At Indiahikes it is common to see our Ground Coordinators constantly on the phone. They speak to Trek Leaders, slope staff, base camp managers, drivers, and of course trekkers. These calls don’t end on Saturday. They spill into a good part of Sunday and flow into the next workweek.
Almost always, you’ll hear them ask one common question, “How did the trek go?”
It has only been a month since I joined Indiahikes and I already know about how safe the treks are, how our health cards are loved, and how the food is delicious. I also know about tent zippers not being sturdy enough and the dining tent not being big enough. I haven’t been on a single trek but I know possibly everything that can be good or bad on a trek.
But why am I telling you all this?
Well, I think feedback is great! I myself give feedback to others; especially if the chicken is under-cooked at a restaurant or if my new dress material is worse than a polythene bag. I’m sure this resonates with most of you buying things every day.
So when I was asked to handle the reviews for Indiahikes, I was prepared to moderate them.
This is easy, I thought. I just had to pick up lines where Indiahikes was glorified and leave out the rest. After all, the feedback form clearly mentions that we will only pick out ‘parts of the response’.
But what I heard next was something I was not prepared for.
My editor, Swathi Chatrapathy, asked me to put up the reviews on the website without editing them.
That made me uncomfortable. How were bad reviews going to help promote our treks?
“We don’t want to tamper with reviews – it defies the purpose of reviews. We’ll be as transparent as possible. We’ll put out reviews just the way they are,” she said.
I nodded and did what I was asked to do. I was surprised that Indiahikes was willing to risk losing business in a bid to be honest to its trekkers.
But what came over the next few days surprised me even more.
Acting on feedback
Day in and day out, I saw Ground Coordinators discussing feedback they received from each batch with Arjun Majumdar, our founder. Every single trekker’s feedback was analysed for any gaps at our end. Everything that could be fixed was immediately put into action while the murkier, more personal feedback was dealt with directly over the phone with the concerned trekker.
Further, over lunch, we would discuss nuances of the feedback more elaborately.
To this day, I find these lunch discussions fascinating. For a newbie in the world of trekking, I get most of my information right here during lunch time. It does help me blindly stomach the barely cooked rotis I make. I listen to tales of campsites, of explorations, the famous gulab jamuns… There are stories of how trekkers were evacuated, debates on whether the right steps were taken. Yes, BMI and BP are a part of the discussion too! It’s a mixed bag of conversations – sometimes humourous, sometimes serious, things that amuse us and concern us at the same time.
Through these conversations, I’ve learnt that for an organisation to grow in the positive, feedback is important.
But going back and forth with trekkers over what they liked, disliked and would want to change is not easy. Especially for an organisation that takes tens of thousands of trekkers in a year, and has barely 15 full time working staff in the Bangalore office.
I was wondering how it was humanly possible to deal with people on a one-on-one basis.
But it didn’t take long for me to learn how they did it. No special power really. It’s plain concern.
I’ve learnt that Indiahikes is a close-knit community and a more close-knit office. Nobody works isolated from another. There is great emphasis laid on being considerate towards each other. We know (or at least try to know) each other a little more than what shows on the surface.
This is replicated in the way we deal with trekkers.
We aren’t just talking to our trekkers for the sake of it. Our Ground Coordinators don’t stress on fitness just because it is their job. They are genuinely concerned about how you fare on your trek. The content team does not simply write whatever comes to their mind unless it is credible information. Our cooks don’t make your meals without a certain concern about what you eat. Our trek leaders don’t just lead treks to take you from Point A to Point B.
Negative feedback is a hard pill to swallow
Additionally, there is a lot of learning in both giving and taking feedback. Giving feedback requires skill. But being a sport at taking feedback is one of the hardest things to learn. In my first month here at Indiahikes, I have learnt that we must be open to criticism.
I remember an email we received from Prathima, our Ground Coordinator, during my first week here. She had forwarded an email from a trekker who was a Russian. He had gone all out in complaining about Indians, their sense of time and how games conducted by our Trek Leaders were for children and not adults. His list of complaints was unending.
But what our founder, Arjun, had to say put an end to all the other staff members complaining about how ungrateful trekkers can be.
He wrote, “This trekker writes very candidly, which may not be to our liking. But what he writes is all significant and worth noting.”
That completely changed my perspective of looking at feedback. I now look at feedback as a means of improving trekking and understanding how we are not all the same in terms of our expectations.
Which brings me back to my initial question – why am I telling you all this?
No special reason.
Just the next time you’re filling out our feedback form, remember that we don’t just ask you for it to put it up on our website for good reviews or for the sake asking for a feedback. Your words will never go overlooked.