If you ask a question, then listen to the answer

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Back in the Dark Ages of gathering customer feedback, companies distributed hard copy customer satisfaction surveys with prepaid postage to increase response rates and then waited weeks to collect, analyze, and distribute the feedback. And when warranted, it took even longer to follow up with individual survey respondents. Another common trait of these early surveys is that they were lengthy and time-consuming because every stakeholder had its own set of criteria to evaluate.

Today, gathering customer feedback can be instantaneous and rather than evaluating a litany of criteria, many organizations pose a single question. The valet parking service I use when dining out at a local restaurant texts a one-question survey before customers have left the parking lot using a 1-5 scale in order to gather immediate perceptions of service quality. The valet staff hustles and is exceedingly polite, so I’m not sure I’ve offered a rating other than a perfect 5. But I suspect that if I did, I would receive a follow up text asking for details or would be contacted directly by a supervisor to elaborate on my experience.

Even while technologies such as text, email, chat, web, and social media have dramatically improved the efficiency with which companies gather customer feedback since the early days of paper surveys, the same fatal flaw remains: If company representatives disregard – or appear to disregard – a customer’s feedback after she has taken the time and effort to provide it, any hope of achieving the survey’s primary objectives of improved performance and increased customer loyalty is lost.



As an example, last month my family and I stayed at a ski resort in Breckenridge, Colorado over spring break. Within days of checking out, I received a guest satisfaction survey via email. While a great majority of guests will ignore the survey, I chose to invest 15 minutes or so in completing it. Many of my comments were positive but I also detailed three separate incidents where product or service quality was lacking. Even so, here I sit three weeks later having heard nothing from a resort representative. Not only is that shameful, it’s irresponsible, undermines performance and customer loyalty, and marginalizes the opinions of customers.

I can think of a lot of emotions that companies would hope to inspire in their customers, but feeling marginalized isn’t one of them. If your organization requests customers’ perceptions of product and/or service quality, have a reliable process in place by which their feedback is acknowledged and, where appropriate, responded to in a meaningful way – even if that means picking up the phone.

Customer feedback mechanisms have come a long way. It’s faster, simpler, and more affordable to gather customer perceptions today than ever before. Even so, one aspect of the process has not changed: the need to schedule time to follow up directly with customers to validate their observations, better understand their feedback, and use the information to improve the customer experience.

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