The Great Suggestion Failure

Failed suggestions

To say that customer suggestions are a great failure is both bold and harsh. These days, vendors, hosts and service providers actively solicit feedback from consumers. Yet these suggestions often never make it anywhere: internal barriers mask, inhibit, and even prevent the ideas from coming to fruition.

Success starts with active listening. Good communication and collaborative participation from all stakeholders is a necessity. Sometimes this requires changing company culture, which can seem overwhelming but is worth it in the end.

One of many classical use cases is a company suggestion box or link. It’s visible, it’s marketed, it’s encouraged. So, what’s wrong with it? Plenty.

The biggest problem is the black box effect. You submit a suggestion. Then what? Chances are, you never get feedback or see your idea implemented. At best you get a thank you for your submission, but even that is unusual.

How does that make you feel? Most people feel disheartened at best, or even angry. At worst, they completely check out and cease to care about the outcome. 

A company I do business with is a great example. I spent quite a bit of time and effort writing up the problem and thoughts on how it might be solved, then submitted it. No response.

A few months later when speaking to customer service on the phone about a new issue, I was asked if there was anything else the agent could help me with. I responded that I never heard back from anyone about the suggestion previously submitted and that it would be nice to get an acknowledgement, if not a status update.

The agent responded that the company reads every suggestion carefully and takes all of them seriously. Maybe the company does read every suggestion. Maybe they don’t. How would I know, without any acknowledgment or communication?

There are companies that will claim that they receive thousands of suggestions and can’t possibly send a communication to every contributor. Automation would go a long way here, at least in sending a simple acknowledgment of receipt and perhaps a periodic update. Realistically though, the problem runs much deeper than communication failure.

Many companies simply do not want transparency. Their suggestion boxes are simply a token meant for show — even if they listen, they either don’t intend to take any action or want to take all the credit for good ideas. There’s not much that can be done in these situations, until and unless the company culture shifts.

If your company is averse to transparency, or if you simply haven’t thought about communication from the perspective of your customers, it’s time to change. It may seem overwhelming, but in today’s customer-centric environment it’s no longer just about gaining a competitive edge: it may make or break your business.

Start with baby steps. There are many channels available to help, including online communities, discussion forums and idea exchanges. Experiment with listening to customers and soliciting feedback. It’s impossible to underestimate the benefit of engaging customers. If you do it right, it can change your entire business, positioning your company for profit, success, and becoming a brand your customers trust.