Are you an inspirational customer?


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Customers should be better at providing meaningful feedback
– and service providers should make it easier for them to do so

Another caffeinated customer experience gave me a new perspective on feedback. I was in a local chain coffee shop, taking advantage of a freebie courtesy of my mobile provider and the productivity benefits that seem to accrue from being surrounded by a general buzz of conversation. I noticed that both the coffees I drank seemed to be particularly good – better than usual – and both were courtesy of a “trainee barista” (according to her t-shirt). I passed by her on the way out and congratulated her on her exceptionally good coffee – clearly the training was working well – but she looked slightly non-plussed.

This made me think: are we, as customers, bad at giving feedback?

I think we are.

And the trend towards surveying every inch of our experience doesn’t help


Hi guys, how’s your food?

If I’m in a restaurant I think it’s nice if someone takes the trouble to ask if you are enjoying your food. But how many times has that enquiry been made when I have just started eating and not in a position to offer any feedback? Moreover – and this may just be British reticence – how often have I or people with me said it’s OK when some aspect of the food isn’t quite up to standard?

It’s the equivalent of the “How are you?” enquiry on greeting someone – we don’t usually respond with a list of current ailments or life situations – polite but meaningless.

Anti-social media

Back to my coffee chain. It has an app for payment and collecting loyalty points which is great and, if I’m being brutally honest, almost certainly does encourage me to spend more with them than with other brands. Every time I use it a little window pops up: “how was your last visit?” Are you spotting a problem here? At this point I’m thinking about my current visit and – since I’m in the process of paying for my coffee – can’t be doing with providing feedback on any visit.

I just checked my app: there’s no opportunity for me to provide more reflective feedback on my last visit so that I can’t more permanently record my verbal feedback to the barista.

Give us feedback – and your organs

And so it continues… a friend with a donated kidney posts a link to the NHS organ donation site. Although an opt-out approach will be adopted in England next year, it seems simple enough to register and it proves to be. And there is the inevitable feedback tab at the bottom of this screen – how can we improve the site? Well to be quite honest it does the job perfectly, so I leave a very satisfied rating and a comment to that effect, adding “you’re doing a great job” as the web team have implemented a nice clean website that helps you register quickly and, moreover, the outcome of their work is saved lives. I’m faintly surprised they didn’t ask for a Net Promoter Score as, in this case, I would recommend the site to friends, family and total strangers – if you’re in England, please do register!

But, actually, what is the point of feedback now? For all I know it may have been terrible to start with and customer feedback improved it but at this point it’s just creating work for people. This illustrates a tendency I have noticed in organisations:

Once we start collecting data, we get stuck in a rut and it has the potential to be wasted effort.

Get inspiration: get meaningful feedback

So, let’s be clear, there’s nothing wrong with collecting data on customer behaviour and feedback: technologies are available to allow you to collect and manipulate ever-increasing amounts of data from all touch points. But it’s getting meaningful data that allows you to turn data into insight and insight into action that’s important.

In my view it’s qualitative feedback that gets you that insight, whereas quantitative data will give you trends and aid segmentation. We can cover quantitative data in another article but for now let’s look at five ways to get meaningful feedback from your customers to inspire you to improve.

1) Always provide a qualitative channel to capture feedback

My coffee chain is a good example of how not to do this: there’s nowhere on the app to provide ad hoc feedback which suggests they’re not that interested. Even the Feedback tab on their website is broken but there is a link to email channel, so I’ll be sharing my feedback with them soon.

2) Get feedback at the right point in the customer journey

Whilst you need an always-on channel for ad hoc feedback, it’s important to identify the points in the customer’s journey where it makes sense from their point of view to provide you with feedback. Most companies, to be fair, put this at the end of a transaction but there are still a significant number who don’t or who launch a feedback pop-up on their website before you have even done anything.

3) Ask the right questions – and the right number of questions

You should always add on a qualitative text input field to allow customers to explain why they gave a particular quantitative rating but do this sparingly: there’s nothing more annoying than having to justify every score you’ve given. And always have a general text input field at the end – some people like to save their comments for a single message.

4) Recognise negative feedback as inspiration

This is tough: I have long maintained that complaints are an under-used source of feedback but treating them as inspiration is a bit of an ask. It’s a question of mindset: if you have repeated complaints about some aspect of your products, services or experience then this is a great opportunity to turn that around. Genuinely customer-centric companies will have this mindset.

5) Follow up and reward

Whether grumpy or inspirational, your customers are devoting their time to improving your company, which should generate plenty of business value, so it seems right to offer some form of reward. My favourite is the pizza chain that sends you a voucher for free dough-balls for every time you feed back. The incremental cost of this is negligible but it encourages customers to provide feedback and – I have experienced – they do follow up with further discussion if appropriate.

Do let me have feedback both on this article on your experiences with customer feedback.

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Nick Bush, Managing Partner
I help companies deliver extraordinary performance (growth and profits) by focusing on customer success. I contribute regularly to the e-magazine The Next Ten Years ( where I focus on the implications of running a successful customer-centric business and bringing everyone on the journey with you. I’ve spent most of my 40-year career helping companies transform the way they do business through better strategies, change management and technology, with a relentless focus on the customer.


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