Feedback Narcissism

The word narcissism is seldom used in a positive way. Google narcissism and you find the definition from Oxford Languages is “an excessive interest in or admiration of oneself and one’s physical appearance.” In medical terms, the Mayo Clinic says a narcissistic personality disorder is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

All of this leads to a conversation I had with my friend Tony Cheevers of Researchscape, who posted an article about Devora Rogers’s take on brand narcissism. As I read the article, I thought that another way to position this concept, as it applies to the customer experience, is something I now refer to as feedback narcissism.  

Feedback narcissism is when a company – or employee in a company – is accumulating ratings and reviews to feel good about itself versus using the feedback to improve the experience for the customer. Yes, reviews can confirm if the company and its employees are doing a good job, and everyone can feel good about that, but that feedback, good or bad, is a powerful tool to help sustain a high level of customer experience or improve it if needed.  

Feedback is a gift. Positive ratings may indicate you did a great job for the customer. Getting specifics as to why the customer left the high rating is just as important, if not more so. If you get a compliment or testimonial from a customer, is it something the company does all the time or was it a one-off experience? If it is a one-off, can it be operationalized to be repeated again and again? If the feedback is negative, what can be done to prevent or at least mitigate the problem from happening for future customers? The answers to these questions are why you want feedback. It’s not to inflate the ego. 

I’ve written in the past about salespeople who beg for a perfect rating, claiming their livelihood depends on it. If it really does, they shouldn’t have to beg for a high rating. They should just deliver the experience that would cause the customer to want to leave a high rating. This really isn’t feedback narcissism, but it is close. It’s still asking for feedback for the wrong reason, doing nothing but serving the employees’ fear that they won’t look good to their boss. 

I’m all for feeling good about the feedback you get from customers, but if that’s the only reason, stop it! Don’t fish for compliments. Fish for ways to make the customer experience better. Your customers will appreciate you for that and ideally reciprocate with more business and referrals. Now, that’s something to feel good about! 

Rellated: Answer the Question the Right Way