I need help on how to deal with a new internal customer who appears to thrive on finding mistakes made by my new directs. Can I somehow work with this person to build a threshold for bringing negative feedback to my directs and to me?

A little background:
I'm a long-time manager in my organization, but I've recently taken on management of a peer team. I'm 60 days in and surviving thanks to late-night infusions of Manager-Tools podcasts :wink:

I've been following the "Jumpstarting Internal Customer Relationships" podcasts with the manager of my primary customer team (whom I've worked with closely for years.) That new angle on the relationship seems to be going well. I could probably get her support in working with her direct to minimize the unhelpful feedback.

The nagging customer is just one member of this large customer team. The rest of her team will quickly correct small errors when they come across them. I've been using the "Receiving Feedback About Your Directs" podcast for dealing with this customer (taking notes, asking for behaviors etc.). I haven't had to encourage her to take her feedback to my directs as well though, she's been taking it to them for years in the form of returned items with lengthy post-it notes detailing the error.

I'd appreciate any help!

HMac's picture

olathe -

If she's been doing this for years, recognize that you're trying to re-wire a well established behavior.

Give some more detail to your initial statement about finding a "threshold" - I'm assuming you mean that there are some errors that aren't big enough to merit the lengthy Post-It notes?

Be careful: at 60 days in, you don't want to start getting the reputation as "The New Manager Who Doesn't Care About Errors!" :wink:

Lastly - what harm is her behavior really causing? Is it affecting the morale of your team? Is is creating significant amounts of unecessary re-work, or otherwise affecting productivity? Or is she just a pain in the butt in your otherwise perfect world? My point is that if the cure doesn't signifcantly outweigh the illness it might be better left untreated...


lazerus's picture

Maybe you could commit to measuring these so-called errors in some way.

Create a form for the complainer. Spread it to all the internal customer team, let them know that you are concerned about these issues and you want to systematize the way you deal with them in the future. Collect the forms weekly, daily, whatever you think will show attention to their concerns. COLLECT THE DATA, in a spreadsheet. REPORT your findings to the customers AND your team, and any higher ups who may be interested in your method for improving deliverables from your dept. You'll have a baseline at that point, and then, using your data, you can more easily identify and solve the problems, if they are in fact problems, which you'll be able to clearly see from the data.

This will do two things: it will let you get back to work while still acting appropriately to improve your department's output, and it will (hopefully) address the concerns of your nemesis without her stepping on your toes every day.

AManagerTool's picture

This might seem a bit out of line but....

You cannot "Manage" your customer or their "Expectations" (see the business expressions that cheese you off thread). However, you can manage your response to your customer. My response would be an enthusiastic, "thank you for the feedback".

In my experience, the most vocal complainers are speaking for 80-90% of your customers that don't care enough to say anything.

[quote]The rest of her team will quickly correct small errors when they come across them.[/quote]

These people are NOT doing you favors. They simply don't care enough to say anything.

The differentiation between average and great is minuscule. By definition, there are legions of average teams. Those small errors are the difference between your team being average or great. The question that you should be asking yourself is, "Are you an average team or are you working to achieve greatness?"

Sorry for the soapbox...I been reading Tom Peters again...LOL

asteriskrntt1's picture

I am not sure if this is a nit-picky point or a valid point, so I will just go with it.

She is not giving you or your team feedback - at least not by the MT definition. Feedback creates an environment for changing behaviour, hopefully for the positive. She is just pointing out that your team's work product isn't meeting standard.

Do you know what the standard is supposed to be? How about sampling the complaints to find out why these mistakes are being made and see if they can be corrected. I think that is much easier than trying to change the engrained behaviour of someone you have zero influence over.

Work on what you can control, not what you can't.


PS - the "feedback" is not about your directs... it is about you.

US41's picture

Your customer is in the right on this one. They are the customer, and they don't appreciate the errors.

Here's your best options:

1. Get rid of the errors. Why are they happening? Track all errors and who committed them. Create a scoreboard so that your team can see their relative quality levels compared to one another. Use customer feedback as the proxy by which to measure this.

2. Set a quality metric. 99.99% error free? If you fall below this, you should be calling the customer and apologizing and committing to hitting your metric. Measure performance against the metric and track individuals, teams, times of day, days of the week, seasons - split the apple all possible ways.

3. Thank heaven and earth that you have a customer that will tell you what they are finding instead of telling your boss or everyone else but you. Cherish this experience. It may not come again.

olathe's picture

OH, this is good! I'm seeing how I was off track with my frustration.

I think she was thrown off by my initial enthusiastic response to her feedback. She sent me that first e-mail and I went to her desk and asked if she'd like to set up a time to meet and talk about it. We met that afternoon. I got a thank you e-mail from her later.

Now I'm eager to improve things. But, I am a new manager. It's not time to make changes... So here I am wanting to fix things, and (wrongly) feeling frustrated with her.

I've thanked her for the feedback and let her know I am tracking it. I did try to explain I won't be running around to my new team applying hasty fixes.

Do I just have to deal with feeling uncomfortable leaving her waiting for improvements?

asteriskrntt1's picture


Sorry if I/we were not clear. This point is very important.

There is a huge difference between not making any changes and doing your day-to-day job.

Not making changes is more about creating huge new initiatives, rocking the boat and showing people who is in charge. Making changes would be implementing an entire new system, championing an ISO certification, going six sigma or something big. I don't think anyone is suggesting that.

What is being suggested in this thread is doing your day-to-day job, which is delivering to your customers. Collect the data, find the commonalities and talk about the adjustments needed in one-on-ones and staff meetings.

Again, work on sourcing and eliminating these errors, if they are material to your customers. That is not making changes, it is doing your job.


lazerus's picture

I totally agree with *RNTT here. The relationship is really important. Go back, and tell her that you are in fact going to start making improvements right away, then deliver. Don't hold back on improving your day-to-day job. Someone put you in this position, and maybe even told your internal customer that you were going to change this very situation. You are in the enviable position of being able to make an impact early on.

thaGUma's picture I missing something here or is a customer complaing that you are not adequately preparing staff before setting them loose? As soon as an external picks up a fault you deal with the fault.

olathe's picture

The customer I posted about is an internal customer, one member of a large team that receives most of my team's output.

Thank you *RNTT and lazerus! I'm so glad I posted. With the fervor of a new convert I was taking 'No Changes' too literally.

I talked to her again on Friday afternoon to tell her what actions I'll be taking, which include:

- gathering detailed data on all errors
- aside from fixing each error, looking for patterns etc.
- had met with a subset of my team to look at some problems she had found.
- to thank her for helping me in my new role

This feels much better.