Two Yetis communicating with tin cans connected by string

Yeti Village Episode 06: Karmon Runquist - Customer Feedback


On this very special episode of Yeti Village, Karmon Runquist and I talk about feedback: how to get it, who wants it, and why we want it.

Karmon Runquist is Director of Web and Digital Communications at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, and Last Call Media loves working with her and her team.

You can listen to this episode of Yeti Village below, or by searching for “Yeti Village” in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or the podcast directory of your choice. Don’t forget to rate/review and subscribe!

Transcript

Alex: Hi. I’m Alex Noonan, and this is Yeti Village, a podcast by Last Call Media where we interview people in and around the tech community. On today’s episode of Yeti Village, I’ll be talking to Karmon Runquist, Director of Web and Digital Communications at Wentworth Institute of Technology, about… feedback. How to get it, who wants it, and why we want it.

[music]

Alex (in clip): Wentworth has been a client of Last Call Media for a couple years now, and Karmon is very easy to talk to. You might say we have a… rapport.

Karmon: I got out the good mic.

Alex: Oh, you have a good mic?

Karmon: I have a good mic.

Alex: Wow, I don’t even have a good mic. That’s awesome.

Karmon: Well I did used to do some podcasting so I invested in—

Alex: Really?

Karmon: A mic. But it stays in a box 99.9% of the time.

Alex: Wait, so this is your personal good mic, or is this WIT’s good mic?

Karmon: This is my good mic.

Alex (in clip): Turns out Karmon used to host a podcast where she and her partner interviewed fiction authors. She’s been podcasting before podcasting was podcasting!

Karmon: Yeah, when we started it was actually an internet radio live cast.

Alex: Oh, got it.

Karmon: We would record it and then edit it out into a podcast afterwards.

Alex (in clip): But, okay, this is not a podcast about podcasting, so we did eventually get down to talking about the topic at hand.

Alex: Thank you for joining me, Karmon. I really appreciate you doing this. You are actually our first non-Last Call, like outside-of-Last Call person, that we’re having on the podcast.

Karmon: Okay so now I’m pressured so I don’t screw up. I have to set a good foundation for all that come after me.

Alex: I mean, you’ve got the mic so-

Karmon: I’ve got the mic.

Alex: That’s half the battle, I think. So yeah. If you don’t mind, would you just introduce yourself, tell us who you are, and where you’re coming from, and what you do.

Karmon: Okay so I’m Karmon Runquist. I am Director of Web and Digital Communications at Wentworth Institute of Technology. Wentworth is a small college in downtown Boston. We serve primarily engineering, architecture, design students so… you get in an elevator and students are talking about problems that they’re trying to solve, and I’m just blown away by how clever these kids are.

Alex: And it’s a great campus.

Karmon: It is. And the new building’s about to open so, even better.

Alex: Yeah. Oh man. I feel like that building has been happening forever.

Karmon: It’s beautiful.

Alex: That’s so cool. Well we’ll have to make a trip out again to see it.

Alex: So this episode, we wanted to talk about customer feedback. Just, you know, how great that is. I think you know, Karmon, we send you surveys and all sorts of things like that. We send those to all of our clients. Feedback is something that’s really important for us, but it can be tricky to get it. We were thinking about who else do we know that also tries to get feedback in maybe similar ways, and so you came to mind. Do you also find that it’s difficult to get people to give you feedback?

Karmon: At times. Whether the site addresses what they need it to address or not.

Alex: Yeah.

Karmon: So there are different kinds of customer feedback, of course. We have that helpful customer feedback where we maybe look at a site that’s currently up and talk about how we want to evolve it. And having those conversations which is… I love having those. Those are inspiring. And we also have those conversations where somebody feels like they’re not being heard or they are trying to implement something new and frustrated because it isn’t as easy as we make it look. So having that kind of feedback is also part of the process as we move forward into even things like social media where everything is out there. Being able to judge why people are commenting and maybe assessing how we can improve those user experiences are also important.

Alex: So it sounds like you’re getting a lot of different feedback from a lot of different places.

