Talk is Cheap – If You Don’t Have a Compliment Management System, Then I Doubt You Truly Do!
Concentrating on Complaints Is Cruel
If you have read my previous article – The Untold Cruelty Happening In Your Organization Right Now, you will understand that a sole focus on complaints management can punish the employees you declare you care for. Would you set out to consciously crush your most important asset? I suspect not, but by an unbalanced preoccupation on complaints (compared to compliments), this is exactly what you are doing.
A compliment is an expression of praise or admiration. It can also be known as congratulations, commendation, an accolade, kudos or more informally as a ‘pat on the back’. It is the direct opposite of a complaint which is an expression of dissatisfaction, or a criticism of the policies, products or services experienced.
As the research clearly shows, an uneven focus on complaints means that you are not only hurting your staff, you are sacrificing organisational performance in the process. Sure, some focus on customer complaints is required to ensure the best possible products and service is delivered to customers. However, concentrating solely on complaints creates a disturbing downward spiral of detachment, disconnection, reduced individual performance, reduced organisational performance and ultimately organisational exhaustion..
The Downward Spiral of Negative Feedback
The Untapped Power of Compliments
On the flipside, compliments have an incredible power to uplift the whole organisation and excite and energise your people and processes. those organisations who make a concerted effort to balance the management of compliments and complaints are more likely to meet their objectives, thrive and grow, and have greater employee satisfaction, safety and engagement. In fact, those businesses proactively sharing compliments are almost twice as likely to be successful. On an individual level, the effect of positive feedback on people is quite substantial, affecting both their lives at work and their broader sense of wellbeing. It has been shown that just one piece of positive feedback directly contributes to improving a person’s skill or performance, not just on that specific task but also on other similar tasks.
The Uplifting Cycle of Positive Feedback
Why Isn’t There A Better Balance?
Given this evidence, why aren’t more organisations seeking to bring more balanced attention between compliments and complaints? Perhaps it is because there are many formal expectations around complaints management. Government agencies must meet legislative obligations around the development of complaints management systems. Compliance with the Australian Standard for Complaints Management (AS/NZS 10002:2014) is also seen as an important measure of an organisation’s dedication to their customers.
But what about the dedication to your staff? If anyone remembers the good old Balanced Scorecard, it is obvious that the skills, capabilities, culture and energy of your staff are the direct contributor to the success of your business. There is no way of sustainably satisfying customers without having a strong, positive and supported base of employees. If you think good old Kaplan and Norton are a bit dated, then perhaps you may prefer to hear what Richard Branson has to say on the issue.
The problem is thought, that is easy to declare that you are committed to your employees. It takes no effort to state that you value your employees and that they are your greatest asset. But do you put your money where your mouth is? What action are you taking to build a key pillar of their wellbeing – positive feedback?
It is time to shift away from this concentration on compliance and move forward into a culture of compassion, care and performance! Just because there are no external expectations around compliment management systems, does that mean you should not be building them?
Perhaps what is missing is a standard, a how-to-guide for how to go about building your Compliment Management System. Well thanks to the ground-breaking research conducted by Kipfelsber, Bruch and Herhausen (2015), we have such a process, and here it is.
The 3-Step Process of Compliment Management
There are certainly pros and cons of compliment management not being regulated. One great benefit is that without specific practices being dictated you don’t have to over think it. And because ‘doing’ compliment management is not expected, it is less likely to fall into the trap of being seen purely as a compliance exercise. When it does not have to be done, it shows a true commitment, care and support for your staff.
Compliment management is at its heart a very simple process, comprising three stages. Proactive action is taken in each stage to meet organisational objectives for individual staff engagement, performance and overall organisational health.
The three stages of compliment management are:
- Stimulation – how customers are encouraged or supported to identify things they appreciate.
- Systemisation – the clear and formal responsibilities, policies, and systems to stimulate and disseminate positive customer feedback.
- Distribution – how positive feedback is shared with the relevant staff and amplified across the organisation more broadly.
The stimulation of positive customer feedback serves two important purposes:
- getting customers to identify the things they like will reinforce their positive impression of and therefore make them more likely to provide constructive feedback in the future on areas that require improvement
- it provides examples of things that are currently being done well that can boost employee morale, performance and organisational health and indicate those things that should not change.
The concern with the stimulation stage of the process is that customers do become weary quickly of providing feedback. And so too much ‘push’ to elicit positive feedback may work to annoy rather than excite the customers.
The emphasis here is not so much about prompting for positive feedback at the end of transactions or interactions but about making it as easy as possible for the customer to provide feedback if they want to give it. There are several methods for stimulating positive feedback from customers, ranging from personal approaches to automated prompts. Examples of these methods to stimulate positive feedback include:
Renaming the feedback management system: the name of the organisation’s feedback management system can create an important mental barrier or enabler to the way customers feel enabled and supported to share positive feedback. When the feedback system is predominantly named in terms of ‘complaints’, there is very little indication for customers to know where to share their compliments. So one of the primary things that an organisation can do to stimulate compliments is renaming their feedback system either the ‘compliments or complaints management system’ or even use more neutral terms such as the ‘customer feedback’ system.
