Service Implications of Employee/Customer Criticisms


Celebrating the critic

Critics are not among the most liked in society. Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Benjamin Disraeli once described critics as “those who have failed in literature and art.” 18th century British poet and playwright, Samuel Johnson was even less charitable in describing the critic.

He said, “Criticism is a study by which men grow important and formidable at very small expense. He whom nature has made weak, and idleness keeps ignorant, may yet support his vanity by the name of a critic.”

Evidently, people prefer those who praise. Among the many reasons for the popularity of praise as opposed to criticisms is the fact that praise feels good. It is ego-boosting. It is viewed as a validation of one’s efforts and one’s very essence. Many people will do just about anything to be praised. Norman Vincent Peale, the famed American preacher and author, was right on the money when he said, “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

It is however instructive to note that there are those who love to be criticised for their work. There are some who will even go out of their way to get people to criticise what they are doing because they believe the words of the critics can help them do a better work. Victor Hugo, touted as one of France’s most important writers and thinkers claimed he would “rather be hissed at for a good verse, than applauded for a bad one.”

There is also a third position when it comes to handling criticisms or praise—that is, to disregard both. This is aptly put by John Wooden, the celebrated American basketball coach. His advice is that “You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.” The truth however is that this advice is easier read than upheld. It is not easy to not be affected by either one of the two. And the easiest approach is to shun the critic and embrace the extoller.

No matter how one looks at it, those who say they love criticisms are mostly in the minority. Regardless of whether the critic is sincere in his or her criticism, it stings—even if just a tiny bit—to be criticised. When one puts in so much effort and time and someone else comes in to say that the offering does not meet expectations or standards, it can really hurt. This is why praise singing is almost always more popular. Critics are to be dealt with not taken out for lunch and given awards.

For many, the best way to deal with critics is to treat their criticism like a duck does to water on its back—let it roll off. Polish-American film producer, Samuel Goldwyn had such a disdain for critics that his suggestion was to totally black them out. His advice was “Don’t pay any attention to the critics—don’t even ignore them.”

For many people, treating criticism this way is one way of living in peace. Their belief is that critics are everywhere and if one is to respond to each and every one of them, life will be truly chaotic. Not allowing the words of the critic to get to one takes the sting out of the criticism.

The strategy of treating the critic with disdain, outright rejection or complete contempt may work in certain situations. However, it has been found that when it comes to running a successful business, that strategy might be more deleterious than helpful. Running a business solely on the praises of people will not do much good in the long run.

As alluded to above and as is observed among people, praise is more welcomed than criticism. In business, praise comes in the form of the well-known metric referred to as Net Promoter Score (NPS). This is a measurement of how well customers appreciate the organisation to the point where they are ready to go out of their way to promote that organisation to others. The presence of a whole business metric for measuring praise is an indication of how important people regard praise.

In brief, to measure the NPS of an organisation involves dividing the customer base into three by the use of a single simple question. The question is: “How likely are you to recommend (our company) to a colleague or friend?” Respondents are expected to provide a rating on a 0-10 scale from 0 (“Not at all likely”) to 10 (“Extremely likely”). By the responses given to this question, customers can be divided into Detractors, Promoters and Passives.

Detractors are those customers whose responses are from 0 (“Not at all likely”) to 6 (“Somehow likely”). These are the unhappy customers who have the potential of damaging the brand and impede the growth of the business through negative word-of-mouth.

Promoters were customers whose responses to the question are from 9-10 (“Extremely likely”). They are the loyal customers who will not only keep patronising the goods and services but will go out of their way to recommend the business to others.

Passives are those customers “on the fence”. They are mostly marginally satisfied and not so enthusiastic about the organisation or the product. These are the customers who could switch their loyalty to the competition at any point in time.

The Net-Promoter Score is obtained by subtracting the percentage of customers who give low responses, i.e. the Detractors, from those who give high responses, i.e. the Promoters.  (% of Promoters – % of Detractors = NPS).

In a 2003 Harvard Business Review article titled The One Number You Need to Grow by Fred Reichheld, a US business strategist and author, the NPS was touted as “as the most important metric for business”. It is therefore no wonder that many businesses place so much emphasis on their NPS.

However, if recent thoughts on the subject are anything to go by, then it seems businesses should rather take a reverse approach to the matter of praise and criticism. It seems criticisms might rather be the way by which a business can improve its offering to customers and, by extension, grow.

Criticisms in business can come in the form of complaints, suggestions, advice, etc. When things do not go as the customer expects, such a customer will be critical of the product or service. When customers or even employee expects more than they are given, they will criticise—and there is nothing wrong with that.

In accepting to use criticisms as a means of improving the business, it is important that the organisation is not too selective. Criticisms from all corners must be accepted even if it feels like they are not needed. Criticisms, whether constructive or destructive, can be a sign that something is wrong and should therefore be given attention. The mistake many businesses make is that the criticism is judged based on the critic. This is a wrong approach. The better way is to accept all criticisms, from friends and enemies alike, in good faith and thereafter sieve them for those that can be put to good use and those that should be discarded.

It is equally important for every organisation to accept that criticisms can come from both inside and outside. In most cases, critics care—that is why they even criticise in the first place. Criticisms from employees are as important as those from customers and other external stakeholders.

In the former situation, the organisation must be structured in such a way that employees feel free to speak out, without any fear of being victimised. Managers must run the organisation in such a way that employees are encouraged to speak up when they believe things are not going well. This must be done, without fear or favour. Managers must know better than to allow their emotions to get in the way of receiving necessary criticisms.

In the latter situation, the organisation must go out of its way to solicit criticisms from all external stakeholders. Customers or external stakeholders who go out of their way to criticise must also be celebrated, especially if their criticism leads to positive changes in the way things are done in the organisation. It has been proven that people normally do not like being critical of others. Therefore, for someone to be critical, then things must have gotten really bad. Also we live in an age where time is in such a short supply. And if someone goes out of his or her way to come forward with any form of criticism, that individual must be appreciated.

One of the best ways to appreciate someone who criticises the organisation is to take the criticism seriously. If the criticism leads to an improvement in the product or service, that customer should be given the necessary recognition. That single act will go a long way to endear the organisation to the customer—and that relationship has a greater chance of lasting for a very long time.

The illustrious Zig Ziglar once said that “There has never been a statue erected to honour a critic.” The heart of the great man was in the right place but this statement does not do justice to the role of the well-meaning critic. Critics who truly care are needed. A life without critics ready to pounce when things go wrong would not be very exciting. True, we might not erect statues in their honour but if we are to listen to them, we would do things better.

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