Karmon: Well for some context, we consider ourselves an enterprise level website. We have over 5,000 pages on our website. I have 80-100 content managers. We deal with a lot of people who are trying to accomplish a great deal in a medium that they don’t necessarily use on a regular basis themselves.

Alex: Right. Being the website?

Karmon: Being the website.

Alex: And so you’re getting feedback from internal folks at Wentworth and then also, sort of, it sounds like, I guess Wentworth’s constituents? Like prospective students and those types of people?

Karmon: Prospective students to some extent. Prospective students tend to be pretty quiet unless they’re really looking for something specific. They’re very good about searching for what they want which, is great that they can do that, but I wish they would give me a bit more feedback so that we can make that experience better rather than “toughing it out.” Of course one of our challenges is that we are filled with content experts who don’t necessarily have backgrounds in marketing or understanding technologies like search engine optimization, and how to build for search engines. So there’s always an educational component when we talk to our community, trying to bring them up to speed on just some of those basics and why we make the decisions that we make.

Alex: And what are some of the ways that you’re able to communicate that to those people?

Karmon: I would love to say I was fantastic at it, but part of the challenge is I talk about some of this stuff… some of the things that we’re working on, some of the projects, so often with so many people that I forget that not everybody’s in those conversations. I just assume that they all know. But we try to do regular meetings with people. Something I’ve implemented in the past year is having either biweekly or monthly meetings with some of our key contributors and key stakeholders to get some feedback from them. My team—I’ve got a team of now 2 people, we finally filled one of our positions—I’m going to leverage that new person to go out and make some connections with people, use it as an introduction to her to reopen some communication streams that have just atrophied from everybody being busy.

Alex: Yeah. Oh yeah.

Karmon: Yeah. And that, honestly, that’s just the squeaky wheels are the ones that get the attention which is really too bad, because those quiet wheels are doing some amazing things that we want to be able to talk about with them. I’m hopefully getting Cara in a position where she becomes somebody that they feel comfortable just reaching out to.

Alex: That’s kind of… That’s sort of the reason that I was brought into Last Call.

Karmon: Yeah.

Alex: Is… to be a Cara, it sounds like.

Karmon: Yeah because we need those people who—they know from the time they sit down at the desk the first time that they’re going to be communication tools.

Alex: Yeah.

Karmon: But it’s also a small campus so as you walk across, so many conversations happen at that point. Two or three minutes into, “Hey, how’s it going?” or, “The weather’s nice,” and somebody says, “You know what was on the website the other day, and I was looking for X, and I couldn’t find it.” Which casual conversation, but I go back I’m like okay. Why couldn’t they find x? Can we make that easier to find?

Alex: Yeah. Wow. You know, I never actually thought about that but that is, I think, a really big… Yeah, that makes a lot of sense that something could just come up really organically. We struggle a lot to get feedback from our clients, and you mentioned the squeaky wheels. We do have some of those, and we appreciate them so much because they are such a minority. I think, compared to the people who don’t really say anything to us, there’s very few of them. So we’ve tried various forms of chatting with clients. When I was first brought on, we did this thing where I would just sort of randomly email people and see how things were going, and then try to set up a call with them. I would try to set up regular check-ins to talk to them. Because we do a lot of ongoing support, as you know.

Karmon: I do know, yes.

Alex: I would just try to reach out to those people and just check-in and see how things were going, and it went okay for a while, but then we got more and more people saying, “You know, everything’s just really fine, and I’m super busy so can we just postpone these calls indefinitely?” And so then that sort of fell to the wayside, and then we realized that we still needed to get feedback somehow, so we set up the Client Heartbeat tool to go out… I think we had it at quarterly. We got some good responses at first, but then slowly that started to fall off.

Alex: When we were checking in with clients, people’s response was largely just, “Everything’s okay.” So I think what we were starting to think is, “Well people are only going to give us feedback if things are not okay, but we also want to know if they are okay too.” You know, like if things are continuing to be okay, that’s something we want to keep track of, too, because then you can start to notice if things are going okay, and okay, and okay, and then all of a sudden you get like a 6 instead of an 8 in one of those areas, it sends off a little flag, and you’re like, “Okay. I’m gonna check in with this person and see what’s going on.” You know, because if we start to slip, we want to know about it.

