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Constructive Feedback

Providing feedback to your suppliers allows them to make immprovements and react to market demands.

by Deborah Farnham
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An employee’s performance evaluation is often a scheduled, structured process in which the feedback provided is both positive and practical. The employee can use this opportunity to further develop core strengths and identify areas of professional improvement.

In the vendor-customer relationship, feedback is just as important. Positive and negative feedback helps companies to develop core strengths and identify areas of improvement in manufacturing, delivery, pre- and post-sale support, and product development.

A good company will proactively seek feedback by contacting customers and listening and responding to their comments; by analyzing feedback for product/ service improvements, market trends and opportunities; and using this information to develop a plan of action. Unfortunately, most companies rarely solicit feedback, so it’s up to the customer to initiate contact, and more often than not, this contact is the result of a problem.

Although the offer of feedback is always appreciated by a company, the manner in which the feedback is crafted can sometimes be destructive rather than constructive. At the same time, the manner in which a vendor chooses to respond to feedback can ultimately benefit or damage its reputation. Constructive feedback is a valuable tool, while destructive feedback is simply critical. It behooves both sides to work constructively together to reach a resolution to the issue.

Providing feedback
When providing feedback to a vendor, focus on the topic at hand and provide as many details as possible. These include how the product is used, where or when it was purchased, and the chain of events that led to this feedback. The more detail you can provide, the easier it is for the company to assess the situation, incorporate any necessary corrective action and respond to the feedback. Even complimentary feedback should include detail so that the company knows exactly why your experience was positive; this information can be applied to benefit other customer experiences.

If the feedback is the result of a problem, a polite and professional tone can go a long way toward encouraging a dialogue and resolving the problem. Don’t be afraid to voice your expectations for the best possible solution; it doesn’t hurt to ask, but neither is the company obligated to comply.

Bad Example: My Lucky Cup coffeemaker just exploded, sending coffee everywhere. It soaked my notebook, and now I have to repeat 16 hours of work. I can’t even go to our annual ice cream social, and I was looking forward to that all week! Do you even look at your products before you ship them? Lucky Cup is awful. You owe me a new coffeemaker!

Better Example: I purchased your Lucky Cup coffeemaker six months ago and have been using it twice per day ever since. Today, as I poured coffee, the carafe handle broke where it was joined to the glass carafe neck, sending hot coffee all over my notebook. My notes are destroyed, data must be recreated, and I have no coffee to drink. To compensate for my lost productivity and decreased energy level, would you send me a free Lucky Cup coffeemaker?

Responding to feedback
In today’s crowded and competitive scientific landscape, customer service is often just as important as the quality of a vendor’s product or service. So, whether a customer is called upon to share his or her experience with a company or its product, or volunteers the information, he or she should be taken seriously and answered with the utmost professionalism.

When feedback is handled properly, the customer’s overall experience can be improved or strengthened, increasing the chances that he or she will continue to purchase from the vendor or recommend the vendor’s products or services to other potential customers. The company can also apply the experience toward uncovering underlying root causes and making improvements for future customers.

On the other hand, when the situation is mishandled, the customer’s experience can go from bad to much, much worse. An adverse experience, especially in an era of social media and instant communication, has the potential to resonate far and wide. It’s no longer simply a matter of the vendor losing the business of one unhappy customer; if that customer is motivated to take action, news of the experience could spread, damaging the company’s reputation within its core markets.

Bad Example: Lucky Cup claims no liability for personal property damage due to carelessly poured coffee.

Better Example: Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We’re sorry to hear that your notebook and notes were destroyed. We are currently investigating this matter internally and, if necessary, will contact you for additional information. While we cannot send you a free Lucky Cup coffeemaker as requested, we hope that you will accept a free replacement carafe and a $5 coupon for our Mountain Roast ground coffee as a token of our regret.

Feedback analysis
In addition to the immediate actions of responding to and resolving individual customer comments, an analysis of all feedback over time can highlight trends for process, product or service improvements, or even avenues for providing additional value to customers. This analysis can be compiled internally or by specialized external firms, and an overview with recommendations to management ensures that everyone is aware of any actions to be implemented.

In the aforementioned Lucky Cup coffeemaker scenario, the problem may have been a single manufacturing defect, a change in the manufacturing process or even careless handling by the operator. With such isolated feedback, it’s nearly impossible to determine why the carafe broke; but when this feedback is compiled with information from other customers, potential causes can be eliminated or confirmed.

With analysis in hand, the company is tasked with weighing improvements and additional valuations against feasibility. Additionally, the analyses can be used proactively to shape new products and new features for existing products.

Customer feedback is an important piece in the understanding of a customer’s experience. Customers who share their experiences with a vendor receive direct improvements where necessary and feasible, and also benefit in the long run from the resulting improvements to that company’s products.

At the same time, the demonstration that a customer’s feedback is valuable to a vendor, and the improvement of a negative situation, can ultimately lead to a positive customer experience. Without receiving feedback, it’s hard for a company to anticipate improvements and react to changing market demands.