Why You Need to Capture Customer Feedback in Real-Time (and how to do it in brick-and-mortar businesses)

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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.com

Are you sending out CX (customer experience) surveys days or even weeks after the customer interaction? If so, have you considered what the consumer’s experience of that might be and how that impacts on their perception of your brand? Or have you thought about some of the great opportunities the delay in your process precludes? Do you wonder what impact the delay has on future survey engagement or worse, customer loyalty?

These are some of the questions I cover in this post. The importance of capturing feedback in real-time should not be underestimated, particularly if you want to impact CX on an individual customer basis. While it is relatively easy to achieve in an online environment, it is much more challenging in a brick-and-mortar context, so I will offer some ideas on how to do it at the end of the post.

1. How survey timing affects customer experience

The Peak-End Rule (Kahneman & Tversky, 1999) states that the typical consumer’s memory of a customer experience is not the average of all moments but the feelings they experienced at the peak moment and at the end of the interaction.

The fact that a CX survey is almost always sent at or after the end of an interaction, means it assumes a much more significant role in the customer journey than many would think. If the peak and/or end feeling was a negative one and you send a CX survey a week later, your CX survey may actually be reinforcing the negative memory for that particular customer. This is not a result that any CX manager wants their actions to produce.

On the other hand, if the CX survey is completed immediately after the interaction, it may create an entirely different reaction. In this scenario, the customer may feel appreciative that their feedback was sought, particularly if there is a prompt follow up. In such circumstances, a negative end may be replaced by a positive end, which can change the customer’s recollection entirely and for the better.

2. How survey timing affects customer advocacy

Bad news travels 3x further than good news and in general people will talk about something more when it’s fresh in their memory. This means customers who have a bad news story about your business are most likely to share it with friends and family in the few days after the interaction took place. If they’re going to write a public review, they’re likely to post it within 48 hours of the experience.

So if you’re sending your CX survey a week or two after the event, then the worst of the damage will already have been done to your brand before the customer receives it. They will have no redeeming things to say about your business and instead, they will be warning prospective customers off your restaurant or store etc. Word of mouth marketing is critical today and this kind of negative sentiment can be lethal, particularly to a nascent brand.

As you’ll see in the next point, real-time feedback presents an opportunity to nip negative sentiment in the bud, before it spreads verbally or digitally.

3. How survey timing affects your ability to react

Essentially there are two reasons to collect customer feedback:

(i) to learn things you didn’t know about your business; and

(ii) to empower you to take action from an informed position.

Both of these things should be done on both a micro and macro level.

By definition, running a CX programme on a macro basis is more long-term and relates to the entire organisation. Implementing a strategic culture change is a good example. Survey timing is not that relevant here as the long-term nature of the project means the emphasis should be on tracking changes in metrics and insights over an extended period. The actions taken might include changes in training manuals or the company mission statement for example.

On the other hand, micro CX activities are focused on individual customer interactions. A macro CX programme may go unnoticed by individual customers because one bad experience might be enough to put that customer off your brand for life. That is one of the main reasons survey timing is critical with respect to individual customer interactions.

Capturing and acting on feedback quickly creates two extremely valuable micro-level opportunities:

(i) you get a chance to redress the situation with the affected customer; and

(ii) you can fix the problem so that it does not impact on any more customers.

So it’s not just timing of the survey that’s important. The ability to react in real-time is equally important, as it empowers you to turn detractors into promoters. Customers who feel they are being listened to and that the business cares will provide more feedback in the future. More importantly, they will become more loyal to your brand.

How to Capture Real-Time Feedback in Brick-and-Mortar Businesses

I have previously written a blog post on different ways to capture customer feedback in physical locations, but I didn’t focus on the importance of real-time feedback.

(a) Verbal Feedback

Verbal feedback is as real-time as it gets and any business that doesn’t ask customers “was everything ok?” or “did you find what you were looking for?” is really not at the races. This feedback can be invaluable to a business, as long as it is recorded somewhere and the employee (e.g. waiter or shop assistant) is empowered to do something about it. And therein lies the problem with verbal feedback. Unless you have some serious complaint management systems and processes in place, this type of feedback is generally dealt with on an ad-hoc basis. That means it is not being reported centrally so the issue is likely to be repeated over and over again.

The other problem with verbal feedback is the reluctance of customers to provide negative feedback on a face-to-face basis. Certain people are very comfortable with it, but the majority of people would sooner answer that “everything was fine” when asked and then mumble away once the staff member is out of earshot. This is backed up by Ruby Newell-Legner’s research that suggests only 4% of unhappy customers actually make complaints.

(b) Web Forms/Kiosks

Feedback via web forms is real-time in the sense that feedback is received instantly. The problem with web forms and kiosks is that they rely on secondary communication channels like email and phone calls to follow up with customers. In practice, that means the feedback and the follow-up are disconnected, which makes following up in real-time more difficult.

(c) Messaging

Messaging is one of the few digital channels that is genuinely real-time and facilitates things like notifications. This can be SMS based or leverage one of the popular messaging apps like Facebook Messenger. Because these channels are mobile first channels and facilitate both the capture of feedback and the follow-up, they are the optimum solution for handling feedback in physical locations. In a restaurant, for example, you can capture the feedback while the customer is still at the table and respond before they have left the premises.

The primary difference between SMS and messaging apps is that there is a cost associated with sending each SMS and that could really add up in a large organisation. There also tends to be more of a delay when sending/receiving SMS and useful features like quick replies are not present, though Google is in the process of fixing that`.

Conclusion

The best businesses have always sought customer feedback to help improve CX. In the “Age of the Customer”, where social networks and review sites amplify the influence of individual customers, customer feedback management has become critical for ALL businesses.

Ultimately, CX managers should be more concerned with macro CX, but in order to impact that you need to get the people on the frontline to act on a micro-level. Whether it is getting them to promote a survey or respond to feedback, a real-time process will be more engaging for both customers and staff. Provided you have hired the right people, they will want to resolve customer issues quickly and efficiently. A real-time system gives them an opportunity to do that and gives your CX programme a huge advantage over those who are not.

It’s also worth noting that Millennials are now the most populous generation in America and they have grown up with different expectations than previous generations. According to Desk.com, a quarter of them expect to get a response in under 10 minutes when they contact a business via social media. While feedback might be slightly different, you can see why a real-time feedback management system is now a must-have rather than a nice to have.

It’s time to get real-time!

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