Alex: Then I think about how you go anywhere these days, pretty much, Starbucks, CVS, the post office. Everywhere you go, you get your receipt, someone’s trying to get you to take a survey, and trying to bribe you with, oh take the survey, you’ll be entered to win $1,000. It’s like, alright well, I’m just gonna throw this receipt away. I’m not actually gonna do this survey. I used to not think about that very much, but now that we’re in this situation where we’re like trying so hard to get people to give us feedback and we can’t seem to really nail down a way to do it, I think more seriously about all of those surveys, and I have actually done a few more these days than I used to because I’m like, “You know, they’re asking for a reason.”

Karmon: The challenge with those surveys, though, is that they have to be so generic.

Alex: Yeah.

Karmon: And then if you don’t… If you get 8, 8, 8… there’s nothing to follow up on.

Alex: Right.

Karmon: So that’s one of the disadvantages of those, and I truly understand that, too.

Alex: Yeah. And it’s, you know, just thinking about how you mentioned casual conversations, I think about how different would it be if we were in a situation where we were in a business complex with all of our clients, and I could just like walk down the hall to somebody and be like, “Hey, how’s it going?” And maybe… that would be a better way to do that.

Karmon: It’s also a challenge with… They say that after air traffic controller, help desk support is the most stressful job. You never talk to somebody when they’re having a good time with their technology.

Alex: You’re right.

Karmon: It’s a very stressful point for them, and it’s hard not to absorb that stress yourself. So when you’re having clients contact you that they’re frustrated having problems or they hear from one of their clients that something isn’t right or they can’t find something, then it just escalates, and being able to figure out what the actual problem is versus the reaction is the thing that I think takes a little bit of skill.

Alex: Absolutely. Yeah, I think that’s something that I definitely struggled with when I first started in this job… was sort of taking on everybody’s, all the client’s stress as my own, and it definitely gets overwhelming. But like you said, it’s usually a situation where their client is letting them know that something’s not working or worst case, their boss or someone is telling them that something’s wrong or… It took me a little while, but now I’m able to understand better when someone’s coming to me with something like that that I’m like, this is a problem for them. This is the most important thing that’s happening for them right now, and so… The ability to understand that but also not make it… obviously we have lots of clients, and every client that emails me all day with their very important things, I can’t make everybody’s very important things my very important things ‘cause then I would have twenty things that are just like completely urgent and then how do you delegate that? How do you decide what to work on?

Karmon: And the challenge is also helping that person who’s in the middle of that urgent thing understand that they’re not the only one, without being disrespectful.

Alex: Yes. That is definitely a challenge.

Karmon: Sometimes I suspect people think that we sit there and shop on the internet until there’s something for us to work on.

Alex: Just eatin’ bonbons like, having a nice time, and we’re like, “Ugh. This guy again.”

Karmon: One of the things I implemented this year is… Actually “this year,” this semester, once. I’m holding meetings with, once a semester, holding a meeting with the people who are my content managers, and I’m giving them project updates. We’re implementing a new internal email communications system. We’re doing some work on the faculty directory. Because again, I have these conversations all the time, and I’m living in that space, and I just expect them to know this. By having that conversation at least once a semester, it gives them a chance to say, “Have you thought about this? That’s not really good timing, Karmon. I know it works for you, but if you do that, we’re all not gonna be able to help you.”

Alex: Right.

Karmon: That has been… I know why I didn’t do it before. I felt like, “Okay, I have to have everything perfect. I have to have a clear agenda. I have to have answers for everything.”

Alex: Yeah.

Karmon: Reality is, I work in higher-ed. I work with very smart people, and I can say, “This is what I’m thinking. What do you think?” And I can get so many helpful perspectives.

