Processing customer feedback

Is your feedback system a black hole to both readers and authors?

Documentation pros, if you allow feedback from your readers or customers, you should be prepared to deal with the consequences. If your organization doesn’t have an efficient and systematic way to process and respond to feedback, then you’re sabotaging your own efforts. Several unfortunate things will happen unless you treat your feedback mechanism as a project that requires dedicated resources.

The manner in which you provide feedback links or conference sessions or surveys to your readers is another topic worthy of discussion, but not here. Statistical relevance, trend calculations and measures of success are other topics as well. For now, let us consider what can happen to all those items of feedback after they’re collected.

Do you have a great feedback system? Tell me about it.

Flowcharts and responsibilities

If you don’t have a project plan to define the strategy and expectations for your feedback system, then you might not be getting all you could out of your customer’s input. Put another way, if you don’t understand where an item of feedback goes when your customer provides it, you need to find out.

One issue that can happen is that authors or internal employees that could benefit from the feedback simply don’t. They’re oblivious that customers have anything to say. There may as well be no feedback system at all. Also, internal employees might find it so difficult to track down the feedback, that they give up and they learn to ignore the whole system. Is it too hard to parse? Too time-consuming to weed through what applies to me? On the other hand, when your organization’s leadership understands and values what customers have to say (a.k.a. the feedback system), they will dedicate resources to it. With a well thought-out plan to process feedback, it’s no longer a black hole.

It takes time to strategize about how the feedback loop should work. It takes time to develop the internal structure to process feedback. It takes time to educate the authors about what to expect and how to participate. It also takes time to be creative and improve the system. Do you have the dedicated resources to accomplish all this? How do you display the results or the value of the system after it’s being used? The project plan should include these factors and indicate at least a rough schedule for each.

How to reject friends and influence nobody

If you don’t have a project plan to define the expectations for your feedback system, another issue is that the readers will quit sending feedback and might develop a bad attitude toward your company.

How would your customer know if anybody reads their feedback? There has to be some way to show that you’re responding to feedback. It could be an explicit communication that states “We updated x based on your feedback” or it could be more subtle such as simply publishing new information that answers reader requests. No customer is going to take the time to even complain about your documentation or your product if they think you, the creator, don’t care. If that feedback channel is just a black hole that accepts input and doesn’t provide anything, then eventually nobody will go near it. Why bother?

You’ll need to engage the best minds you can to play-out the scenarios and your responsibilities in order to plan for support from within your company and support from your readership. If you don’t, then you risk the negative outcomes suggested here.

About the author

John Andrilla is a technical communicator with a passion for teamwork, project management, writing and editing. Recognized for “using optimism to move mountains.” LinkedIn profile:


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