Consider this actual example. A customer returned a part to an auto supply store because the part did not fit the customer's car. The clerk refused to take back the part, telling the customer that since the part number was the one specified in the parts book, the partmustfit the car.

There was an argument. Before leaving, the customer angrily yelled he would never buy another item from the store. The clerk yelled back that he was glad the customer would not return.

During this exchange, no manager (or clerk) intervened to prevent the argument or to diffuse the argument after it began. Nor did a manager take the clerk aside after the customer left to suggest alternative ways to respond to similar situations in the future.

This real example illustrates a surprising truth: Managers create situations that cause their employees to upset customers. This is not because managers want their employees to dissatisfy customers. Customer dissatisfaction can be an unintendedconsequence of what managers do - or don't do - to manage their subordinates. In the example, the clerk was not told how his actions did not meet his manager's expectations for treating customers.

When managers don't tell employees how well their work meets customer expectations, employees will “do their own thing.” This means that employee job performance may not meet customers' or managers’ expectations.

However, when managers give useful feedback, employees know how closely their work meets the expectations of their customers and managers. Useful feedback is information that tells individual employees as well as work groups how well they are doing and what to do to improve their work.

Giving useful feedback is important for many reasons.

• Employees learn what is right and wrong about their work, so they know whether to make any changes.

• It provides a method for quickly spotting small problems and resolving them before they grow into large, time-consuming problems.

• By itself, useful feedback will improve performance.

• It allows employees to correct their work without managers having to invest their time solving a problem.

• Employees are not surprised by long-standing problems. They learn about small deviations from customer expectations while there is time to correct them.

To be useful, feedback must be frequent, relevant, specific, and timely.

The morefrequentthe feedback, the more likely employee performance will meet customer expectations. The goal is to give feedback often enough to prevent an employee's work from drifting off target.

Feedback works best when it isrelevantto an employee's job and describes how well an employee did their assignments. Don't give employees data about performance over which they have no control.

Specificfeedback tells employees exactly how closely their own work met customer expectations.

Timelyfeedback means there should be as little delay as practical between completion of the work and feedback about it.

Below are five steps to prepare for and give useful feedback.

Prepare to Give Useful Feedback
1.Ask prospects and customers what they expect from your company. For example, find out what features and benefits of your products or services are important to your customers. Also, ask customers how they expect to be treated by your employees.

2.Tell employees the standards their work must meet to match your customers' expectations.

Give Useful Feedback
3.Observe the work of an individual employee or a work group and solicit comments from customers about how well their requirements are met by the job performance of your employees.

4.Decide how closely the completed work meets customer expectations.

5.If customer expectations were met or exceeded, tell the employee or work group exactly what was done well and how customers and the company benefit. If customer expectations were not met, tell the employee or work group what about their work needs to improve, how their performance hurts customers and the company, and exactly what to do to improve.

Asking customers how well their expectations have been met is an excellent method for obtaining the information you’ll use to give feedback to your employees. When done in a comprehensive manner, this method allows managers to give employees feedback based on customers’ evaluations of their experiences at each of six key points of contact with a supplier organization: core products or services, policies, procedures, properties, personnel, and non-core business functions.

In addition, internal customers should be asked how well their requirements are met by their internal suppliers. Sales reps, for instance, should be asked how well their requests for sales literature or price quotes are filled in a timely manner by sales administrative personnel.

Below is an example of giving useful feedback to an individual employee whose job performance met customer expectations.

Manager to customer service rep:
"Sally, I just talked with Aaron at ABC Company. He is pleased with the way you handled his phone call this morning. He admitted being very upset, even rude to you, because of our billing error, but he was very impressed that you stayed cool. He liked that you spoke in a normal conversational tone and didn’t raise your voice to yell back at him. And he especially liked that you immediately stopped what you were doing to work with him to resolve his issue. Because of the way you treated him, he’s a happy camper. And a happy camper is more likely to keep buying from us.”

Below is an example of giving useful feedback to a work group whose collective job performance did not meet customer expectations.

Manager of HVAC distributor to counter sales crew:
"The contractors we supply say they expect us to prepare their orders accurately, completely, and quickly. Our monthly Contractor Satisfaction Index tells us how well we're meeting contractors' expectations. Last month our CSI was only 89 percent because too many orders were filled inaccurately or incompletely or we took too long. Tom, our quality control guy, will meet with you to find the reasons for these complaints so we can prevent them this month. When we upset contractors, they might switch to other suppliers. That will mean less of our products get sold. And that threatens job security for all of us."

Without useful feedback, employees are unlikely to meet customer expectations. When this happens, managers typically complain to each other about their employees. Yet these managers have (inadvertently) created the very situation they complain about!

Worse, they'll blame the victim by saying the employee is "dumb," "lazy," "needs training," or has a "bad attitude." However, all the employee might need is information about what is acceptable and not acceptable about their performance.

Useful feedback tells employees how closely their work meets customer expectations. When each employee consistently satisfies customers, it helps to improve a company's competitive position because satisfied customers are more likely to come back.

Publication date:03/05/2007