Want feedback? Ask your customers… or maybe not

A trip to the gym last weekend resulted in an unexpected market research lesson, which I talked about on Snapchat*:


Our usual instructor had been away on the previous weekend, and had been temporarily replaced by somebody else. This one had a very peculiar style – ‘though love’, if you wish. He kept telling you to work harder, that you were not trying hard enough; he would stop the music if we were not doing the exercises to a certain standard, and so on. At some point, he even said something along the lines of ‘What have you been doing in these classes? It sure isn’t working-out’. People were playing along with this teasing, laughing, and some even told him that he needed to run the class more often. I am sure that he left the class feeling very positive about ‘customer satisfaction’, and feeling that his style and approach had been validated.


Fast forward to last weekend. While setting up, I overheard some people talking about the instructor that had covered the previous class, and let’s just say that the tone was very different. They were saying that he was moody and grumpy, and that some of his comments had actually been quite rude. I doubt that the replacement instructor is aware of these views.


It was a reminder, to me, that if we really want to know what customers think about our offer, we need to provide a variety of feedback channels, as not everybody likes to voice their opinions face to face, particularly the negative ones.


These are some of the factors that influence whether people give you negative feedback directly or not:

  • Source of dissatisfaction: people are more likely to complain directly to you, if they want to solve a problem (as oppose to just vent their frustration).
  • Expected outcome: they are more likely to complain directly to you if they believe that you will do something about it. This belief can result from a previous experience, your reputation, or because of power-dynamics.
  • Negative emotions: in general, people don’t like confrontation. It creates negative emotions, and they instinctively avoid those situations.
  • Empathy: paradoxically, unhappy customers may empathise with you, or feel sorry. Generally, people find it harder to complaint about a person that they know well, and/or with whom they have high-rapport.
  • Social fear: If nobody else is complaining, and some are even singing your praises, others may not voice their alternative opinion. This could be because they lack confidence; they do not want to be the voice of dissent; or they do not want to be rude and spoil the positive mood.


What these mean is that, if we really want to know what customers think about us, we need to provide a variety of channels:




(dominant motivation: solve a problem)

Direct exchanges between you and the customer, where the complainer is identifiable and expects a reaction from you. E.g., face to face and phone conversations. Technology mediated interactions between you and the customer. There is expectation of a reaction from the firm, though the customer is not directly identifiable (or may feel that they are not easily identifiable; or may choose when to identify themselves. There is usually a time lapse between each exchange. E.g., online forms and e-mail

(dominant motivation: vent frustration)

The customer can be identified, but does not expect a reaction to their feedback (even though, they expect you to act on the feedback). E.g., replying to a survey via text message, expressing opinions on social media or, in some cultures, not leaving a tip. Typically, anonymous feedback, with no expectation of reaction. E.g., anonymous surveys, feedback cards, and online reviews


Want to know more? You may like this post on the psychology of complaining, and this presentation on handling complaints.


* And talking about Snapchat – If you are using it, let’s connect! My username is acanhoto.

One thought on “Want feedback? Ask your customers… or maybe not

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s