Alex: Yeah, I definitely think that getting to… I struggle with perfectionism, definitely. I know that it can be hard, but yeah. Getting to that point where you can say, “You know what? I don’t know. I’m gonna go ask this person. They will know.” I think that… Maybe it’s a perfectionist thing, but I feel like I definitely have this issue, and other people must, too, where you get afraid to admit that you don’t know something. Just in the sense that you’re like, “Oh no, I’m supposed to know this. What is this person gonna think of me if I don’t know this?” But it’s way, way more helpful to just admit that you don’t know it and ask the person that does know. For everybody.

Karmon: Especially if you’re going into something new that you haven’t done before.

Alex: Yeah.

Karmon: It’s time consuming in a way because you’re like okay, I have to get feedback from this person and that person and another person. But in the end, they’ve become a co-owner.

Alex: Yeah.

Karmon: So they’re more likely to be your advocate, and they’re also going to be able to give you some great feedback. Which saves you time placating them down the road. I also just remembered that following that meeting, I was supposed to send them the notes of our conversation, and I haven’t mailed that out yet. Whoops.

Alex: Well see, good thing we’re having this conversation. 

Karmon: I need to look over my task list again.

Alex: I mean, you know when I think of the clients that I think we have some of the strongest relationships with, they’re clients like Wentworth, and a few others that we have those regular… sort of face-to-face conversations with that we, I think, get the most… that we know where we stand with them, and we trust that if we start to slip or if something starts to go awry, or they’re not happy, they’re gonna say something to us and not just… sort of harbor negative feelings without letting us know.

Karmon: And I think that’s one of the challenges you faced with those client relationships. I mean, I’m embedded at Wentworth. Sooner or later, I’m gonna bump into that person who avoided me because they didn’t like the way a conversation went, and there’s opportunities to rectify things. You guys, you get a client that’s unhappy, they can disappear and go somewhere else.

Alex: Yeah. And they have.

Karmon: It happens.

Alex: Unfortunately.

Karmon: And you don’t know why. That’s the real frustrating part is… Was it something as simple as, more flexibility offered by this other person, or was it something one of us said?

Alex: Yeah, and it is … frustrating is definitely the word, but I try to be understanding, again, of the fact that many of these people are working within larger organizations and maybe they either don’t have the time to bring something up, or maybe it’s not their decision. Someone from on high is coming down and just saying, “Hey, we’re doing this instead.” Maybe they don’t know, or don’t feel comfortable, having a conversation like that with us. But yeah. It’s definitely interesting.

Alex: So I’m in a position right now where I’m trying to balance the making it easy for people to give us feedback, which I think is on the end of the spectrum of something like a survey that you can do online whenever you have the time to do it, in as much or as little detail as you want to give us, but then also the fact that those are so easy to ignore. Because they are sort of standardized for everyone. They feel a little impersonal. We did have a client that very… praise to her. She let me know that the Client Heartbeat, she never filled it out because she just felt it was too impersonal. I was like, great, fair. Totally fair.

Alex: Now we’re doing this survey that’s geared more towards specific tasks that we have done in the previous month. So trying to make it a little more personalized, while still making it easy for people. We’re still not seeing incredible results from that. Based on my previous experience of people telling me that they’re too busy for regular phone call check-in type things, we’re sort of… trying to go back to the drawing board a little bit to see what else we could be doing to make it both easy and convenient and not feel impersonal for people to give us feedback.

Karmon: Yeah. It’s a challenge. So my question becomes… you mentioned you noticed those surveys at the end of receipts and things like that now. How do you look, or act, as a customer when you’re giving feedback? Has that changed since you’ve been trying to get that kind of feedback?

Alex: It really, really has. Actually I went to a class, a Certified Scrum Product Ownor class, and I had a pretty, I would say… mediocre to really not great experience. And at the end of the second day of the class, the teacher was wrapping up pretty quickly, but then was like, “Oh, I have these feedback surveys that I’m gonna pass out to everybody. If you could just fill this out on your way out,” and… just reading the temperature of the room, I could tell that I was not the only one that had a not-great experience in this class, and I was looking around at other people sitting near me and what they were saying on the feedback survey, and most of the people that I was sort of looking over their shoulder at their survey, just gave this teacher a terrible, like a 3 out of 10.

