Engaging with criticism

When your company receives a complaint, what do you do with it? Is it noted and dismissed? Or, is it investigated, taken on board and communicated to senior management? Seth Godin’s article ‘Engaging with criticism’ encourages feedback, as I do myself. How can you possibly improve if you don’t know what you need to work on?


If you need to find out how your audience is receiving your work, it’s worth considering how you’ve structured the interactions around criticism. Sometimes a customer has a one-off problem, a situation that is unique and a concern that has to be extinguished on the spot. More often, though, that feedback you’re getting represents the way a hundred or a thousand other customers are also judging you.Some random ideas:

  • If you defend yourself to the customer, quickly explaining precisely why the policy is the way it is, why the product is the way it is, you are pushing the criticizer away because you’re telling them they’re wrong about their opinion. And they might indeed be wrong, but it’s certainly not going to encourage more feedback.
  • If your front line people restate the criticism in their own words and are grateful to the customer for sharing it, everyone will benefit. You can always choose to ignore the input later.
  • If there’s no way for your staff to easily send the criticism up the hierarchy, it dies before it reaches someone who can do something about it.
  • If senior people follow up with the customer with specific acknowledgment and thanks, you multiply the benefits.
Not every company needs to do this right to succeed (Apple succeeds and does not one of these things–and as far as I know, Bob Dylan is in the same camp), but if you believe you can benefit from a cycle of feedback, it’s worth a try.


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