Suggestion boxes now come in several different forms…real, online, or portable digital devices. These can be used for two distinct purposes. Businesses can use these forms of suggestion to elicit information from employees and customers. The business might get suggestions from employees ranging from improving operations to complaints about working conditions or benefits. Customer comments might praise certain employees, suggest product or service improvements, or (of course) register a complaint. Obviously, the feedback received can only be limited by one’s imagination. The comment process can be developed to be anonymous or identify who actually submits a comment or suggestion.
The critical consideration for a business either currently using or thinking of using this response tool is whether it is utilized for its intended purpose. In other words, is someone actually reading, reviewing, and possibly taking action on the comments? If the answer is yes, then the suggestion process is of value. If no action is taken, then the process is of little value and can do more harm than good, especially, when employees make suggestions with no resultant feedback or action.
Employee suggestions – The suggestion process can be an effective communication tool between management and employees if the content is read and reviewed for validity. Whether a suggestion or comment is made anonymously or not should not be the overriding factor on whether possible action is taken. All comments, even anonymous ones, should be taken seriously if warranted.
So often, employees feel apprehensive about making suggestions or complaining about something…depending on the prevailing management style. Employees will feel comfortable, however, if the comment process can be anonymous. If the process allows for employee identification, then someone in an upper position of authority (owner, manager, head of HR, etc.) should contact the employee regardless of the suggestion…sooner rather than later. Certainly, action cannot or should not be taken on every suggestion, but it is important for employees to know that they have a voice in some way. If employees go to the effort of making a suggestion, then someone must take the time to review their suggestions and comments.
If suggestions and comments are beneficial, then an announcement can be made, emailed, or posted for all employees to see. Beneficial can mean improving a process, addressing concerns or frustrations of employees, or just discussing an issue before it is blown out of proportion.
Without proper feedback, the positive results hoped for through this process can backfire and become detrimental to employee morale. If employees feel as though the owner or managers are not truly interested in their feedback, then suggestions regarding any type of improvement become worthless in the minds of employees. They feel they are only receiving “lip service” and the result becomes negative morale.
This suggestion tool does not have to be limited to comments regarding operations and employee issues. It can also be used for special purposes such as developing ideas for social functions, involvement with a community project, or some type of employee contest.
Customer suggestions – A customer suggestion process might actually be a box with cards for customers to complete and drop in or a pre-addressed, stamped postcard for a customer to take, complete, and mail back to the business. More current versions of a “suggestion box” are digital devices allowing for comments, completion of a rating system, or an online response system from a business website.
The value of customers using a process of this type is immense. It is marketing research without a high cost by obtaining information directly from the ultimate purchaser of a business’ products or services. Regardless of the method used, customer comments and suggestions are meaningful messages customers want to communicate to the business. If not important to them, customers would not take the time to complete a response.
When comments are critical of the business and valid, then action should be taken to determine how to improve the issue addressed. Customers who take time to complain are certain to tell acquaintances about their bad experiences with a business. Good news travels slowly. Bad news travels rapidly!
If a business has contact information for customers making a suggestion or comment, those customers should always be contacted in some way – letter, email, postcard, or phone call.
Gain or loss – Although physical suggestion boxes might be a thing of the past, the value of a suggestion process is still very valid. It depends how the feedback is used that makes the process still relevant today and even, perhaps, more so than in the past. The speed with which social media can broadcast comments about a business (positive or negative) makes it imperative for businesses to respond to the needs and suggestions of both customers and employees.