Feedback comes in many forms and is a valuable commodity for checking what is being done well and which areas need further improvement. The value of feedback in any form should not be underestimated. An old Royal Mail advert once quoted the statistic that if a person is happy with a service they have used then they will tell one person about it. If they are unhappy with a service then they will tell nine. I know from personal experience that this is true because I tell everyone if I have been treated poorly so they do not suffer in a similar way. With such wide use of internet review sites, if you do not get feedback from your customers and act upon it then you may well find yourself damaged by the reviews as people can easily tell the whole world instead.

There are different kinds of feedback when you are a manager. The first is feedback coming directly from those in your employ. A colleague's opinion is very important. They do the work and deal with the customers and contacts and will know if something could be done better or needs changing. You will give them feedback in the form of an annual review and they should be given a similar opportunity. How can you make sure that you obtain the feedback in a useful way?

As a manager, it is best to keep an open door policy. This means that staff should feel that you are approachable and that they can talk to you in confidence and be taken seriously, even if they have something negative to say. I used to work for a support team where the manager encouraged us to talk to him about any issues we may have. On one occasion a particular employee was temporarily working in another country, but was constantly telling me she was overwhelmed and having difficulties and was unhappy. She was so unhappy that she considered resigning. I had a confidential talk to the manager about the situation, suggesting some possible solutions such as offering to help with some of her workload. The manager listened, thanked me for my concern and help and dealt with the situation. He talked to the employee and found out from her the best way to help so everyone was happy. If I was not able to provide him with this feedback then it is likely he would have lost a talented and productive employee.

Other methods of feedback are also useful such as email. Not everyone feels comfortable discussing issues face to face. When you receive a feedback email, ensure that you set aside time to look at it and deal with it, even if that is not immediate. An anonymous company suggestion box for more general things can work well, although it needs to be positioned somewhere people can put in suggestions without being seen. Having a once a month catch up with all the staff in a company is a good opportunity to go through the suggestions and some of them will be a source of amusement as they are often tongue in cheek. I knew a vain colleague who anonymously requested full length mirrors in the women's bathrooms. Everyone had a good chuckle in the meeting, but as a gesture of good will they appeared there the following Monday!

As well as internal feedback, it is also of vital importance to give all customers access to a feedback method. There should always be a well-advertised complaints procedure which includes a number to call and an email address. Always have a company response time at least for the initial response and keep the client up to date if the complaint takes longer to investigate. Inform them of the final decision and action taken or the reason why the complaint is not being upheld and give them further opportunity for appeal if they do not feel the complaint has been handled to their satisfaction. Once again, if the client is unhappy with the feedback procedure, they have plenty of ways of giving public feedback and you also run the risk of losing business.

In business environments where it is appropriate, (usually when a service has been provided such as a hotel or medical facility), a formal feedback card can be handed to the customer. In hotels and the leisure industry in general, the manager will make sure there is a comment book. This is effective since most people will write their positive comments in the book which can be viewed by anyone else. A simple suggestions card can be used which will only take a moment to fill in. This will give an accurate view of the impressions of the client since it is usually filled out as they leave while the service is fresh in their minds.

Surveys are sometimes used, especially by larger companies who can employ departments for cold calling purposes to investigate how things are going. There is nothing wrong with this and the data collected can be very detailed and informative. Some people do not mind this approach, but lots of people are too busy to take half an hour to complete the survey even if they can fill it in online. The best way to ensure that accurate and complete feedback is given is by giving the clients a simple way to give quick feedback comments. You can always try calling them later if you need more information on the specifics.

Feedback should be seen as a positive tool for protecting and improving your business at all levels. In order for you to fix problems or change things for the better, you need to know the business inside out along with the ever changing needs of you customers. Feedback should not be seen as a chance for people to whinge at you, but taken seriously, logged, investigated and acted upon. Encourage people to provide solutions along with their feedback. There is an old office saying, 'don't come to me with problems, come to me with solutions.'