Customer feedback: a gift that keeps on giving


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Annoyed customer copyA study by Maritz Research and Evolve24 revealed that of 1,298 Twitter complaints, only 29 percent were replied to by the companies in question. Yesterday, during a phone interview, I was asked, “Why do you think company representatives choose to ignore feedback from customers – whether through Twitter, Facebook, or some other channel?”

My response was that leadership at many companies is primarily concerned with short-term results, while discounting the long-term benefits that result from listening to customers and (gasp!) acknowledging their complaints and/or suggestions for improvement. By choosing to ignore customer feedback, company leadership is violating the simple lesson most of us learned as children from Aesop’s fable, “The Goose with the Golden Eggs.”

In the story, a farmer had the good fortune to own a goose that laid a golden egg every day. But the farmer’s inability to delay gratification by thinking long-term led him to cut the goose open to obtain all the eggs TODAY! Of course, there were no golden eggs to be found – only a dead goose.

In the same way, company leadership tends to focus myopically on TODAY’S forecast, TODAY’S productivity, and TODAY’S P&L statement. This is widely understood to be the norm, although most business leaders would publicly endorse “long-term strategic thinking” and “customer lifetime value.”

But there’s another reason that customer feedback is ignored: lack of trust. In addition to not trusting the feedback source, there is skepticism about the assertions made and suspicion about one’s motives. Skepticism and suspicion tend to mute the “voice of the customer.” I liken this behavior to that of a self-righteous mother who questions the competency of the teacher who assigned her child a “C” grade. Or the headstrong father who disputes the logic of the coach who elects not to start his son in the big game.

Arrogance and obstinance cloud objectivity. When a customer complains, he is often seen as difficult rather than discerning and labeled a crank as opposed to a valued partner in the success of the enterprise. And there’s little doubt the critical customer is ignorant and exaggerating his claims. Why even waste time and other resources to respond to such a churl?

Here’s why: it’s the right thing to do. It’s also well documented that current customers are infinitely more valuable than non-customers. According to Gartner, 80 percent of future profits will come from 20 percent of existing customers. Research by Bain & Company revealed that increasing (current) customer retention rates by 5 percent increases profits by 25 to 95 percent.

Given the choice, why would anyone willfully ignore customer feedback? Not only is feedback a gift, it’s a gift that keeps on giving in the form of increased customer retention, spending, profits, referrals, and other signs of customer loyalty.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.


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