Monday 22 January 2007

Customer feedback - should we include negative comments on the website?

Seem to have ironed out most teething problems on the website. Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed we have improved the display (and number) of customer comments on the "What our customers say" page. This page is slightly controversial, as we deliberately include some mildly critical comments here. Some people think I am mad to do this - but I prefer to credit our customers (and potential customers) with a modicum of intelligence. While a long list of glowing comments does look good, I think it looks even better when we include some negative comments. It shows that we (and our handymen) are human and do make mistakes sometimes. And I think it adds credibility to the positive comments. Someone taking the time to read the website in this much detail (you have to look quite hard to find the critical comments, there aren't many of them) is smart enough to understand that a company can't be perfect every time (although we do try).

For me, hearing the negative comments about a product helps enormously when deciding whether or not to purchase the service or product. If I saw, for example, a review on Amazon about a blogging book saying something like "I really didn't like this book, it was much too simplistic, really only suitable for those that know nothing about blogging" I'd probably buy it, as that is exactly the sort of book that I need at the moment! That review gives me a brief insight from a slightly different point of view, and that is very valuable.

In a similar vein, about a year ago, we were offered some quite expensive Health & Safety consultancy advice. I was very taken with the service on offer: it would have allowed us to devolve all day-to-day H&S legwork to an outside firm of experts, and seemed to be very good value. The salesman was very keen to emphasise that a large proportion of their customers renewed the service after the initial 3-year contract. But while the renewal rate was high, it was not actually 100%, and I was very interested to find out why some people didn't renew. It seemed such a good service that I couldn't believe that companies wouldn't renew once they had experienced it.

So I asked the salesman if he could give me contact details of a few people who had not renewed. I could then find out if any of their reasons might be relevant to us (I was hoping they wouldn't be.). But the sales guy wouldn't do this: he was happy to give me contact details of people who were obviously big fans, but they probably wouldn't be able to tell me much I hadn't already found out. I already knew lots of reasons why the service was good. I wanted to know what I was missing - what was it that stopped people renewing.

Had I been able to speak to some of those non-renewing customers, I probably would have bought the service. But I didn't - I was worried that I was missing something (if the service was as good as the sales guy claimed, *everyone* would renew) so we looked for another solution to improving our H&S management. In the end we got the Health & Safety Executive themselves involved through their Workplace Health Connect programme, which was excellent and free, and allowed us to completely overhaul our H&S manual and other paperwork. But that's another story. We probably would have just gone for the consultancy service, and not bothered looking any further, had I been able to get a full 360-degree view of their business from talking to a full range of their customers.

So that's what I am trying to do with our customer comments page: allowing potential customers to get a rounded picture of what our service offers.

I'd like to take this one step further, but I am not sure I am brave enough: I'd like to publish, in full, the handful of written complaints we have received (together with our responses and further correspondance). This is a bit trickier, as any situation which has gone so pear-shaped as to prompt the customer to actually write to us is inevitably a very complex situation, and there is a risk that we couldn't effectively communciate the full detail of what happened / didn't happen which led to the problem and triggered the complaint.

But I'd still like to do it: it's a bit like EasyJet publishing their weekly punctuality stats. Sure, it shows that some planes are late, but everyone knows that really. Even just the act of publishing the stats implies that their punctuality must be good, otherwise (you presume) they wouldn't dare publish it. And it reassures the customer that the company is honest and open. That TV series which featured EasyJet, (was it called "Airline"?), is the same sort of thing. Would a traditional, "corporate" business like BA have allowed such unfettered access to its day-to-day life? That programme showed all sorts of things going wrong, but it also showed what caused those problems and (most importantly) how the staff dealt with them.

(Just checked EasyJet's website: no sign of punctuality stats anywhere! Curious. Have they stopped publishing them? If anyone knows when or why, please do let me know)

So, I still need a bit of persuading on this, but I do think some potential customers, those who are really researching in depth, would value seeing even detailed complaints on the website, so they can see how we handle things when things don't go exactly to plan.


Anonymous said...

Definitely. Just leaving positive feedback doesn't provide a balanced view. It also gives the impression that you ignore any bad feedback.
It is far more impressive if you are confident enough to include negative remarks and perhaps the way in which you dealt with these problems to resolve the issues with the dissatisfied customers.

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