Alex: But then at the end of the form where it’s like, “What do you think that we could do better… if you didn’t have a great time, or even if you did do you have any suggestions about what we could do differently or how we could improve this class?” Almost everyone left that blank. They just went through, they were like circle three, circle three, bye! And walked out of the room. And for the split second that I first got that survey, I really considered I was like… I have that sort of, “I have nothing nice to say so I’m not gonna say anything” mentality so I had that initial thought where I was like, “Well I’m just not gonna give him a good mark,” and I don’t wanna be mean about it, but then I had this voice, this Last Call voice come into my head that was like, “You know, this is what happens when you’re asking people for feedback too, and don’t you get really frustrated when no one elaborates, or when people don’t fill out your survey, or things like that, and then they are unhappy and you don’t know why?”

Alex: So I sat down, and I really thoroughly filled out that survey, and I wrote like a full paragraph letting that dude know what I would have done differently in that class. And it felt great afterwards. This is what I want people to do so I’m gonna try to carry that forth and do that myself.

Karmon: I also think… I don’t think we’re taught how to be constructive critics.

Alex: Yeah.

Karmon: It all gets very personal very quickly, and I think working with customers and getting feedback hopefully has made me step back a little and try to remember it’s not the person, it’s the situation when I’m addressing something, and kind of hoping that my tone becomes less angry when there’s a problem. Then also taking those moments to say, “Hey, guys. You did a great job.”

Alex: Yes. It is just as important to let people know when they did a good job. The thing that I think helped me come a long way, in terms of constructive criticism, was going to art school.

Karmon: Yes.

Alex: And you know, you have those critiques and obviously freshman year in the beginning, it’s really hard to not be super pouty when you’re getting a bad critique or to take everything personally or to… if someone says something about your piece when it’s their turn, swing it around back on them or something like that. Especially with art ‘cause it’s so… you’re like oh, I just poured my soul out onto this canvas and everyone’s like, “Eh, I don’t really like it.”

Karmon: Yeah. I had a professor who’s like, “You know I should be able to tell you what doesn’t work in your paper and then for us to go out for a drink afterwards and be fine with it because it’s not about you. It’s about making you better.”

Alex: Exactly, yeah.

Karmon: The other thing that I find is… this is something I’m still trying out, but being able to turn it back to the person. If they come out and say, “There’s a problem with this.” I’m like, “I understand that’s a problem. How would you solve it, or what would you like to see as the result?”

Alex: Yes.

Karmon: Either they realize it’s not as easy as they think it is, or they realize that they’ve been heard and that’s all they can do at this point in time or they become, again, that invested collaborator that helps you make a better end result.

Alex: Yeah, and we luckily have had that from some of our clients. We have one person who… We switched to Harvest for time tracking in early 2016 or 2017 I think. No, 2017 it had to be. Right from the get go, we had one of our clients that was like, “Nope, I don’t like this. I don’t like how this time is reported. I can’t tell x, y, and z thing that I need to tell my boss,” and all of that. We’ve been listening to it, but at the same time when we were first switching to Harvest we were kind of like, “Well, we’re still getting our bearings here. Let us try to figure this out,” and we made a few changes here and there. You know, she hasn’t been persistent, but every now and then when I send her a time log, she’ll come back with like, “I still really don’t like this.”

Alex: So we’re trying to find a way to make it work, and I have reached a compromise with her where I can separately give her the information that she’s looking for, but we’re actually looking into trying to build our own tool that will kind of sit on top of Harvest and make a dashboard for clients that they can log into to see how many retainer hours they’ve used, how many they have left. Sort of things like that, but it’s like because she has brought it up so many times, and she’s not the only one who has said that—

Karmon: I think that’s a great idea. I think you should do that tomorrow.

Alex: Yeah, right.

Karmon: [crosstalk 00:29:04] 2019.

