Customer Experience–The Voice of the Customer


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Customer Management Community


Customer feedback is kick-starting CRM programs, improving product design and enabling six sigma projects.

Feedback is the petrol driving “sense and respond” organizations. But what is feedback, how do you get hold of it and, crucially, how do you refine it into an asset?

What is feedback?

Feedback is information about experiences—a.k.a. the “voice of the customer.” It’s a step on the path to customer collaboration, for its strength lies in listening. It takes many forms—from unsolicited complaints to word-of-mouth monitoring. It can be positive or negative or neutral. It enters organizations in numerous ways, even when people try to block or eradicate it—which many do!!

It combines well with market research, but isn’t done anonymously and doesn’t need the strictures of representative sampling to be of use, unless it’s for staff incentives or key performance indicators (KPIs). At a customer lever, it supports personalized service and builds advocacy.

Costs and benefits

Feedback needs refining to release its potential; otherwise, it seeps into organizations diverting resources, incurring unnecessary contact costs and annoying ignored customers. Ideally, it should be a planned and organized quality control system for customer experience—otherwise, the CFO has every right to ask about benefits. (See my article,

The “Must Have” Customer Strategy—Linking Vision to Execution


Feedback is a customer service, a key resource for a change program, a vital ingredient in six sigma process improvements. If feedback is used effectively, resources can be allocated more efficiently, customer brain power can be used for innovation and “bonded” customers may increase. (See

Refocus Your Investment—Less Is More

by Jane Hodson, Ogilvy One.)

Feedback is the harbinger of root cause issues, but conversely the discipline of listening is more useful than any method. It can be manipulated by incentivized staff, e.g. car salespeople who plead for good satisfaction scores, otherwise the children will go hungry, or used to encourage pride in a job well done.

Organizing for feedback

Those responsible for collating feedback soon realize the asset they have—it’s power! Many an ugly duckling complaints department is transforming into a customer excellence function, while customer care is turning into customer relations, often under the auspices of the service function. In mature customer-focused organization, feedback is taken up as part of the marketing discipline—as, indeed, is service. But the big issue for many is still getting others, particularly market research, to understand the value of linking messy operational data with precise research data—and using it.

Using feedback

Although 95 percent of companies collect feedback, only 50 percent brief staff on its contents, a mere 30 percent use it and a paltry 5 percent bother to tell the customer what action they took. Prime causes of this sorry state are poor cross-functional collaboration and lack of information culture. But the main culprit is the disparate sources of feedback with no overall owner, plan or use. (See

Squeezing More Value From Marketing Information

by Robert Shaw, professor at City of London Business School.)

The choice of feedback method depends on use:

  • Senior Managers

    need methods to keep them in touch with reality, enabling them to champion the customer focussed cause in relation to corporate objectives

  • Operational Managers

    need feedback methods that guide strategies and day to day decisions, rather than threaten them with a beating.

  • Staff

    need feedback to do the best they can in their day-to-day job. Some feedback owners pompously say that feedback should be divulged on a need-to-know basis. But if people are not delivering or supporting the customer experience, what are they doing? Frontline service causes less customer frustration than back-office support, but it’s the former who pays the cost incurred by the latter, who gaily carry on in their misguided ways.


Feedback needs a coordinated system; a plan for what, how and why. Decide what information is important based on strategic market research; brand values, value drivers, hygiene factors, service levels, satisfaction, advocacy or KPIs . A feedback plan is your constant CVP audit. Some of the factors to be assessed will be rational and some emotional. Choose the method for the use.

As companies wake up to the value of feedback, methods are moving from being:

  • Formal to informal
  • Reactive to proactive
  • Patchy to organized
  • Looking at the rational to looking at the emotional

Use of story

When asked for feedback, customers often want to tell their story, so why always force them to use a tick box? Stories are rich in content and meaning and provide a better outlet for frustrations or even compliments. In some parts of the feedback plan build techniques, where you ask:

  • Tell me a time when …
  • Have you ever seen?
  • Describe a time when …
  • How did that feel?

In others, use the tick box, but make it easy, relevant and entertaining.

If analyzing the “story” is difficult, the advent of unstructured data analysis technology will help. But the power of stories is their use in relating the organization to the customer—bard fashion. It is stories that motivate. (See

Story: Harnessing the Power of Conversations

by David Firth.)

Feedback techniques

Below is a selection of feedback techniques employed in organizations today. Segmented roughly by use they are:

  1. Traditional methods
  2. Operational methods
  3. Collaborative methods
  4. Performance related methods
  5. Stakeholder methods

  1. Traditional

      Complaints or “reactive” event feedback.

      Complaints happen, but clever customer management pros nurture them, code root causes into performance indicators and track them. They also realize regular complainants may be influencers and form them into a collaborative panel. (See

      Complaint Management: The Heart of CRM

      by Bernd Stauss and Wolfgang Seidel.)


