For many of us, winter is in full swing and we’re turning to hot, hearty dishes to help us stay warm on cold days.  From bowls of soup, to chili, pizza and pancakes, there’s something about piping hot food that just hits the spot, provided it’s served at just the right time.

The same can be said of feedback: it’s an essential tool for helping businesses learn and grow in ever-changing, competitive markets, but let it sit too long and feedback starts to lose its value, or worse.  Feedback is a dish best served hot.

As feedback cools off, valuable details are lost

As a hot dish cools, it loses more than just temperature: soothing steam subsides, flavors fade, and melted ingredients are, well, no longer melted.  Lasagna morphs from a golden slice of comfort into a dense caloric brick.  (My sincere apologies to any cold lasagna fans out there).

Likewise, as feedback cools off it loses more than its sheer immediacy.  Important details are forgotten about events and experiences, and unlike food, memories can’t be reheated – they’re often simply gone.  And context changes over time, making some feedback less relevant or even misleading.

Beware the back of the fridge!

This is why one of the most widely used approaches to gathering feedback from customers – the once-a-year survey – presents the same kind of gamble as foraging in the back of the fridge for your next meal.  Many of the data points are fresh and may not degrade over time, but just as many cooled off long ago and may even have begun to go bad!

Cooled off….  Since many customers’ latest interaction with your company may be months ago, it’s harder for them to recall specifically what you may have done – or not done – that caused them to form their opinion of you.  The moment has passed, the feedback cooled off, and details are lost.  You’re left knowing your high-level strengths and development opportunities, but lacking the kind of blow-by-blow details that will help your team members build on those strengths and resolve issues.

Or worse….  Suppose you receive a “split opinion” of low and high scores from customers in a product support area you restructured several months ago.  Was the effort successful, did it backfire, or have no impact?  Without being able to tie each customer score to the date of their most recent experience with you, which would enable you to examine scores pre- and post-restructuring, the risk of drawing the wrong conclusion is high.

Get it while it’s hot

So, if you haven’t done so already, consider getting your feedback when it’s hot.  Map key moments of truth with your customers, from initial purchase, to set-up, and support.  Ask them for feedback after these experiences, while the details are still fresh in their minds.  And set up convenient channels for customers to share their thoughts with you when they have them, without needing to be asked (here’s a great example from messaging provider, Hipchat).

If you take these steps, the process of gathering timely feedback becomes more of habit than an event.  Through repetition, your organization will become more skilled at digesting and using customer feedback (gathering it is just the first step).  And by gathering feedback constantly, you’ll be able to detect important trends in your business or market quicker than competitors who survey customers only annually.

One last piece of good news: unlike other business transformation efforts, you can start small.  It doesn’t need to be big bang effort.  You can begin with pilot locations or divisions and fine tune before rolling out more broadly.  Like a good bowl of soup or mug of hot chocolate, you can take it one bite, one sip at a time.

Good luck, and stay warm out there!

Doug Fowler

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