Alex: I’ve been able to turn around now and go to my bosses and say, “Hey, this client has been saying this from day one. Also, they’re not the only one. Maybe we should think about doing something.” You know, it’s been a year, a couple of years now. Maybe we need to actually do something about this. And that’s just the power of feedback. I’m hoping that once we get this tool up and running, it’ll be a good way to maybe show some of our other clients, “Look see. Your feedback does matter, and we do really need it, and this is what happens if you can actually give it to us.”

Karmon: Yeah, yeah. Perfect example. 

Alex: It sounds like… I don’t know, have you ever had a problem getting feedback from people? Has there ever been a situation where you really want someone to tell you how they’re doing with something or a group of people and you haven’t been able to get it out of them?

Karmon: …My last website redesign process, there was… We were holding stakeholder sessions to get feedback.

Alex: Oh yes.

Karmon: And no one would show up, or maybe one person would show up from a group. And so you’re trying to make major expensive decisions with very little data, and very little even… this is how we would like to use this better information. So when it doesn’t come out the way they expect [inaudible 00:30:48]… You know, we asked you to play the game with us, and you said you wanted to go home and do something else. It’s challenging because you turn around and have to do it again and try… One thing I will say is if you ask for feedback and they don’t give it, they don’t like the way it turns out, you don’t have trouble getting feedback again. That’s the silver lining of something that doesn’t go well.

Alex: Yeah, there’s at least that. That’s true. I remember that story from when we first started working with you.

Karmon: And you know, the good thing is people are much more invested now. That’s a win.

Alex: Yeah, that is good.

Karmon: Again, some days it’s easier to take the feedback. Feedback feels like a very nice word for complaints. That’s not what it all is, but sometimes it’s easier to take the complaints when you’re able to separate what’s going on from the frustrations yourself. Some days you’re just like, “Oh my gosh. Not again.”

Alex: For sure.

Karmon: And you just… The thing that I’ve tried to do, again, since I’ve been on the receiving side, is try to really remember that there’s a person on the other side of whatever I’m feeling or complaining or giving feedback on.

Alex: Absolutely.

Karmon: Just telling somebody that something is horrible, and this is social media comments especially. Just telling somebody something is horrible or they hate it, I can’t do anything with that. There’s not a conversation waiting to happen.

Alex: Yep. That goes right back to, for me, it goes right back to art school, and critiques where the same thing, when it was someone else that we were critiquing, we weren’t allowed to just say, “I don’t like it.” Because that’s not really feedback. That’s not a criticism. That’s like your personal opinion. It’s possible to not like something, but still be able to make suggestions. You have to be able to say why you don’t like it. Like what is it about it that is off-putting or frustrating?

Alex: Luckily, I think in this business at least for us, we rarely… When we do get that feedback, we rarely have people just saying like, “Oh, I don’t like you guys,” or anything like that. So that is good. Usually when we do get the feedback, it’s very concise. Like, I liked when you did x, y, z, and I didn’t like when you did a, b, c. And we’re like great, okay. Thank you. We can work with that.

Karmon: Yeah, and the reality is we all need to make improvements. I haven’t hit perfect yet. That’s for 2019.

Alex: Right.

Karmon: But again, and part of it is also being able to take the criticism, evaluate what’s being said, and judge whether it’s valid, or something you can address or not.

Alex: Yes. Right, yeah. I think it becomes really tricky when there’s something that is just kind of really out of your control.

Karmon: The last college I worked at, the main color was purple. I hate purple. I don’t want anything purple. When somebody came up to me and said, “You know, I really hate that shade that you’re using,” I’m like, I get it. I understand. Can’t change it. It’s the school color.

Alex: Right. You’re like, “I would change it if I could.”

Karmon: Trust me. I have little dreams about making it all green. Trying to be able to, yeah, figure out what you can change and what you can’t. Also understanding that sometimes it’s just people needing to be heard.

Alex: So it was when I first started here was when we tried the sort of more personal, person to person, phone call approach of getting feedback from customers. Then like I said, that kind of fell away, but it’s been almost three years now so maybe… I’m getting the sense that that’s probably where we’re heading back to.

