Have you ever been blindsided by the departure of a customer or an employee and wondered what happened?

It seems obvious that you should collect feedback from your constituents well before they reach the point of unhappiness, yet many in business don’t do this in a systematic manner. I often hear managers tell me that they measured employee attitudes a year ago and didn’t see anything to worry about. Or they asked customers for feedback but didn’t hear much so they figured everything was fine. But that is often not enough.

Isn’t it possible that your employees may not tell you how they really feel because with the current economic state, they just want to keep the status quo? Yet, as the economy continues to improve, watch out — they may just realize that they have other opportunities.

Sometimes everyone at work is so caught up in doing their own part that they forget to take a look at how the total experience feels to others. When was the last time you had someone walk in your constituents’ shoes — to really experience your firm like they would?

For instance, play the role of an applicant interested in working at your firm. From their perspective, is your Web site easy to navigate? Can you even find out about job opportunities at your firm? What’s the application process like? Is it clear, confusing, overly complicated?

Retaining employees or customers is related to delivering on your promises to them. Missed deadlines, poor quality, bad customer experiences (internal or external) and inadequate communication all lead to lost customers or employees. They have certain expectations about how you are going to handle things, and when you don’t meet their expectations, you have failed them.

What can we do to make sure we deliver on our promises to our constituents?

Understand your constituents’ expectations. It is your responsibility to ask. Don’t create unrealistic expectations when you hire them or bring them in as a customer. Even if we give them a perfect pitch about what our business is like, we should still collect their expectations.

Be candid. If you find that their expectations are really higher than what you think you can deliver, you owe it to them and to your team to tell them what really can be done.

Check in. Periodically check whether their expectations are being met. If you find they aren’t being met, do more research to find out what specifically you need to do. Sometimes surveys are great to collect data, but if you are not learning much, then focus groups might provide richer data.

If you discover that you have not met their expectations, what should you do?

Sincerely apologize. Show accountability — this is really important and can set a positive tone for moving forward. Without acknowledging your culpability, it is very difficult to get them to listen to you.

Be sure that someone of credibility and clout is working on it. People want to know that someone high up is aware of the problem and will take action on it.

Communicate, communicate, communicate – to all relevant parties. Make sure to inform those involved, and let upper management know you are handling the problem. Keep them in the loop as needed.

Discipline, counsel, or take action with people who may be causing the problem. Maybe you have some employees who have been responsible for not delivering on their end. Carefully think about whether they should stay on the project or not.

Strategize. Come up with a strategy for addressing the problem and take action quickly, but thoughtfully. People need to know that you are taking their concerns seriously.

While it seems obvious that we should do these things, we don’t do as good a job as we should. Just ask a few of your employees or customers. Ask today so you won’t lose your best employees or customers tomorrow.