Does Your Customer Feedback Process Say You’re Customer- or Company-Centric?


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Customer feedback is clearly a core part of any customer-centricity strategy. Knowing how customers experience your service and brand is essential to putting the customer’s voice at the heart of your people, process, and technology decisions. You can’t know how they experience it without asking them.

That said, I am repeatedly amazed by the number of “customer-centric” feedback programs that themselves make the experience of giving feedback dull, irrelevant, difficult, and time-consuming for the very customers these companies say they are committed to engaging, delighting and “wowing.”

Take, for example, a recent survey I received after staying at a Hilton Hotel in the Chicago area while attending a three-day conference. The survey claimed it would take 7-10 minutes of my time, which seemed a bit excessive. However, in reality it was a 20-minute commitment. 20 minutes? This is longer than the combined total of all of my interactions with the staff at the hotel in my three-day stay there.

Many of the questions were challenging to interpret and, therefore, answer. How helpful was the maintenance staff? Never having come into contact with them, this was a question I couldn’t respond to. And when presented with a question asking me to rate the friendliness of the front desk, maintenance, housekeeping and hotel staff, I found myself scratching my head thinking aren’t all of these people hotel staff? I struggled to see the point of answering many of the questions posed.

Surveys Are Experiences, Too

Every interaction you have with a customer communicates, including feedback surveys themselves. You see, a tedious and poorly thought through survey experience is itself a poor customer experience. Your customer survey speaks about the value (or lack thereof) you place on your customer’s time.

Ask yourself, “Would I complete my own company’s customer survey?” If not, why not? What does this say about the true representativeness of the feedback you are collecting?

Every interaction you have with a customer communicates, including feedback surveys themselves.

When you send a survey that requires the customer to answer questions that they don’t care about and invest a significant portion of their busy day to do so, you are essentially saying that you’re collecting this information for reasons other than improving their experience. The customer thinks: “you don’t want to help me, you just want me to help you figure out how well all the parts of your operation are performing.” Thus, customers start to flat line their responses—going straight down the middle of the scale—just to get through it.

So, how valuable are these answers anyway? They can actually do more harm than good to collect, because bad information is worse than no information. The worst decisions are easy to make when grounded in incorrect information.

Don’t Ask What You Already Know

There is a wealth of information that businesses have on their customers. This is particularly true in the business-to-business world where we have stats such as: account revenue, tenure, services used, account manager, industry sector, etc. Why, then, do some companies insist on asking their clients these questions to which they already know the answer?

Often companies don’t want to over-burden their internal staff with data gathering. Clearly placing the burden on the customer is not “customer-centric.” So we would rather ask thousands of our valued customers to fill in information that we already know about them than ask a person inside the organization to spend a day gathering this information. If 1,000 clients spend 2 minutes answering firmographic questions to which we already know the answer, we have just wasted 33 hours of customer time.

Everything communicates. What this tells the client is that you don’t care enough about them to make it easy and quick for them to give you feedback. You are more interested in protecting your company’s time than your customer’s time.

Towards Customer-Centric Feedback

How can you make sure your feedback program is truly customer-centric, rather than company-centric? Follow these four simple rules:

  1. Keep transactional customer feedback surveys short.
    Best practice is to limit surveys to 3-5 minutes in length. Anything longer than this can easily be perceived as gratuitous. Of course, annual relationship surveys can be longer, but in these cases you should offer proper incentives to show that you value your customer’s time.
  2. Design surveys that make sense to the customer’s own experience.
    If a customer gives a poor rating to service received from your staff why not simply ask them what happened? This is far more customer-centric than asking them to rate on a scale from 1 to 5 the: helpfulness, speed, friendliness, professionalism, knowledge, eye contact, smile, attitude, name badge and appearance of the employees. Maybe your customer’s issue is one of these elements; maybe it’s something different altogether –but giving the customer space to vocalize their issues is (a) more customer-centric and (b) often far more actionable.
  3. Only ask questions when you don’t already know the answers.
    Any demographic or firmographic information that the company already owns, somewhere, should be tied to the customer’s responses rather than requiring them to give this information all over again. Further, encouraging the linkage of detailed operational and CRM data with survey metrics often makes the crosstab analysis and insights much richer. For example, PeopleMetrics is currently gathering POS data for a chain restaurant client, such that we can tie experience ratings back to the specific server, food, and drinks ordered. This granular insight is invaluable to restaurant line managers.
  4. Close the loop.
    Finally, follow-up with your customers who give feedback, even if there is no clear action required. If you are customer-centric you’ll thank them for investing their time to make your business better. If you are company-centric, you’ll read it and move on.

So, what does your customer feedback experience say about your organization?

Kate Feather
Kate is the leader of Customer Experience Transformation practice at PeopleMetrics. She partners with dozens of Fortune 1000 companies to provide Customer Experience Strategy and Voice of the Customer consulting services.


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