the reputation of the organization as an “employer of choice.” As she began her report, the CEO interrupted her and chastised her for wasting time on the project. He said “We already are the ‘employer of choice.’”

Here’s a tip for all of you in leadership positions out there. The further you are from the frontline, the more out of touch with reality you are. As managers, we cannot assume that we know what our customers want or our employees need. Unless we interact with them every day, we can’t possibly know firsthand how they feel. We have to ask.

Setting up a feedback management program isn’t difficult. While there are many facets to a fully developed program, getting started is easier than you think. Most businesses start with surveys. Here are the five basic steps to launching a feedback survey program.

1. Decide what you want to know. People will tell you what’s on their mind. The hardest part is typically figuring out how to ask the question. Start by writing down, as specifically as possible, what you want to know. What problem are you trying to solve? What decision are you trying to make?

Next, determine who can provide the necessary information. Do you need to hear from customers who’ve purchased within the past 3 months or employees who work a particular shift? Identifying the group who can give you the information you need is just as important as which questions you ask.

Now determine what key pieces of information you need to answer your question and design a series of questions that guide your target audience through the process of giving you the information you need.

2. Determine how you will collect the information. A key step to launching a feedback management program is devising a system for gathering the responses. Depending on your audience, you need to decide on the appropriate platform upon which to build your survey.

You can provide your survey via regular mail or email. You may choose to embed your survey within your website or Facebook page. Or you may need to utilize a combination of methods to ensure a satisfactory rate of response.

3. Set up a system for analyzing the data. Once responses start coming in, you need to turn all of the data into meaningful information. Numerical, or quantitative, values must be tabulated in order to provide direction. Text responses, called qualitative data, must be categorized and examined for patterns and trends.

4. Establish a process for integrating what you’ve learned. Collecting data is great, but surveys are no good unless you actually do something with the information they give you. You have to be willing to make changes based on the feedback you receive. Depending on the size of your organization, you may need a team that convenes regularly to discuss the information provided by your survey program and make recommendations to senior management.

5. Commit to closing the loop. Customers and employees are more than happy to tell you what they think. But in exchange, they expect to see some type of reward for their effort. I’m not talking about a gift in exchange for participating in your survey. I’m talking about closing the loop. Survey respondents want to know that they’ve been heard and that their opinion is valued.

If you make an enhancement to your product, let your customers know that it was because of their feedback. If something changes internally because of insights gained from employee surveys, send out an email letting them know how valuable their opinions are. You’ll find that closing the loop in this way will build trust and result in even more usable feedback from your target group.

Surveys are a great way to gather valuable information. There’s no better way to get inside the head of your customers or employees. And you don’t need a magic coin or a trip through the Twilight Zone to get started.

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