Delivering feedback isn’t always easy. Before deciding to speak up, you may wrestle with competing goals of social responsibility versus a desire to avoid conflict. We believe that constructive feedback delivered directly to the company in a timely manner can benefit small business owners, their employees and consumers.

In speaking to thousands of consumers over the years, I’ve found that the desire to avoid a confrontation may prompt many people to quietly move on and not use that company’s services again.  In those cases, both sides lose.  Armed with the following tips, you may feel empowered to turn an unsatisfactory situation around and experience increased goodwill and satisfaction.

Case Example:  A customer named Bob had a disappointing exchange with an electrical technician who charged him to flip a breaker.  Bob and the technician were unable to reach an agreement about the cost. After reluctantly paying his bill, Bob posted a lengthy review on Yelp. He also complained to Diamond Certified and the Better Business Bureau.  However, Bob never contacted the owner of the electrical contracting company about his concerns. Why? Bob assumed the owner would defend his technician. The opposite was true.  After receiving notification from the Diamond Certified mediator about Bob’s complaint, the owner (Owen) provided additional training to his technician with respect to pricing.  Owen was also able to hear the technician’s challenges in trying to deliver service to Bob. Owen refunded Bob’s disputed charge and was able to work through some scenarios to help his technician handle future challenges.  This made his employee more comfortable in making decisions about pricing services. Owen was grateful that this issue was brought to his attention so he could take steps to improve service and earn a customer’s trust. His only regret was he learned about it second-hand.

Make sure your feedback is timely.

Timeliness prevents a widening gap of conflict while the facts are still fresh in everybody’s minds.

Focus on the problem, not the person.

Instead of running with an assumption, address the facts. More often than not, the truth is both you and the company wanted the job done correctly the first time.

Wrong way: “The sliding door leaks because you were in a hurry to get to another job!” This may or may not be true. There is no upside to alleging something that nobody will agree on, and it has no constructive end.

Right way (focus on the facts): “Since you installed my sliding door, rain has been trickling in so much that it fills a cake pan every two hours. I’ve had to set my alarm to empty the pans in an effort to save my carpet. This door requires your immediate attention.”

Be “pos-effective.”

Approach the conversation with facts and a little curiosity. You might say something like, “My furnace is running short cycles. I’d like the furnace to run for a sufficient length of time and then turn off for a while. What is causing short cycles and how can performance be improved?”

If the problem is behavioral, you can speak about your needs. For example, instead of calling a painter a slob, you might say, “The current end-of-day protocol isn’t meeting my needs for safety and order around my house. I also want to be considerate of my neighbors who are showing their home to prospective buyers. Would you be willing to consolidate your supplies in a designated area in the back at the end of each day?”

Your home is your safe place and probably your biggest investment. It’s OK to identify your needs and ask if the service provider is willing to meet them within reason.

Be respectful.

Deliver feedback as you would like to receive feedback. Try to deliver feedback that doesn’t come across like a personal attack by weeding out assumptions, being mindful of your body language and the tone and pitch of your voice, maintaining eye contact, and slowing down your speech to give the other side a chance to take it in.

More and more consumers are learning how to provide feedback in constructive, rational ways. If both the feedback provider and receiver learn the markers of good feedback, they’re more likely to effectively engage with each other now and in the future.

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