Why Customer Comments Are as Valuable as Metrics


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Customers love to share. But they generally only share when it serves their own interests, not yours.
A survey can yield lots of great feedback from a wide swath of your customer population. Invite comments about their experience and you’re sure to get some gems.

customer comments

There’s gold in those offhand customer comments.

Sometimes, I have to distance myself from a potential client because they don’t see the value in subtleties like I do. They often believe their carefully crafted sets of multiple choice questions have put them on the only path to true enlightenment.

But in order to track what’s really important, we must step outside of the cozy confines of that 1-10 satisfaction scale and start paying attention to those subtleties. Here’s why.

When we connect with companies we actually connect with people. When we connect as people, we like to share stories. One story could tell a company volumes about their customer experience. And, yet, they’re dismissed.

Customer service reps, sales associates, support technicians, and other customer-facing employees hear the REAL stories. They get to hear the gems. Customers don’t always communicate through the “right” channels. They don’t fill in the right survey bubbles or call the proper number. But they will sing like canaries if they know someone is listening. The problem is when there is nowhere to catch those stories and record nuance.

Customers often send subtle warning signals.

But who is listening for them? They mention to their contact person, be it the sales manager, the customer service rep or the cashier, something isn’t quite right. Maybe they don’t like the change in the billing policy or the new website design. Maybe they mention how their friend has recommended one of your competitors and they’re considering it. It’s subtle. But it’s a warning signal nonetheless.

customer comments

As customers, our subtle complaints are often met with a shrug or a friendly “I know” from the trusted company representatives who hear them. They don’t really know how to respond or may not have much to say. There is no way to take action on our comments. All they can do is empathize.

Empathy is not a strategy and neither is hope.

Here are a few ways to empower your employees to actually DO something with those anecdotes:

  • Provide an official place to record “unofficial” complaints and review them regularly. Encourage customer-facing employees to ask for feedback and take notes.
  • Bring a customer or two to your executive or board meeting just share their experience.
  • Challenge your employees to gather and share the best and the worst comments they heard from customers that week. Discuss strategies for following up with those customers.

Hearing customer complaints is easy. But acting on it before it becomes a spike in your churn rate or a dip in revenue is priceless.

How do you take action on this type of feedback?

Image credits: 30 Lineslamoix via Creative Commons license

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jeannie Walters, CCXP
Jeannie Walters is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a globally recognized speaker, a LinkedIn Learning and Lynda.com instructor, and a Tedx speaker. She’s a very active writer and blogger, contributing to leading publications from Forbes to Pearson college textbooks. Her mission is “To Create Fewer Ruined Days for Customers.”


  1. Excellent post Jeannie. We found that mining of customer and employee comments often reveals what really is important to them. The survey questions are too often asking questions that are important to a company. If a number of the comments and reviews is sufficient, this content could be automatically mined and interpreted into metrics as well. Such metrics can expose an impact of specific corporate “silos” on overall customer experience.

  2. Let me, if I may, offer a different perspective. While not minimizing the value, through text mining and sentiment analysis, of comments and other open-end customer content, gathered through surveys and company staff, they have limitations. Those limitations are important, and could be pivotal in understanding, and endeavoring to leverage, customer behavior.

    The chief limitation is that this type of material is anecdotal, not dimensional or representative of opinions from the overall customer base. Any organization taking action around comments is doing the same thing as building strategies around focus group or other qualitative research. Same kind of potential for making wrong decisions.

  3. Excellent blog Jeannie!

    Michael has a good point. Anecdotal data can be important but if anecdotes can be turned into patterns and those patterns can be analyzed as trends then the management will have a powerful way to track the customer experience. The challenge in this is the pattern recognition or even deciding what is a pattern (in free-form text). Believe me we have tried to tackle this issue more than 20 years!

    The other good point was your comment about using employees to harvest experiences. What if each employee had a simple app in which they could log in an experience? Naturally there would have to be some kind of motivation or incentive for the employees to do this but it could be a powerful and more systematic way especially in large service companies with thousands of employees.

  4. Michael, would you help to understand why 300 survey responds, with low scores for customer service, are less anecdotal than 300 customers complaining about long wait for customer service in their unsolicited feedback?

  5. Because….the 300 respondents giving low scores in the survey are (or should be) selected on a multi-stage random probability basis, so they are cross-sectionally representative of the entire customer base. On a 90% level of confidence basis, this sample size gives you a +/- 2.8% to +/- 4.7% accuracy range. If you want to have more demographic and psychographic representation, or higher confidence levels, enabling greater decision-making assurance, go for bigger samples.

    The 300 comments/complaints may, or may not, be representative, sort of like saying that comments from 10 different people in each of 30 focus groups equates to understanding the perspectives of the entire customer base. Especially in the case of complaints, where such a trifling percentage of b2b and b2c customers with issues actually express them to the supplier, generating unexpressed complaints from the entire customer base is the only way to have a full inventory of problems, and their severity http://customerthink.com/customer_complaints_learn_the_real_value_of_getting_the_whole_picture/

    This, I hope you’ll pardon me for saying, is Marketing Research 101.

  6. Hi Jeannie, indeed your points are valid and your formula can work. but sometimes to start to take notes of those unofficial complaints, is a titanic investment for small or medium companies. Of course the result can be valuable as gold. To have solution before a problem appears will save time and money! again the only tricky part here is who to do it!


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