I Am a Whore for Feedback — Give It to Me Straight

(Photo Credit: bradadozier)

I don’t know where I first heard it, but Ken Blanchard’s line, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions” is one I think about all the time.

Last week I was interviewing people for a position, and, well aware of the frustration it brings to feel as though you’ve nailed an interview but to never hear back, I decided I would go into calls with this quotation firmly in mind.

I began each discussion with a scripted introduction: My philosophy when hiring is to be as upfront and straightforward as possible… Should you not be successful, I will tell you that ‘sorry this time around you weren’t the right fit’, but give an actual reason should there be one — not pulling any punches.

Late on Friday, with the interviews over, at the time I had planned to sign off for the day, I stuck to my promise and went back into my inbox to spend thirty minutes turning my notes into individual responses.

These gave the real reasons for why each unsuccessful candidate was not moving forward to the next round. Reasons like:

– You took five minutes to loosen up and could have been a lot more enthusiastic.

– You weren’t centred in your delivery. Doing a video call on Skype is tough, but pick one thing to look at as your focal point (ideally right under your camera) and always come back to that.

– A number of questions I expected much more substantive answers to.

– Your energy didn’t live up to the “Yes I am!” energy of your writing (you of course don’t want to be over the top, but an extra 10–20% would help you enormously).

– You were kind of boring. You could have told a lot more stories of past experiences. Others did and it made for a more memorable interview — especially when someone in my position is doing so many interviews back-to-back.

***

Some might hate me for saying these things. Some might have thought their call went much better than it did and be devastated to have such comments brought to their attention. Some might be resentful and want to fire back all of the ways I could have conducted the interview better.

But I know that at least one or two will take my points onboard and that the feedback will serve them in future interviews. That made me want to do it, and made me feel great after hitting Send on the emails.

The trouble is, there are fewer and fewer outlets in 2016 for such critique, and many instances in which I would like to be candid but can’t be in good conscience.

We’ve lost the art of giving feedback

For so many of our apps and services, anything but a 5* review feels like a slap in the face.

Leave somebody enough 4* reviews on Uber and they get pulled from the service. Get enough 3* reviews on Upwork and you’re out of work as a freelancer. Receive a couple of critical comments on AirBnb and you’re unlikely to host many further visitors.

These platforms all want your feedback — and will follow up with endless reminders for you to leave a review until you do — but how often do you state the truth on them, and what are platforms doing to make sure the feedback you give is reflective of service?

If it’s genuinely bad service, I am sure, like me, you have no hesitation in leaving a bad review.

But what if it’s just okay?

While run-down a few weeks ago, I had someone do grocery shopping for me from TaskRabbit. This person did okay in that she got all of the things on the list, but she took almost twice as long as someone I had previously had do a similar run, and she wasn’t very communicative.

The prompt I received to leave a rating was:

This was definitely not great! service, but it wasn’t “meh” either.

Such binary options lead to a culture that, in the words of comedian Louis CK, lead people to label everything “AWESOME” or “SUCKS”.

Anything that’s not 5* is perceived en masse as having something severely wrong with it. In this instance, if I were to give critical feedback, that person would lose work to a disproportionate degree from what the par service should warrant.

What true 5* service looks like

In dozens of Uber rides, I’ve only ever had a one truly 5* ride.

Heading to Medellin airport on the way back from a two-week vacation, the drive turned out to be the highlight of the entire trip. The driver was on time, greeted me like royalty, offered an array of drinks in the side-door, asked what kind of music I wanted to listen to — classical — and proceeded to play one of the best playlists I have ever heard from insanely good speakers.

The car was an SUV and — contrasted with two weeks of riding around in cars that felt as though they were held together by sellotape — was the smoothest drive in living memory.

Heading off with the sun about to set, the sky a bloodshot red, we made our way up into the mountains. Traffic was backed up for miles and I was fearful that I was going to miss my flight. After crawling along for several miles we could see the flashing red light of an ambulance in the distance. Just as we came to approach it, with shattered bits of motorcycle scattered on the road, two corpses were being zipped up in black body bags.

My driver said a prayer for them, and, after passing the wreckage, drove as fast as he could, getting me to the airport with just enough time to get my gate.

This was, without exaggeration, a life-changing drive, and there was no rating high enough I could have given. To fairly express the impact of this drive would have required an entirely new category.

Louis CK has this great bit:

As humans, we waste the shit out of our words. It’s sad. We use words like “awesome” and “wonderful” like they’re candy. It was awesome? Really? It inspired awe? It was wonderful? Are you serious? It was full of wonder? You use the word “amazing” to describe a goddamn sandwich at Wendy’s. What’s going to happen on your wedding day, or when your first child is born? How will you describe it? You already wasted “amazing” on a fucking sandwich.

The same is true of reviews. We give out 5* reviews like candy so that when we have a truly awe-inspiring experience, there’s nothing left to give.

With the grace this driver handled the circumstances, it pains me that (aside from giving a very big tip) I could do nothing more than give the same 5* review that countless other drivers undeservedly received that day.

***

There’s no easy fix, but we need to recognise that being wasteful with language kills incentive for people to go over and above to deliver exceptional service.

We need to stop giving out 5* reviews like candy, and, as consumers, be more embracing and open to 3–4* service.

App developers need to think about how they can encourage genuine feedback so that the best are recognised and rewarded, and a 3* review is seen as a 3* review.

We need to be much more critical and constructive, giving people around us the feedback they need to improve — as well as proactively seeking it for ourselves from those whose opinion we trust and value.

So: how did I do? What did you think of the post?