Listening to feedback, assimilating the knowledge gathered and taking action to benefit the health of a company or career, is a key ingredient in a recipe for success. It might be useful to have a look at a real case study which illustrates the consequences of ignoring feedback.
A couple of years back I was part of an external team of marketing professionals for a company that had a slightly different structure to the norm. It was a network, designed to give independent small businesses in the same field buying power with suppliers, an easier and less expensive way for them to market their businesses and access to private banking services. For this the members paid reasonable fees every month. The group built up to over 163 branches and the brand was getting recognition as a source of excellence and professionalism. Some members left, others joined, but there was a core group of passionate members who made use of the group benefits and prospered. And of course the larger the membership, the more money the network had to promote the services the members offered.
Then things changed. The directors decided to rebrand the network. It was a needed upgrade, but they made some serious mistakes in execution.
They started out by holding focus groups with the members and got feedback on all the proposed changes. Then everything went downhill. They ignored the feedback that did not agree with their ideas and only accepted the feedback that matched their preconceived ideas. Instead of taking their recognizable image and updating it as many companies do, they completely changed the image, the colours and the entire look and feel of the brand. They dictated which suppliers the members had to use for the rebranding with no price break being offered as an incentive. They announced a huge hike in dues payable by members, with no discount for those who had more than one outlet and very little perceived benefit to members who were already faced with the cost of rebranding. The rebranded was accomplished at speed with little consideration for practical application and stiff penalties were instituted to compel compliance. When they launched the new look, they addressed the members in a manner that was dictatorial and patronizing, completely overlooking the fact that every member was a qualified professional who was running their own successful companies.
Within a day of the launch, they had lost ten members and with it, 6% of their income. Within a year they were down by a third followed by a steady haemorrhage every month until they lost two thirds of their members and with them, 75% of their previous income. Before the rebrand, they were signing on new members every month and after the rebrand, they only lost members and failed to attract new ones. The members who left were those who marketed their businesses the most, were innovative and the best brand ambassadors. On the whole, those who stayed were apathetic, did not market their branches and did little to promote the brand.
The value of feedback and how to get the best from it
- Always listen to feedback – especially if you asked for it. Use it, even if it is not what you were thinking
- Consider who is doing the talking. Those that are most invested in the brand, be they customers or employees will be the most passionate about speaking up. Both need to be valued and retained
- Silence does not mean consent
- If you ignore feedback, you do so at your peril – people respond the only other way they can: they leave
- People talk. The fact that this network has not been able to recover in two years means that word has gone around that the cons outweigh the pros. They have not innovated and changed to make themselves attractive again, in fact they refused to adapt at all, even as members were resigning by the handful.
- Dictators are loathed. Sitting in an ivory tower and not listening to the clamouring mob at your door is not a good management model in a competitive business world. The health of your company depends on the happiness of your people, both internal and external.
- Change is good as long as it moves you forward and has been thought through properly.
- Emotion plays a huge part in brand loyalty. Negative emotions are the hardest to turn around. You have to go to extraordinary lengths to change them to positive and the longer you leave them the harder they are to change.
All of this applies to getting feedback from inside the company as much as it does to getting feedback from customers. Look after your reputation as an employer, and the rewards will come in the form of more engaged staff and lower recruitment costs. And naturally, all of this translates to a more profitable business.