First published on 28th June 2011 on www.robinsonsequestrian.com
Last week, we were concerned to read a thread of comments on the Horse & Hound Forum in which we were the subject of some criticism. Our new website was the topic and it received most of the comments but other points were made which were not particularly complimentary. I won’t pretend it was a wonderful way to spend half an hour but it was a valuable use of time nonetheless.
Yes, it’s fashionable to greet criticism with a fixed smile as “an opportunity to improve” – which is perfectly true – but it doesn’t make the process of reading it any more pleasant. Having said that, I’ve also felt that any retailer who can’t receive honest criticism, however brutal, shouldn’t really be in retail. Anyone who sells their products to consumers exists purely because they are able to impress enough people to stay in business. It’s not a difficult rule to live by – in fact it couldn’t really be any simpler – and you can’t really be surprised at what happens when it proves too difficult to achieve. Actors and other performers have to learn to handle bad reviews when they perform their art to the paying public so why shouldn’t retailers expect the same accountability? Of course, you can’t be in business for very long before you encounter your first criticism.
One the one hand, you have to expect it; on the other, you must never ever dismiss it when it comes. Any company that justifies doing nothing about criticism because some was expected is on the slippery slope to complacency and arrogance. Neither can you always just start doing whatever it was that provoked the complaint. We have a responsibility to all our customers and merely correcting what one person is unhappy about may not necessarily be the right thing for everyone else. What matters most at this stage is how we respond to our critics and where we can use their comments as a force for improvement, which is precisely why I’m writing this.
It would have been very easy for us to do the traditional, very British thing, which is to close ranks and still attempt to do the right thing, but in a secretive manner, to avoid ‘washing dirty linen’ and to ‘save face’. In a world of blogging and social media, companies are increasingly finding that that doesn’t work. We need to take guidance from the experiences of super-injunction-seeking celebrities who find that the harder you try to contain a story, the more you fail. The sensible alternative, it seems, is to invite more comment and to be seen to respond to it properly. There is at least an inherent honesty here. Everything is “in the open” and everyone “knows where they stand”. When we as customers deal with others, we all want to be able to use those phrases, so why is it so surprising that it applies here as well?
Since last Thursday, we’ve begun to work with Feefo, a company who specialises in providing feedback for mail order and online retailers. With clients such as MandMDirect and Joe Brown’s on their roster, they have a lot of credibility in the world of catalogues and (I hate this term, but…) ‘e-commerce’. Anyway, we sent them information about some recent orders: customers, products ordered, email addresses. Feefo then sent each customer the following email. It was entirely left to each recipient whether or not to respond:
It’s early days I know, but from the results I’ve seen so far, it seems that people are largely satisfied, with around 95% of respondents indicating that they are either ‘Happy’ or ‘Very Happy’. While this is a little more reassuring to us, I don’t want you to think we’re happy that ‘only’ the other 5% aren’t happy with us. There are plenty of issues raised in the experiences of the remaining 5% that, once addressed, could be of value to every customer. The secondary benefit to this survey is that it invites you to say why you’re unhappy, which is absolutely vital to us to help us decide what to do about removing the problem, if we can.
One of the problems I have with trusting the chatrooms too much is that people tend to just say that something is bad or wrong without having to explain why they think that way. I do of course have to concede a point here: why should they have to explain anything? Chatrooms are for people to say what they like (within reason) and are not there for the benefit of snooping marketers like me, looking for nicely reasoned and qualified feedback. I appreciate that when we look at these threads, it’s just a digital version of sitting with our ear to the door of your tackroom. You are of course entitled to speak freely and you’re entitled to your opinion of us and everything else, however you’ve arrived at it. It is however the worst of both worlds for us to read firmly negative comments and then have little or no ability to do anything constructive to repair the situation.
I’m grateful to anyone who takes the time to explain why they think we’ve done something badly and I extend that gratitude to you, if you wish to share your views. We’ll be looking to do something similar to gauge the views of people browsing the site and I’ll be actively encouraging feedback via our Facebook page and our Twitter account. I believe that I can also add a polling widget to this blog, although I’d value your comments more. With regard to our website, our website partners are also closely involved in making whatever improvements we can. Will we always enact every suggestion or remove every irritation we read? I can’t promise that but I can say that if we know we can’t, or won’t, we should always tell you so. If we didn’t do something we should have done, I’d also expect that we should be clear and honest about that. I’m struggling to think of instance where we have failed to be open in the case of any of the above but of course, if your experience is different, I’d be glad to know. Thanks for your time and for any feedback you can give. It’s always appreciated.