Karmon: I have companies that I work with who schedule a phone call every six months to do just a status check. Knowing that it’s six months out that this is gonna happen, I have a list of things, if I have a list, that I’m ready for. I don’t… it’s never big enough that I need to send them a note, or I will if that’s necessary, but just wanna know okay this worked for me. I’m having some problems with this. Having that as a conversation versus and email chain back and forth, I tend to prefer that ‘cause I’m old school. I like people to talk to me.

Alex: I think especially this day and age when everything is so automated and… I mean, we work in the tech industry so a lot of our correspondence with people is email. We don’t really do a lot of phone calls regularly by any means so I think that when you do have that, it kind of makes it more special. Again, just to bring it back to Wentworth, you folks are one of our favorite customers, and Chris and I look forward to chatting with you every week, and like I said, the clients that we are able to do that with are definitely the clients that we feel the most comfortable talking to, and again, know where we stand with them, and trust that they’ll let us know what’s happening if something’s going sideways.

Karmon: Right. You get that relationship built.

Alex: Yes, yeah.

Karmon: I think that is probably another factor in getting customer feedback. When you do that general survey, there’s no relationship there. That means that you’re getting the most bare bones of whatever.

Alex: Right. Yeah, I suppose. I can’t believe this is the first time this is occurring to me, but I suppose that those sort of surveys can probably have a feeling of… like you’re talking to a black hole. Like is anyone even going to look at this response? Does it matter what I say?

Karmon: That is, again, the advantage of working on a small campus with people every day, and walking across to get coffee and having that conversation with somebody about, “Oh, I haven’t seen you for a couple weeks. How’s your semester going?” And having it become just one off comments or an opportunity to follow up or give an update on what you’re working on that you don’t have. I mean, working remotely is a challenge. I look at even doing a podcast, going back to where we started, you can’t see my expression on my face. It’s very hard to judge somebody’s feedback when you can’t read their body language.

Alex: Yeah, we’ve had a couple of clients that some people internally have been like, “I think they hate us.” And we’re like no, he just types that way.

Karmon: He just types that way!

Alex: Like, his sentences are very short, very curt. Don’t always have punctuation, but then when you talk to him on the phone, he’s great. Totally nice. So there’s definitely a balance that needs to be struck there, and I think if I’m taking anything away from this conversation, it’s to bring some… more humanity, I guess, to this feedback thing.

Karmon: Right. There’s a book, I don’t know if you’ve read it, it’s called The Four Agreements.

Alex: I have not read that.

Karmon: It’s a very brief little book, and basically it has these four principles. One of them is don’t take anything personally. Basically it’s saying that we all have our own baggage we bring to a conversation. I may be having the worst day of my life, and having Chris not respond to my email. May just be the cherry on that awful day.

Alex: Right.

Karmon: What I’m responding to has nothing to do with Chris. We’re blaming Chris because he’s not here, by the way.

Alex: Right, right.

Karmon: Because Chris is very good, but… make sure his ego’s okay after this.

Alex: I will, I will.

Karmon: That’s my baggage being brought to that, and it’s so hard for us to remember that that is somebody else’s load that they’re carrying, and we cannot take that on. That’s the biggest thing I keep going back to when I work with my team, and they’re exposed to somebody who’s angry or frustrated or even somebody that’s… “Oh, this is the most fantastic experience of my life.” Lovely. I’m glad to be a part of that, but that’s not everybody. Let’s balance it out and understand that they’re bringing their own thing into it.

Alex: Yeah, absolutely. Also on the other side is like you’re bringing your own stuff to it too so sometimes you might have to step back and be like, “What’s actually going on here? Is this person really mad, or am I feeling super sensitive right now because of something?”

Karmon: That’s why it’s important to have those people on your team that you can use as sounding boards.

Alex: Yeah.

Karmon: Very important. ‘Cause again, we… There are emails we get in my office that we actually go back and forth and, “What do they really mean? What are they really trying to get to?” And I’m the worst. I always put the worst connotations on it. “Oh, they’re angry because of x, y, and, z,” and one of my coworkers is, “Uh, no. That’s not how I read that at all.”

Alex: Yeah.

Karmon: So having your own internal support system, keep us from overreacting is always good.

