I’ve always been the kind of person that learns best from personal experience. If I buy something that requires assembly, I just rip open the box and start trying to figure it out myself – no time for instructions. Recently, I learned (the hard way) the risks involved in this approach with customer feedback. You can’t just flip a switch and expect to immediately start receiving value. In fact, you can actually squander your time and money without proper planning.
Here’s my story on how I learned this lesson and discovered the steps needed to make any customer feedback strategy bring in the best results.
Account for Necessary Changes and Communication
In my day job, I write about customer-centric systems and services, which involves running a lot of tests on new products. About three months ago, I recruited three retail businesses – a bike shop, ice cream store and burger chain – to help me test text message customer feedback service. We posted signs in each store with a phone number customers could use to send messages to the manager. These were then sent to an online dashboard where management could view and respond to texts in real time, as well as monitor sentiment and watch for trends over time.
After four weeks offering the service, our retail businesses only received a total of five messages. This was not near enough data to provide any kind of insights or provide any kind value to the businesses.
Afterwards, I contacted the store managers and interviewed a few of the employees. That was when I realized where we went wrong. A few of the employees reported customers asking about the signs, but it was clear there was no communication between management and staff about the study, or from the employees on the floor to the customers.
If you don’t build a culture around ensuring employees know that they are the first line of defense for customer feedback, just providing a customer feedback service isn’t going to change anything. Employees need to be proactive about encouraging customers to share their thoughts and emphasize that the company wants their ideas on how they can make the experience even better.
Impressing this importance on employees isn’t exclusive to the in-store experience. In some ways, it’s even easier online with tools for gamifying the customer feedback process. You can run daily reports on customer happiness scores by employee and send rewards to your top performers:
Make Sure the Customer Knows You Value Their Feedback
When I went into my experiment, I wanted to collect insights that the companies could use to improve their business. I also hoped that staff would improve their behavior because they knew customer feedback was more transparent, and ideally the managers could even foster better behavior by offering incentives to the employees that received the best feedback. Notice that all of these are benefits to the business, rather than the consumer.
In the long run, any changes the companies would make from this data would benefit the customer by way of providing better service. But this isn’t immediately clear when you just ask customers to take time out of their day to provide you information. If you don’t make the value for providing feedback obvious (either through wording, incentives or other tactics such as gamification), you’re likely just going to hear from the “squeaky wheels” or those customers that were extremely unhappy. This can severely distort the data you do receive.
One way to solicit feedback from more customers than just the very unhappy or happy ones, is by serving up feedback forms in the right context – right after you send an email communication, for example. Hively provides color-coded ratings snippets that can be embedded directly into an email. These ratings can also be tied to a rating mechanism for each team member, so they are incentivized to provide the best possible service.
Not to say there isn’t any value in responding to the squeaky wheels. That’s why those people do provide feedback: they see the value in telling you already, either just to get it off their chest or in hopes you’ll improve their experience next time. So you need to follow through with these expectations in the latter case. If you receive customer feedback about a negative customer experience, respond immediately with an apology for disappointing them, and a promise to improve their experience next time.
Pinpoint the Factors that Affect a Customer’s Decision Purchase
One of the few messages we did receive from the experiment said, “You need to bring back the birthday cake ice cream.” This was an actionable insight in that the store owner could have decided to start making that flavor again. But how would they know if this would actually improve their business overall? Maybe this flavor is more expensive and the commenter was the only one who really cared. Perhaps the parking was really the biggest factor impacting the customer’s decision to buy.
Your goals for using customer feedback data and the questions you ask to get that information should be determined by which factors most impact the (right) customer’s decision to buy from you. This takes identifying the causal relationships and key drivers that led your current customers to buy from you in the first place. Once those are determined, they ask for feedback around those specific drivers in the right context, and to the right customers.
For this reason, you really need to think beyond just measuring customer satisfaction. Yes, these numbers can provide a benchmark for improvement. But what’s the use of knowing your satisfaction is declining if you don’t know what you can do to improve it?
Ashley Verrill is a CRM Analyst for Software Advice and Managing Editor for the Customer Service Investigator. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal.
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