Now that we know what feedback is useful, we’ll tease out the two types of feedback that you could receive. (If you missed why it’s useful, take a look at Why Your Program Can Benefit from Feedback (and How to Get It), the first article in our feedback series.)
We’re always getting feedback. Sometimes it’s subtle, like body language or level of attention. Sometimes it’s obvious, like a class leaving all a-chatter about what they’ve just experienced. And sometimes it’s direct, like getting an email from a participant. Feedback can have a positive effect on the success of your program and your class registrations, so you really want it
Observable feedback is important and useful, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in your toolbox!
What you are trying to accomplish also matters, and each kind of feedback method supports different data.
There Are Many Flavors of Feedback
Taking it to basics, we can break feedback into a couple of main categories:
- Observed (watching how people behave in a class)
- Monitored (like social media and online reviews)
- Tracked (following the progress of students)
- Listened to (unrequested letters, calls, etc.)
- Open Feedback (general “we welcome feedback”)
- Individual Personal Feedback (in-person interviews)
- Facilitated Feedback (focus groups)
- Questionnaires (paper or digital)
Sometimes feedback just lands in your lap. We’ll consider unsolicited feedback to be anything that you’re receiving without expressly asking. It can come from many places and channels, online and off. Some of those channels may have a kind of passive “ask,” but you’re not explicitly inviting someone to provide you with information. Because unsolicited feedback isn’t asked for, it can often slip through the cracks, but there are still some great strategies to identify this feedback. If you’re watching for unsolicited feedback, you can observe, monitor, track, and listen to gain insight into the experiences your students are having.
If you’re watching for unsolicited feedback, you can observe, monitor, track, and listen to gain insight into the experiences your students are having.
The slumped bodies, yawns, and repeated phone checks… we know the signs of bored people. We also know that attention, questions, activity level, and discussion are signs of engaged people. The importance of observable behavior is important and should be noted.
What’s happening in a class? How is the environment? How’s the instructor doing? These are the kinds of things that observation can reveal.
You can passively monitor (and then actively engage) your participants through your social media channels, paying close heed to how your program is being discussed. You’ll want to respond appropriately to what is being said about your program. Regular check-ins to popular rating websites like Yelp and Google Business are another way to know what people are thinking about your program. Inc. magazine reported that 91 percent of people regularly or occasionally read online reviews, and 84 percent trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Those review channels provide invaluable feedback and are worth paying attention to since the users are clearly invested enough to say something unprompted.
Tracking how the program has been doing based on past performance and expected performance can provide information about how things are going. Unfortunately, this kind of feedback sometimes comes too late to change the overall outcome. Also, it can be challenging to make a firm connection with how to improve an issue without soliciting additional feedback. You could compare the number of students in a class over time, for example.
Spontaneous letters, calls, and comments are another way of receiving feedback. If you haven’t asked people to reach out to you, but they have, this is feedback that should be attended to carefully. The extra time that it takes a student or instructor to write and send that note or make the call means that it was important enough to make time to do. This is passive for the receiver but very active on the part of the giver. This kind of initiative shows investment and that the experience (bad or good) was worth the contact.
Sometimes the best way to get a candid response from a customer is to simply ask for one.
For the purpose of this article, active feedback is anything you’ve solicited or asked people to do. Asking is the best way to ensure that people will give you the feedback you’re seeking. You can get that in many ways. There are many ways to ask —from in-person requests to emails to automatic systems— and each of them can lead you to valuable data.
The most valuable of these include open feedback, individual and personal feedback, facilitated feedback, and questionnaires.
Asking is the best way to ensure that people will give you the feedback you’re seeking.
These are often the “we welcome your feedback” sort of requests tossed in at the end of a presentation or the stack of “how did we do?” postcards stacked beside a locked box. There’s not a lot of planning or thought behind them. This approach doesn’t often inspire a lot of confidence that the requester really wants feedback, and it’s unlikely to lead to any kind of measurable information. (And sadly, more often these tend to turn into a complaint box than a feedback box, denying an organization the positive news that it should hear as well.)
Individual Personal Feedback
In-person interviews and phone calls provide direct personal feedback. These are typically one-to-one conversations and may either be free-form or follow a list of questions. These will focus on that individual’s views of your program and may branch out from the initial questions into associated topics. This kind of feedback can help you understand what a representative student is experiencing as a class participant.
The focus group –a moderated discussion of a small group of people– is a method of getting feedback about a program. It’s typically conducted in a neutral place by an unaffiliated facilitator who invites conversation, asks questions, and ensures that participants have equal opportunities to share. A focus group of “ideal” or “diverse” program participants can provide new ideas, review plans before implementation, troubleshoot, and give valuable insight into the thoughts and opinions of the larger audience. A focus group can provide in-depth feedback and offers the flexibility to explore other topics that may arise.
Of all the methods covered here, probably customer questionnaires are the most common. Nearly everyone has been offered an opportunity to give feedback in this fashion. Used to evaluate program success, research a market, improve experiences, and even assess customer loyalty, this kind of survey is a tried and true method of information gathering. They can be delivered via email, phone call, website pop-up or form, or even on good, old-fashioned paper.
Questionnaires are incredibly popular because they can be easily administered, and the results are often available more quickly than with other feedback gathering modes. The best are narrowly focused and relatively brief. What they lack in flexibility, they make up for in data consistency and ease of analysis. They’re great as a way to quickly measure something specific and the same questions could be given at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of a class, giving immediate feedback on the success of a specific class experience.
Choosing Your Method
Whatever your method, the gathering mode is only one part of the process, and each of these methods is better for some kinds of information than others.
The questions you ask and the way you ask them will be important as well, and we’ll cover that more in What, How, and Who Do I Ask to Get the Feedback I Need? which will appear soon!