Alex: Ultimately, the only solution there is to just ask the person like, “What did you mean?”

Karmon: That’s two days later after having analyzed those three sentences to death.

Alex: Yeah. And trying to carefully craft a response to cover all the bases just in case.

Karmon: I don’t think any of us realize how much time is spent doing client support. Because any time you get feedback, feedback is an invitation for us to respond in kind.

Alex: Yes.

Karmon: I’m using invitation in air quotes. It is an opportunity to either further conversation or make whatever, is maybe a problem, right. And so when we open ourselves up to feedback, we are opening ourselves up to a lot.

Alex: Yeah. Sort of whatever might come.

Karmon: Let’s face it, half the time it’s something we’re not prepared for. Again, because somebody’s bringing their own baggage in. You wanted to do what with the what? Where did that come from?

Alex: Yeah.

Karmon: The fact that you guys even send out the survey I think takes a lot of guts, because you do open up a doorway for people to come in and say, “Hey, you should be doing it this way.”

Alex: Of course, I’m inserting my own perspective on this because a lot of people stay silent, but I imagine it as people being like either, “Well everything’s fine, I’m not gonna… I don’t have time for this,” or, “Ugh, god, I just don’t have anything good to say, and I feel bad about it so I’m just not gonna bother bringing it up,” or they just, are like, “I’m sick of getting these emails. I’m just gonna put this in my junk folder.” I’m sure that most of the time… And then there’s probably another option that I haven’t considered which is that like, “Oh, I really want to do this,” and they just keep forgetting to do it. I suppose that’s an option too.

Karmon: It’s not… gonna justify myself this time. I did not do a survey this time, which I always do, but not this time because it just kept coming at exactly the wrong moment.

Alex: Right, yes, and I’m sure… See, and that’s one of those things where it’s like, if it happened to one person, it’s gotta be happening to more than one person. I’m sure you are not the only one that has had that experience.

Karmon: A new year. Things are, you know. I’ll get to it later, and then 300 emails later it’s down there at the bottom and I’m like, oh that was a month ago. I’m just gonna delete it.

Alex: Right. And it’s so funny. Most of our clients are in the higher ed or enterprise sphere where they’re in exactly the same sort of time crunch that you are.

Karmon: And because you guys aren’t, you know, dealing with the day to day of student life, it doesn’t occur to you.

Alex: Right, right. Perfect example of that is like, holidays. That we don’t have a lot of the holidays that schools do, and so suddenly I’m like where are all of our clients? Nobody’s responding to any emails today. Then it’s like oh, it’s Veteran’s Day.

Karmon: Yeah, well even let’s see, the end of the year we’re closed between Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Alex: Yeah, that too.

Karmon: You probably get so much done.

Alex: It is a quiet time for us.

Karmon: We’re like, let the faculty and the students leave. Give us five days of just kind of no meetings, cleaning out those email, cleaning out the desktop.

Alex: Getting ready for the next round.

Karmon: We love it when they get back, but we enjoy those little breaks too.

Alex: Right. Let us miss you for a little while.

Karmon: Exactly. Exactly.

Alex: Well, that was great. Thank you, Karmon. I appreciate you, again, taking the time to do this with me.

Karmon: Any time. I love Last Call.

Alex: Oh, well we love you too. Thank you.

Karmon: I haven’t met anybody at Last Call I dislike.

Alex: Well that’s great. Neither have I.

Karmon: Feedback right here!

Alex: Awesome. I’m gonna write that down.

Karmon: No, you guys are always on top of things, and I appreciate that.

Alex: Great. Well thank you. Now you know should anything happen, you know where to find me. Right on Slack, you can get right to me.

Karmon: We do, don’t we?

Alex: Yeti Village is produced by me, Alex Noonan. Today’s music is an original song by Last Call’s very own senior developer, Ben. You can subscribe to, rate, and review Yeti Village on the Apple Podcast app, SoundCloud, Spotify, or your podcast service of choice. You can also drop us a line at lastcallmedia.com and tell us what topics you’d be interested to hear us explore for this podcast.

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