The Suggestion box – Getting you to think about how you think

Business Column


Mankind, like all other creature, tends to perfect itself through trial-and-error:
Learning from past mistakes, our own and others’.
A story -a didactic story- is oft told about a freedom fighter- one Comrade Disaster,
who operated somewhere in the Eastern Highlands.
Towards the end of the liberation war, Comrade Disaster and his group were caught
up in a fierce gun battle with Rhodesian forces.
The battle lasted hours and had many casualties. Comrade Disaster was lucky to
survive the carnage.
The encounter had been so fierce the sound of the chopper kept roaring in his ears
for a very long time, to the extent that the freedom fighter spent the next eight years
holed up in a cave.
For eight solid years, he was deprived of the privilege of feedback and as a result he
missed out on the pomp and fanfare which characterised the birth of Zimbabwe on
18 April 1980.
Someone told me that “madness” is simply when we lose touch with the “bigger
reality”. (The “smaller reality” being that which obtains in the mind of the “patient”).
If this definition is anything to go by, then indeed everyone, at some point or the
other, has been a patient of “madness”.
Now, getting down to business, how do we minimise levels of madness in the
business context?
By and large, one needs to be in constant touch with one’s business environment.
This entails routinely getting feedback from customers.
The process can take various forms: From the simple traditional suggestion box to
oral customer complaints.
At times, the feedback can be very forceful – a furious customer hurling a defective
product at the shop assistant.
I am reminded of a story of how a small boy wanted oranges from a tree but could
not climb the tree.
Up in the tree was a monkey which was enjoying the juicy fruit.
The boy looked around and conjured up a strategy. He took a number of stones and
started throwing these at the monkey-taking great care not to harm the creature.

Incensed by the boy’s apparent attack, the monkey retaliated by throwing oranges
down at the boy. Sweet revenge.
Feedback is sweet when it helps the business to grow. Honest feedback is that
which is often given by angry, dissatisfied customers. Always remember – take the
flak and like the small boy, spare the creature.
They say, take the message but do not shoot the messenger.
You got to develop a thick skin. In business parlance they say: Cash talk breaks no
friendship. It lasts long enough to prompt action but short enough not to leave scars.
You should have an idea of what I am talking about if you have ever made your
woman angry. She will truly tell you like it is! Hell hath no fury like a woman spurned,
so they say.
Research has it that a complaining customer is by far better than the one who keeps
quiet. The complaining customer is likely to come back once things are fixed,
whereas the polite customer will quietly slithers away and never come back
In business there is the “nice and fragile” type (My good friend John Kavati calls
them “sissies”).
This is the type which wants to be overly nice so that people will in turn be nice to
them: the type which likes to be pampered and would recoil at the smallest flak.
They would never put up a suggestion box at their premises. “See no evil, hear no
evil, speak no evil”.
This type will hardly get any criticism from their customers – not because there will be
none, but because they have become “polite” enough not to give it.
Again, I am reminded of another story: The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans
Christian Andersen.
There was an Emperor who made himself believe he was wearing the finest and
most expensive robes ever seen and his subjects fawned over him, telling him how
well the clothes fitted him-when in actual fact he was naked!
You come up with a brilliant business idea and you implement it. Now the truth of the
matter is, the idea has two lives.
The first life is inside your head (where there are no customers) and the second life
is experienced when you try to apply it in the real world.
Things are a bit brutal in the real world. Things will not play out as per your whims. In
the real world, there are a lot of forces which must interact with your idea: The
customers’ tastes and so forth.
After feedback, you should then be in a position to go back to the drawing board and
make the necessary adjustments.
Honest feedback is often that which is said behind your back! So get your shop
assistants to tell you what they say in your absence.

Do not deprive your business of a golden opportunity to flourish (by getting it holed
up in the cave).
Feedback: It is all about getting you to think about how you think.

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