      “The road to divorce is littered with signs”; formal complaints arrive as frustration builds, but brewing problems appear first as enquiries along the lines of “how does this work?” or “I couldn’t seem to find.”

      Customer satisfaction.

      Strategic satisfaction studies get used as feedback, while feedback gets used as strategic satisfaction. Both are needed. The first should look at satisfaction, loyalty and key relationship drivers on a periodic basis and set assessment criteria; feedback then does the regular assessment.

  2. Operational

      Experience management or proactive event feedback.

      Gathered near an event e.g. a purchase, a call out service. Used by sales and service more than marketing. Collected via any channel: web, telephone, sms, airline seats, application forms. Collection is an art; analysis is a science. Unable to do queries, many resort to traffic light dashboard, which then assigns problems to process owners. Emotional content is a new development, but these systems have to be easy and quick in gathering and using data. Often used for performance incentives.

      Call center customer feedback.

      A goldmine frequently overlooked in the rush to get through calls. Methods include recordings used for training; regular insight briefings by agents to marketing; dividing calls into conversations and quick transactions; using unstructured speech technology (in its infancy); capturing caller emotions with smiley faces. What agents cannot do well is code root causes.

      Customer care calls.

      If you don’t capture calls, call the customer as a service, ask for feedback and improve advocacy. Use after purchase, before renewal dates. A good time to gather stories to use in training.

      Observations of customer behavior.

      Ranges from logging customers who storm angrily out of a branch (they’re upset but may not complain), to monitoring web site usage. Systems designed for fraud detection can show behavioral indicators of defection.

  3. Collaborative

      Customer forums/communities.

      A semi-permanent group whose role is to report on their experiences. This can be in diary form, blogs, chat rooms, customer surgeries or regular meetings. Some video discussion groups for effective staff training. Councils are powerful if made up of influencers (see below) and are important milestones toward customer collaboration

      Usability panels.

      Companies keep panels of customers and non-customers who will do usability testing for them of new products and services. Model office, concept store and product trials are also growing in use. Typical cost can be 8 percent to 10 percent of development costs. Some U.S. companies combine customer communities with usability panels.

      Customers in the board room or staff meetings.

      Different customers are asked to board meetings to share their experiences. This is particularly useful in B2B organizations and especially with non-key accounts who tend to be overlooked.

      Customer immersions.

      Taking customers to have an experience, e.g. they stay in a hotel or shop in a store, and monitor closely what they do and how they feel.

      Word-of-mouth monitoring.

      It’s important to listen to network feedback, the word of mouth, often told in story form, by one customer to others. Emerging techniques can scan internet chat rooms and blogs for the “word” on your organization.

      Social feedback.

      At one time, every bank manager was tasked with socializing with clients to gain business and feedback. The practice died out, but some financial institutions are bringing back formal systems to capture comments reported during business or personal engagements. That dinner party might be a good time to air your views!

  4. Performance Related

      Mystery shopping/calling.

      Instead of listening directly to customers, researcher-trial the service and report against preset scenarios. Often used for benchmarking service across branches or channels for incentive schemes and quality control.

      Account reviews and plans.

      An annual review of activity against planned requirements and service levels. Especially useful in B2B organizations, but also used in B2C e.g. financial reviews, holiday reviews. Can be carried out by account managers or independent researchers. There are pros and cons for both. For the account manager, it is a good relationship building tool, while the researcher may gain more frankness.

  5. Stakeholders
      Customer feedback is only one area of research. A growing band of organizations—mutuals, not-for-profit and PLCs—monitor and manage stakeholder feedback. For some, the business is targeted on stakeholder objectives and KPIs. Others struggle to see the link between complaints and market research, yet alone influencer feedback.

      Employee feedback.

      This can range from useless staff satisfaction surveys to staff road shows, brainwave schemes and Intranet forums. An important part of regular operations and change management.

      Supplier feedback.

      While many think it’s the suppliers job to create a relationship, the enlightened know that this is a two-way process. There are those who have systems for suppliers to complain about company systems. Others use supplier experience management and workrooms.

      Investor feedback.

      Companies need loyal investors. Annual general meetings are not particularly effective at getting general investor feedback, so new event methods are being used, especially for institutional investors.

      Community feedback.

      Used a lot by credit card companies and contact centers who need to recruit in local areas.

      Influencer feedback.

      Identify your grass-root market and company influencers and ensure you are getting specific feedback from them. In the past, influencer feedback was done through opinion surveys with people like the media, and non-governmental organizatios, but new work takes this into individual influencers, of which there are three types: social, category and brand. (See

      Targeting the Optimal Word-of-Mouth Leaders for Your Category

      by Brad Fay, GfK-NOP.)

Jennifer Kirkby
Mutual Marketing
Jennifer Kirkby is a leading analyst and writer on marketing and customer management. She is director of Mutual Marketing and a contributor to many books and journals, and she lectures at business schools. After a career in marketing, she was a director at Gartner and advisor to the U.K. government.


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