Hungry for feedback

Listening to criticism from a customer
isn’t easy, says Scott Berman.
Especially when that customer is a longtime friend.

Berman, president and founder of the
The Florida Window Co., a $10 million
Riviera Beach construction firm that specializes in structural hurricane protection,
was handling a project for a client who also
happened to be a friend.

The project didn’t go as smoothly as
anticipated, and the friend became
frustrated with how Berman’s company was handling it.

But Berman didn’t dodge the situation. He met with his friend and was
forced to endure the discomfort of
taking professional criticism from
someone he knew beyond work. But
in the end, he says, the two came to
an agreement on how to improve the
project, and both Berman’s company
and his friendship emerged stronger.

Though it’s sometimes tough to
endure, Berman says customer criticism is an essential part of the feedback you can use to improve your business.

Smart Business spoke with
Berman about how to create a culture that values feedback from customers.

Q: Why is customer feedback a
key part of your business?

My priorities as a leader are to
establish or to try and explain the
vision that I have for the company,
and to get my employees to buy in
to that vision and solicit their advice to better the company, both in terms of the products we deliver as well as the strategies for
growth for the future.

A big part of that is constant meetings
and solicitation of advice through customer evaluations of our staff and our company, and it’s a commitment to continuing
to improve yourself. So if a customer says
something that you don’t like, rather than
being defensive, which is what most people get, you listen to it as constructive criticism to get better, and to educate your
staff as to what went wrong and how to fix
it. You can’t go back, you can only go forward.

Q: How do you coach employees to not get defensive in the face of criticism?

You ask that they take a step back from
the situation and put themselves in your
customers’ shoes, as if they were the customer, and what did we do wrong or right.

In any business, I’d imagine you very
rarely hear about it when people do a good
job because (your customers) expect you
to do a good job.

But if something goes wrong or the perception of what was delivered isn’t right,
people can get upset, and my staff gets
upset because all they want to do is please
people. So they have to take a step back
and evaluate the process, evaluate what
went wrong and how to fix it.

But they have the ultimate accountability,
and they are empowered to make the decisions to correct it.

Q: How did your experience with your
friend’s complaints help make your business better?

We made changes immediately. We hired more supervisors and responded to the
points that he made, on the basis that when
we met, we recognized that we were lacking in supervision in one of our departments and needed more hand-holding to respond to customers.

Obviously, it’s an uncomfortable situation
to sit through a meeting with a friend of
yours and hear him say, ‘Well, let me make
a suggestion,’ or, ‘Let me tell you my experience.’ But if you step up to the plate and
admit you were wrong, people appreciate
the honesty and the commitment to
doing the right thing.

Q: Why is it important for business
leaders to be able to humble themselves and listen to customer criticism?

If you don’t listen to customers,
you’re gong to be out of business. It’s
very simple. We’re in a service business,
and we need to service our customers.

That’s Customer Service 101, but
that’s the hardest thing to teach.
People, in general, feel that they have
done a better job than what they’ve
done in communicating to customers.

If you’re in customer service, you
always think, ‘Well, I called as many people as I could, I’ll let this thing wait until
tomorrow,’ rather than doing it today.
We’re all guilty of it. But you have to find
people who care, and if you find people
that care, you have to cultivate that attitude, and that’s a responsibility throughout
your company. One bad person can spoil
an experience, and that can be painful to a
lot of people who work for you.

Q: How do you find people who are customer-focused?

Hiring is always the most difficult proposition, but the thing is, you have to hire slow
and fire fast. If they don’t fit in to your culture, it becomes very obvious very quickly — it’s not us typically having to get rid of someone.

We have a very stringent hiring process
and a very quick evaluation period, in
terms of the personality and if this person
fits within our company and what we’re
trying to achieve.

HOW TO REACH: The Florida Window Co., (561) 848-4900,
(954) 489-0200 or www.floridawindowcompany.com

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