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Embracing Negative Feedback

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The immediate access to citizen feedback rendered possible by our digital world presents new and faster means for government organizations to improve their services. While the government recognizes the importance of obtaining public feedback and is beginning to encourage more feedback on their everyday services, the potential for criticism can be a barrier to adopting those feedback tools. Still, organizations like the State Department, Transportation Security Administration and the state of Georgia are overcoming those barriers in order to reap the benefits of feedback.

The ability to convert feedback into action is dependent on the integrity of it. When an organization opens itself to feedback, it has to accept that receiving solely favorable feedback is not only unlikely, but unhelpful. Change isn’t driven by praising the status quo, but by recognizing areas for improvement. Organizations should not only expect, but should encourage constructive critique. As the Social Security Administration reported, customer feedback “helps us know where to best focus our limited resources so we can make improvements in those areas that will have the greatest impact on increasing overall customer satisfaction.”

It is also important to acknowledge that negative feedback will and is happening with or without an organization’s participation. Look at any social media site of any government organization and you are likely to find negative comments. The reality of a digital and socially connected world is that it is not possible to opt out. Instead organizations should see this as an opportunity to drive the conversation and improve their services.

Not every comment is worth response, however. Most government organizations have social media policies related to moderating comments, which provide a good starting point for the types of comments that don’t require a response. However, most of these policies are focused on what comments to accept on a site and not what to do with the comments once they are there.

The Interior Department has a robust social media guidebook, which includes an appendix on responding to social media comments. They classify responses into four categories: Do not respond, respond, correct misinformation, and rectify.

  • Do not respond – No response is required for comments that are degrading or inappropriate or one-off.
  • Respond – Some response may be needed to acknowledge a customer’s general feelings and perceptions, even when those are not positive. For example, the state of Georgia uses its Facebook page to keep citizens updated, but also is quick to respond to a citizen’s dissatisfaction.
  • Correct misinformation – It is important to correct erroneous or false information that may confuse or mislead others. This misinformation might be widely accepted, so responding gives the organization the opportunity to set the record straight. Such is the case with consular issues. A lot of frustration can surround the Visa process, but State’s Consular Affairs will respond on Facebook to a commenter’s confusion, making sure everyone understands the process and what factors into decisions.
  • Rectify – When a customer’s post is the result of a negative experience with the organization, providing a solution could not only positively impact the opinion of that individual, but others who see it as well. One example is the Twitter handle @AskTSA, from which TSA actively responds to concerns, letting customers know they are listening and plan to address bad customer service experiences.

Whether or not you respond to a comment, the feedback is valuable. Government organizations should have a means for tracking feedback and a process for responding and acting upon feedback as needed. Grade DC is one example of government aggregating, reporting and responding to citizen feedback. Grade DC shows that one simple way to assess feedback can be using color-coding to determine comment sentiment. Ines Mergel’s report, A Manager’s Guide to Assessing the Impact of Government Social Media Interactions, provides further recommendations on how to both quantitatively and qualitatively assess social feedback.

Avoiding social networks and other feedback tools in an effort to curtail criticism is not possible, nor desirable. Negative feedback will be there no matter what, and social media in particular gives organizations the means to embrace it. By actively encouraging, reviewing and responding to feedback organizations can better engage and serve citizens.  

Have you or your organization used social media or other tools to collect feedback from the public or conversely avoided it to avoid negative feedback? We welcome your thoughts.

Darcie Piechowski is the social media and innovation fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

(Image via Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock.com)

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