Supporting this, the organisation can ensure that whatever channels are used to collect feedback, clear prompts and sufficient guidance for customers about how customers can provide their positive feedback and how it will be used.
Some organisations employ a very personal approach to eliciting positive feedback. Customer Feedback Managers are appointed in front-line areas, and it is the role of these managers to take and respond to all customer feedback, positive and negative. Other organisations rely on automated channels to gather positive feedback, such as recorded feedback surveys at the end of a phone call, or satisfaction rating screens on exit from service centres.
Whatever method is used, it comes with a clear understanding that there will be customers who want to share their positive feedback, and our role is to make it easy as possible for them to do it and make them feel supported in the process.
The policies, processes and roles of an organisation are the key planks available to systemise positive feedback.
By ingraining the importance of compliments in policies, it shows management commitment to the proactive and effective management of positive feedback and permitting staff across the organisation to focus on positive feedback. Including positive feedback prominently in existing feedback policies also creates a better balance between the focus on positive and negative feedback and empowers business areas to engage in their active management of compliments for the benefit of their units and the organisation as a whole.
Creating clear and simple processes for receiving and managing compliments enables staff to collect and store positive feedback, which is an important part of the organisation’s success story and provides the foundation for further dissemination to improve organisational health.
Having assigned roles and responsibilities for oversight and management of positive feedback provides resources to enable the organisation to turn individual compliments into strategic assets of the organisation. It empowers staff to know where to go to for help to ensure continual improvement of the organisation’s compliment management processes.
Whatever method is used for systemising positive feedback, it is founded on the understanding that positive feedback forms a really important part of the organisation’s story at the moment and can play a significant role in its future success. It is based on the belief that compliments are an important business asset to build customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and optimise organisational performance.
Distribution includes the processes and channels used to communicate compliments to the relevant staff and amplify them across the entire organisation. In most organisations, while there is a concentrated effort to gather and report on complaints, there is very little proactive action taken to communicate compliments. Most organisations’ have processes to investigate and trace back the complaint’s source and take action to rectify or improve the associated action or behaviour. However, this does not occur for compliments. Hardly in organisations do you see people taking the time to find the source of the compliment and analyse the actions and behaviours that led to the compliment and that the organisation should seek to reinforce.
At its simplest, dissemination can occur at the local level, with the compliment being shared with the immediate staff involved, or the related team. Compliments, though, can be disseminated much wider to leverage the benefits across the whole organisation. Leaders can do this through:
- leadership mentioning compliments in staff presentations and meetings
- compliments published online on staff sites, in employee brochures and induction materials
- positive feedback place on posters around the workplace
- inclusion of compliments in publications such as annual reports and public performance reports
Whatever method is used for disseminating positive feedback, it is founded on the following premises:
- that disseminating compliments ingrains the positive behaviour in the mind of the employee and the history of the organisation
- that customer feedback, whatever the form, affects all employees
- that the organisation places importance valuing and supporting its people
- The organisation is concerned with identifying great performance as an indicator of what behaviours they should keep doing.
Start Where You Are
There is no doubt that I can help your organisation develop a Compliments Management System that is fit-for-purpose and delivers great results for your people, your company and your customers. But realistically, you have everything you need right here and now to get started on the journey. Here are a few ideas of things you could begin with nothing more than leadership commitment and communication:
- Send this article around to those people who you think would support development of a compliment management system in your organisation
- Ask around your organisation about how positive feedback is gathered, shared and used currently
- in the spirit of positive feedback, identify and congratulate those areas already proactively and effectively managing compliments. Recognising the great work already being done to value and support staff would be a significant and meaningful first step.
- Perhaps you could establish a network of positive feedback champions be created.
- All existing feedback policies, processes and forms are reviewed to ensure that they encourage and support both customers and staff from recording and submitting compliments.
- positive feedback posters can be created and placed around the offices and on websites to uplift the energy across the whole organisation
- Review key reports and publications and identify opportunities to include positive feedback.
What Will You Choose?
The effectiveness of your leadership is determined by the choices you make. The most important choice available to you is how you use your time. You have an incredible opportunity right now to use your time to brighten the lives of your people, invigorate and strengthen your whole organisation. Or you can continue to choose to focus solely on complaints and ignore the chance to help your people and your organisation be the best it can be. It is your call.
I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples ~ Mother Teresa.
 Kipfelsber P., Bruch H. and Herhausen D. 2015. Energising Companies through Customer Compliments. Marketing Review St Gallen. Vol 1.
 Rath, T. and Clifton, D. The Power of Praise and Recognition. Gallup. 2004.
 Kipfelsber P., Bruch H. and Herhausen D. 2015. Energising Companies through Customer Compliments. Marketing Review St Gallen. Vol 1.