Customer Experience News & Trends

Build a better customer experience through feedback: 8 best practices to follow

When you understand your customers’ needs and wants, you can weave those into the ideal experience. Here’s how to get that necessary insight and act on it so customers stay loyal, and your business flourishes.

Companies have sought feedback since the beginning of business.

From Biblical times, to the Dark Ages, to the Industrial and Technological Revolutions, proprietors and business owners had to up their game when competition moved into town. So they started asking customers what they thought of the products they used or services they experienced. Even better, at some point businesspeople started asking customers for their thoughts on potential ideas, products and services.

Thus came the birth of customer surveys and the evolution to the Voice of The Customer (VoC), today’s buzz-worthy form of customer feedback.

Where we are

Today, businesses are formally listening to customers through mail, surveys, comment cards, phone transcripts and focus groups. And while they’re all still valuable, companies need to make sure they incorporate all the additional channels customers use to contact them — email, social media, text message etc.

What’s more, soliciting feedback and listening to it isn’t enough to create a better customer experience. Companies need to act on what they hear — and act quickly — to maintain customer trust and build stronger relationships, researches at Allegiance have found.

Here are the eight best customer feedback practices and proven ways to make them work in your organization.

1. Open the gates

Customer feedback can be important to practically everyone in the organization — well beyond the assumed positions such as customer service managers, sales and marketing leaders and customer experience executives. The CEO and Chairman of the Board can use data, analytics and actual customer conversations to make high-level customer-focused decisions. The VP of Operations can rely on customer feedback to choose shipping options. The CFO can turn to VoC data to make decisions on the criteria for which employee bonuses/rewards will be given for improving customer satisfaction and buying patterns.

So the gates to customer feedback must be open for constant two-way flow. The company needs to continually ask for feedback from customers. Then company leaders need to collect relevant, actionable information from that feedback and disseminate it to employees. Ideally, the information passed along will be broken down so all departments, leaders or factions receive and understand the feedback they’re given and how it pertains to their roles, as well as how it can help them evolve the customer experience.

2. Make it part of the routine

Gathering the VoC should be more than an annual campaign or quarterly initiative. Instead, it should be a continual effort to listen to customers and respond to their changing needs. If companies wait to survey customers on annual or semi-annual basis, they usually miss changing needs and come to market with products or services too late in the game — after customers realized they needed something and found it elsewhere.

Instead, customer service and sales reps who talk to customers should make gathering feedback and passing it along part of their daily routine. Satisfaction spot checks — “How’s that product working out for you?” “Is there any way we can make your next experience better?” — are quick ways to gather feedback. More importantly, front-line employees can informally keep an eye out for bigger problems if they hear (and report) a recurring issue.

At Best Buy, trained service reps watch for issues that are being reported by a large number of customers. If they identify one as a trend, they create a “Blue Alert,” which includes a report on what’s been happening, how it affects customers and how it should be handled before the problem gets bigger.

3. Know what might affect your feedback

Customer feedback means different things at different times. Satisfaction and dissatisfaction are driven by an array of underlying factors that can change from month-to-month, quarter-to-quarter or year-to-year. Much of the information you gather will be time-sensitive or seasonal.

Take, for example, an insurance company after a natural disaster. Claims will be up — and satisfaction will likely be down because customers are upset by extenuating circumstances. Although the insurance company will have things to learn from the feedback gathered during that incredibly busy, trying time, it will have to keep in mind that emotions could cloud some data.

So when gathering and acting on feedback, companies want to seek out any factors that may impact the data they receive.

4. Be prepared to respond now

Before gathering customer feedback, companies need to know what they’ll do with the results, plus who will respond to it — and how and when they’ll do it. The best thing to do is put that protocol in place early in the process. Then notify customers of what will be done with their feedback and the kind of response they can expect.

For instance, customer service reps at one California software provider tell customers in a follow-up email to a phone transaction that they’ll receive an email with a link to a survey the next day. They tell customers how long the survey will take to complete and what the company does with the feedback.

Ideally, companies want to be prepared to respond to individual feedback — almost anything negative deserves a personal, immediate response — and the data overall. At the software company, feedback is scoured for low scores or negative comments. If any are found, a company rep or manager listens to the original transaction call — so he or she understands exactly what happened — then calls the customer to hear more details and try to make amends.

5. Close the loop

If companies want customers to continue giving feedback, it’s crucial companies close the loop on the feedback — whether the feedback is positive or negative. More so, if it’s negative.

Case in point: Domino’s Pizza asked customers for candid feedback on its offerings about five years ago. Customers pulled no punches: Many said it sucked. Domino’s didn’t try to hide the negative feedback. Instead, after two years of developing new recipes, the CEO made commercials telling the world that customers thought their pizza tasted like cardboard — and they’d made changes to improve it. It worked: Sales continue to grow at the pizza chain.

What’s important, too, is the timing of follow-up — either responding directly to individual complaints and negative scores or the entire population at once. If it takes months to close the loop, only 20% of customers will buy again, the Allegiance study found. If it takes just minutes, 80% will buy again. Hours, and 75% will come back. And about half come back if it’s days or weeks.

Thank every customer who responded to the request for feedback and include the results, plus details on what you’ll do with the data — ideally make improvements or change processes, products or services to reflect customers’ changing needs and demands.

6. Tell the world

Of course, customers who responded aren’t the only people who should know what you’ve heard, analyzed and will do. Good feedback can help attract new customers or lift a company’s reputation to an even higher level.

If, for example, a company receives a high customer satisfaction rating, it should be promoted on its website, in advertising and throughout marketing and sales campaigns. On a smaller scale, customer-facing employees can add a tagline to their correspondence with customers that mentions the rating.

Even in instances where the feedback is negative, it may not hurt to share it with the world. As Domino’s proved, negative information can be spun into a positive as long as the company is making serious changes in response to customer feedback. It proves the company values what customers have said.

7. Make it matter internally

Customer feedback is valuable to everyone within an organization. Every person in a company has some role in the product the customer receives or the service customers experience. What customers think should have an effect on how employees do their jobs.

Customer feedback and data should be drilled down so employees understand what customers say, want and need. You may want to make the same data look different for each department, however.

For example, actual customer comments may go over better with people who package or deliver the goods, while bars, charts and graphs will resonate better in the board room.

Amazon takes this so seriously, the online retailer requires every employee to spend two days at the customer service desk every year, where they can hear exactly what customers have to say, how issues are resolved and what’s important to customers. It’s first-hand information that makes the feedback stats come to life.

Most importantly, customer feedback should be shared and circulated continually throughout the organization so “what the customer thinks” becomes an ingrained core business value.

8. Make the connection

You can deliver all the customer data you have to employees, but its importance may only sink in when they’re trained and rewarded to act on it to improve the customer experience. Customer-centric organizations make service part of their training programs for every employee — not just those who directly serve customers.

Those top companies also share stories of outstanding service and customer praise in company- and department-wide meetings.

Then they reward employees — individually and as teams — for their efforts to improve the customer experience and raise satisfaction and loyalty.

Get the experience right: Follow the top 8 feedback practices

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