Which Feedback is Most Valuable: Solicited or Unsolicited?

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I originally wrote today’s post for CX Network. It appeared on their site on March 19, 2024.

Customer feedback is the life blood of a customer-centric organization. As I like to say, customer understanding is the cornerstone of customer-centricity. Getting feedback from customers is one way to achieve that customer understanding. Executing a voice of the customer (VoC) program that yields actionable insights is imperative.

Voice of the Customer Program

A VoC program typically includes:

  • Data collection: using various channels, e.g., surveys, interviews, customer advisory boards, social media, and online reviews, to gather feedback from customers.
  • Analysis: systematically analyzing the customer feedback to identify patterns, trends, what’s going well, and areas for improvement.
  • Action planning: developing strategies and initiatives based on insights gained from customer feedback to address identified issues and improve the customer experience.
  • Implementation: executing the action plans and monitoring their effectiveness in driving positive changes.
  • Continuous improvement: iteratively refining the VoC program based on ongoing feedback and evolving customer needs.

VoC programs are essential to remaining competitive in today’s market by ensuring that the products and services you design and deliver solve problems for customers and align with their expectations and preferences. While the focus of this article is the data/data collection, critical to success is ensuring analysis, action planning, implementation, and continuous improvement are part of the program and the process.

Approaches to Gathering Feedback

An important aspect of any VoC program is to ensure that you listen to customers in a variety of ways wherever they are – and wherever/however they want to provide feedback. (Another important aspect is that VoC is not just about surveys.)

As a result of that requirement, your VoC program approach should include what we call solicited (or active) feedback and unsolicited (or passive) feedback.

Solicited Feedback

Most commonly, businesses proactively reach out to customers to solicit feedback through surveys, interviews, focus groups, panels or advisory boards, journey mapping or co-creation workshops, or other direct feedback requests. This approach involves structured processes where brands design specific questions or prompts to elicit feedback on particular aspects of their business, products, services, or overall customer experience.

Unsolicited Feedback

Since customers also expect to leave feedback wherever/however they prefer, the other part of your VoC program includes unsolicited feedback, which involves receiving feedback from customers via places/channels they express their opinions or experiences, such as online reviews, social media, and VoC through employees (providing feedback to employees during interactions with them). Not only is this feedback unsolicited, but it is also unstructured, requiring proper tools to extract themes and sentiment to be able to analyze it.

Using both solicited and unsolicited feedback offers valuable insights and helps brands gain a comprehensive understanding of customers’ needs and preferences.

Combining Solicited and Unsolicited Feedback

Bringing both sources together – and then combining them with what I call the breadcrumbs of data that customers leave behind as they interact and transact with the brand – provides for some robust analysis and insights about your customers.

Let’s focus here on bringing solicited and unsolicited together.

It’s important to analyze the two of them together and look for themes and discrepancies to gain deeper insight into customer sentiment. Unsolicited feedback will certainly help to identify additional issues or trends that aren’t captured through solicitation, often because you’re not asking the right questions or don’t know what to ask/dive deeper into.

You can also use one approach to validate the other to ensure accuracy and reliability. You might learn about an issue via unsolicited feedback and can then track trends and changes via solicited feedback.

Be sure to invest in an integrated VoC analysis tools or platforms that allow you to consolidate and analyze both solicited and unsolicited feedback.

Combining feedback from both approaches allows you to make more informed decisions and improve the customer experience.

Which is Most Valuable?

There are advantages to using both types of feedback; both provide valuable insights.

Advantages of solicited feedback, which is valuable for measuring customer satisfaction, identifying areas for improvement, testing new ideas or concepts, and validating hypotheses, include:

  • You can tailor survey questions or interview topics to gather specific information aligned with your objectives. It’s very targeted to what you’re seeking to get feedback about.
  • It usually (but not always) provides structured data that is easier to analyze and quantify.
  • You have more control over the process, including the timing and content of questions.
  • It allows for deeper exploration of specific issues or topics through follow-up questions or probes.

Advantages of unsolicited feedback, which is valuable for monitoring brand reputation, identifying customer pain points, detecting emerging trends, and gauging overall sentiment, include:

  • It reflects genuine customer opinions and experiences without any influence from the business, i.e., from biases that may be introduced during the survey or interview process.
  • It provides immediate insights into customer sentiment and emerging issues.
  • It captures a broad range of customer experiences and viewpoints across various channels.
  • It often includes rich contextual information, such as specific product or service experiences.

Combining both is often most valuable, as each type provides complementary insights that contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the customer experience. Businesses can leverage solicited approaches to gather targeted feedback on specific initiatives or areas of interest while also monitoring unsolicited sources to capture broader trends, customer sentiment, and unanticipated issues.

In Closing

Ultimately, the value of feedback – whether solicited or unsolicited – lies in its ability to inform strategic decision-making, drive continuous improvement, and enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty.

So, I’ll just reiterate this: critical to success is ensuring analysis, action planning, implementation, and continuous improvement are not overlooked. After all, data without insights and action is just expensive trivia.

When a customer complains, he is doing you a special favor; he is giving you another chance to serve him to his satisfaction. You will appreciate the importance of this opportunity when you consider that the customer’s alternative option was to desert you for a competitor. ~ Seymour Fine, author of The Marketing of Ideas and Social Issues

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).

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