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Customer Feedback: If You Don't Have a Plan, Don't Ask

“How did we do?”

“We’d love your feedback!”

“Your opinion matters to us.”

“Please rate your recent experience.”

Lately it seems like every time you buy something online, get a visit from a repair technician, have a chat with an online agent, or go to the doctor, emails with subject lines like these appear in your inbox a short time later. How nice. On the surface, being asked for an opinion seems terrific. Gives you sort of a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

Graphic of customer feedback responses

If you have a positive story to tell about an excellent product, an efficient service call or a helpful patient experience, it’s all good. Personally, I love to recognize service providers by name. Someone who took extra time to answer my (often numerous) questions or who went out of their way to solve a problem.

Customer service isn’t rocket science; blogs and books and webinars ad nauseam exist that describe what customers want and how to provide exemplary service. Here’s a thought – whether you provide customer service yourself (hint: we all do in some way), manage a customer service team, or create systems that support customer service teams – ask your customers how they define great service and work your tail off to deliver it or make it possible.

If you decide to ask your customers how they define great service, pay attention. Listen to what they’re telling you and then take a hard look at how you’re doing in relation to their expectations. It may mean assessing your organization’s internal processes. It may mean taking a hard look at your product or service. Or your people.

Again, relating a positive customer experience is a win for everyone involved. In my responses to those “how did we do?” surveys, I’ve mentioned specific employees on a number of occasions. Of the more than twenty occasions on which I’ve given the name of an outstanding employee, two of the organizations have acknowledged my feedback. Two. Liberty Tabletop has a terrific customer service team. I complimented them, along with their excellent products, and received a brief but genuinely nice reply. Hello, customer for life. The other organization that took the time to acknowledge my feedback was my local butcher shop and they treat every customer like a valued friend.

Unfortunately, responses to the not-so-positive feedback are even rarer, which to me is far worse. When a customer offers feedback on a poor experience, a reply is a must. We have clients who say, “This is fine for a small shop, but we have thousands of customers. We can’t answer every one!” First, the average survey email open rate is between 25-30%, so most of your customers will never open the email. Second, if the experience was satisfactory, customers may open the email but are unlikely to respond because what is there to say? “Things were fine, thanks,” isn’t the stuff survey dreams are made of. If the experience was bad, customers are more likely to respond but even when motivated by a bad experience only a small number – about 15% - will tell you. Are you ready to respond to their concerns? Failing to answer only confirms what the customer is already thinking, that their problems – and their business – are of little concern to you.

When soliciting customer feedback, keep these principles in mind:

Develop a plan for collecting and responding to customer feedback.

Too often, organizations solicit feedback simply because they think they should. They fail to put an implementation plan in place or fail to assign appropriate resources to the task. Monitoring customer feedback is relegated to a junior marketing team member who is also monitoring social media or "community-building" online. They collect the information but lack the authority to take meaningful action.

4 Keys to Successful Customer Feedback programs

Make sure the feedback you gather supports the organization’s success metrics.

What metrics do you use to measure the success of your organization? How do those metrics relate to customer feedback? For example, imagine that you are the CEO of a large senior living community. The organization’s success is measured by capacity, by units sold, by resident satisfaction rate, etc. What feedback is relevant to those metrics? An assessment of resident/family member willingness to refer friends and relatives to the community would be valuable, and the relationship to capacity, sales, and satisfaction is clear.

Make sure metrics are in sync with your mission and message.

Keeping the senior living community as an example, if the organization’s mission and message emphasize the community’s ability to provide residents with caring, personalized service, the survey questions must be relevant to that mission. How do residents rate the service they receive? What about family members? Do they feel their loved ones receive individualized attention?

Ensure internal systems support the mission and message.

If the community prides itself on personalized service, what internal support systems are required to make that possible? Is staffing adequate? Promising individualized service but failing to staff for it will result in negative feedback and few referrals. What about the sales process? How are salespeople compensated? Is there such pressure to move units that visitors end up running for the exit, chased by a desperate sales rep?

Similarly, more than one large insurer has encouraged agents in their claims call centers to stop commiserating with insureds who call to report property or auto claims. Process management suggests that saying, “Oh, I’m sorry that happened to you” takes too much time, reducing the number of calls the agents can take each day, driving up expenses, and thereby driving up premiums. If that’s the case, those same insurers should stop waxing poetic about the care they lavish on customers. Emphasize efficiency and low premiums versus caring service or risk a disconnect between expectations and action.

Sending an email asking for customer feedback is easy. Including the customer’s voice in your sustainability strategy is harder. Implement a purposeful, comprehensive plan for soliciting and understanding customer feedback. Translate meaningful data into action that benefits both your customers and your organization.

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