This is a post that has been floating around my mind for a good while now but has been accelerated by Tim Williams talk at Tamper Tantrum Live last weekend. If truth be told, I actually preferred the conversation after it even more than the talk itself but I think that was entirely the point of Tim’s talk.
I have a certain standpoint on feedback that I’m pretty sure doesn’t sit with a lot of people in the specialty coffee industry, and this post is specifically aimed at the specialty coffee industry.
Negative feedback is gold dust. Its easy to get good feedback but negative feedback is harder to come by, to your face at least. I’ve served customers, asked them if everything was ok. They’ve said yes, paid and then slagged us off on the internet. Happens a lot and always cuts.
Negative feedback helps us understand how we can improve (thats obvious) but also points out where we’re not communicating effectively. I was once told our cups were too small. We have many reasons for this and my first instinct was to disregard this as we weren’t going to change this policy.
It struck me though that most people I explained it to understood why afterwards and the majority agreed on reflection. The feedback made me realise that if you’re doing something for the right reasons and someone doesn’t like it then maybe we haven’t communicated those reasons effectively.
If a customer thinks filter coffee takes too long, your milk isn’t hot enough, your roast is too dark/light or any other common “specialty coffee gripe” then maybe, just maybe, you should be communicating your reasons better rather than just dismissing their opinions.
I do, for the record, seek negative feedback so I think its important to point out that I’m not against it, more who, why or how it’s delivered.
Twitter is not, in most cases, an appropriate medium for feedback. I agree that sometimes a business can be so unashamedly awful at what they do that they deserve a public dressing down but there is a definite line. Lets do some rough maths here for a second.
When a customer is in a shop, we are being “observed”. Say we average 20 people in our shop at any one time and we are open for 9 hours a day over 2 locations. Thats 151,200 observation minutes per week where we are being watched, analysed and judged on various different levels of consciousness.
Every week at 3FE we serve bad coffee and give bad service. Every body does. It slips through the net, it happens and it takes a couple of seconds to happen in that 151,200 minute week. I really want to find out when it does but not through twitter.
Its no different for inter-community feedback. By all means tell me but I’d appreciate an email more than a tweet, blog post or forum thread.
The other issue I have with negative feedback comes down to whether or not they are stakeholder. We owe a duty of care to our customers, suppliers, colleagues and various other people but some people that have nothing to do with what we do (besides sharing an industry with us) feel entitled to have a pop from time to time.
On Saturday Tim gave me a bag of coffee and asked me for feedback. I’ve had coffee from St Ali before that was passed on to me by a friend. I didn’t buy it nor was I given it (by St Ali) so I am precluded from giving them feedback for that coffee. I’m looking forward to sending the feedback on for this current bag.
Before you pass on unrequested feedback, its important to ask yourself if this person owes you anything. Sometimes, its none of your business, keep it to yourself. I don’t buy that we’re all part of the same community so we have to keep each other in line. The community doesn’t clean my toilets, pay my taxes or clear my inbox so the community doesn’t get a say before my customers do.
Tim also raised the point on Saturday (I’m not picking on Tim by the way, I actually like him) that saying everything is great shows weakness and a lack of confidence. I agree, but I also see a massive weakness in slagging people off. Usually when I see someone say that another business doesn’t do X, Y or Z its usually a concealed way of saying “We do X, Y, and Z so why aren’t we getting more credit for it?”.
If you do something amazing, and you’re slagging people off for not doing it too, ask yourself what would happen if they did start and everyone else did too. Would you still be doing something amazing? Would you be happy then? If you’re amazing be confident and happy in your own ability and success, you deserve it.
Communicating what you do and why effectively will gain you all the plaudits you deserve. Slagging someone off makes you look just as weak as someone who proclaims everything is wonderful.
My own policy on this is based on the reasoning that there is power in an ommission. I’d like to believe that if I recommend something people will take that seriously because I have a reasonable track record in doing so (I hope). There are many coffee shops/manufacturers and roasters I will never mention and I think that speaks volumes to anyone who cares to listen.
Certain negative feedback will also come down to the fact that some people like being a dick for fun. I’m not sure why but there is a small section that like slagging people off as a recreational pursuit. I’d be against this.
Yes negative feedback affects jobs but its important to remember that bad service and products do too. In terms of our industry there seems to be quite a degree of negativity being batted about but I think that if it were communicated more effectively we could benefit more.
I’ve had a long week, I’m tired, emotional and aware that this post lacks a certain structure and perhaps reads slightly ranty. Indulge me though by allowing me one ridiculous analogy.
The coffee industry is an island and its being thrashed by a gale force wind called negative feedback. Lets build some windmills and use it for the greater good.
p.s. I would really appreciate any feedback from TTLIVE over the weekend from those who attended. Thanks ;)