Feedback is a funny thing. We know we should want feedback from our customers. It’s pretty much the core of the whole “get out of the building” customer development process from Steve Blank. However, sometimes we don’t want to hear what they have to say.
Nothing signals that you don’t actually want to hear feedback like challenging it immediately and acting defensive when you receive it. Remember, the person providing you feedback is doing you a favor (not the other way around). They’re helping you understand how you’re doing in a way that you can’t since you’re on the inside.
The other day someone asked me to coffee and wanted feedback about how their business was doing (I would be considered a user of their service or perhaps a constituent — not a paying customer). It happened to be a business that I had a lot of thoughts about so I obliged. I tried to be honest and direct and talked about what I thought they were doing well and also where they were really missing the boat. I felt like I was giving her the answers — really the solution she was seeking — but she didn’t want to hear them. The feedback was met only with challenges and defensiveness. I walked away thinking it was an awkward meeting and probably a waste of my time. I’m guessing she felt the same way. I actually felt bad about it, at least at first. Then I realized that while I probably wasted my time, she definitely wasted an opportunity to get perspective that could help grow her business.
I think a good rule of thumb with receiving feedback is to always remember:
Side note — I first heard this quote in a Disney Institute training seminar ~2008 and it has always stuck with me. Rap Genius, of all things, tells me that it may be originally sourced (in a slightly different form) from Stephen M. R. Covey in his 2006 book “The Speed of Trust” (which I’ve never read).
In this particular instance, I think its very possible that she was defensive because she was hearing my feedback on her business’ behaviors and was interpreting it as feedback on her business’ intentions.
That’s a pretty natural thing to do and I can see why you’d be defensive if you’re in that mindset.
It’s also a pretty dangerous thing to do for your business since your customers will always judge you on your behaviors.