Don’t apologise- it’s just feedback

I’m cross posting this to my team’s blog which can be found here to bring together my two worlds of programming and Linux-geekery with the Involvement and experience in UK health services which I use programming and Linux-geekery for in my job. Here it is, a story from a meal out in a pub and the lessons the NHS might learn from it.

I witnessed a rather amusing event after a meal in a pub last week, but thinking about it the next day I thought perhaps there are some lessons in it.

A man approaches the bar after eating his meal, wishing to pay, and asks “Do you have a feedback form?”. It’s only a village pub, not the sort of place you’d really expect to have a feedback form. They look a little bit baffled and suggest he could email. Unperturbed, he rattles off three complaints, counting each off on his fingers as he goes.

They apologise, and he responds “You don’t have to apologise, it’s just feedback. But I don’t think I’ll be coming back”. And with that he walks off, presumably never to be seen again.

The incident stuck with me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he clearly felt quite irate. His complaints, to be honest, were pretty valid and I basically agree with most of what he said. I had a pleasant evening myself so will be going back, but he was essentially spot on with his assessment of the experience. Despite being irate, however, he clearly had no desire for an apology, since he dismissed the offer of one.

Secondly, because he felt irate, the whole experience was quite uncomfortable for everyone. You could see the bar staff (all junior in age and seniority, the manager being inside the kitchen somewhere) were quite taken aback at his manner and didn’t know quite how to respond.

Thirdly, although he clearly wanted to feed back, and didn’t even seem necessarily to want to vent his spleen in person (given that he first asked for a feedback form), he wasn’t really interested in improving the venue for his own benefit (as regular customers might) since he vowed never to return.

So what can the NHS learn from all this? I think there are a few lessons.

Firstly, although feedback forms are often criticised for being impersonal, it’s clear that in this situation it would have helped the staff by removing them from this confrontational situation. The individual in question clearly didn’t want an apology, or compensation, or even to see improvements on their return, so feeding their very accurate impressions of the venue back on a form would have spared the staff the awkwardness of meeting this challenge face to face.

Secondly, it’s a good reminder that everybody has their own idiosyncratic relationship with feedback. Some people just want to have a rant at somebody and get it off their chest. Some people want to constructively engage and keep using a service and watch it improve. Some people just want an apology. Some people (as in this case) just have a good assessment to share and feel natural about sharing it on a form or face to face, and have no interest in apologies, or improvements, or anything else.

Thirdly, it just goes to show that good feedback can be found anywhere. It was quite a difficult situation and proved impossible to resolve face to face, with the poor old staff just looking uncomfortable, and the man disappeared into the night before they’d even replied at all. Nonetheless, he was spot on and I certainly hope that they do make all the changes which he suggested ready for my next visit.

One thought on “Don’t apologise- it’s just feedback

  1. This is interesting in that the pub/restaurant would probably never get the feedback from the irate gent. Hence not know the faults in the service and be able to improve their service. The benefits of feedback forms are that they can be looked at and perused for improvement. So few however ask for the complainers address or e-mail so that they can be thanked and ruffled feathers smoothed down. Complaints are pure gold, if you do not know what you are doing wrong how can you improve, Verbal feedback gives the best information but it would mean little tape recorders to register your complaint to be played back later.

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