“We care deeply about our customers.” “We put our customers first.” Or: “We ❤️️ our customers.”
You’ve probably seen more than a fair share of brands use these taglines or some other similar phrase in order to profess their undying, indissoluble love for their customers. They pop it into their office reception areas, YouTube ads, business cards, staff lapel pins, About Us pages, social media bios, email signatures.
If your company fits this description, it’s important to be honest and ask yourself: do these words ring true or hollow?
To truly demonstrate your company’s commitment to customers, you have to be able to understand them first. You have to know their thoughts and feelings, their wants, needs, opinions, and expectations. You have to develop your ability to understand and measure the kind of customer experience you’re delivering, so you can gain insights essential to showing genuine customer love.
None of this would be possible if you don’t know how to manage customer feedback.
Understanding Customer Feedback
What, exactly, does customer feedback mean? How do we define it in the context of today’s increasingly digital world? And why does customer feedback management play such a crucial role in helping push businesses forward?
One of the best ways to do this is by collecting feedback and information through the distribution of a customer experience survey.
Let’s start with a traditional business definition: customer feedback is any information that comes directly from a company’s customers — information that conveys their thoughts, feelings, sentiment, satisfaction levels, or opinion about a brand, product, service, or experience. Technology has expanded the ways in which customer feedback is generated and procured. Now, customers can share their feedback with a company using various channels and platforms, like:
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- Customer feedback surveys
- Comment cards
- Emails and phone calls
- Online reviews and ratings
- Social media comments and mentions
- Focus group discussions
- Individual customer interviews and customer roundtables
- Usability tests
Using information from customer feedback, companies can gain valuable insights that are essential to improving their brand, products, services, and overall customer experience. Businesses that are able to monitor and manage customer feedback also often have a more complete understanding of their customers, and can more easily measure customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Solicited vs. Unsolicited Customer Feedback
It’s also useful to classify customer feedback based on how it is generated or collected.
Solicited customer feedback is feedback that a company has actively asked for or tried to obtain. For example, customer feedback surveys, comment cards, Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys, customer interviews, and focus groups typically produce or generate solicited feedback.
Unsolicited customer feedback, meanwhile, is feedback shared by customers without having been prompted or asked to by the business. Social media and online review sites have given rise to massive amounts of unsolicited feedback. With more and more consumers choosing to ignore surveys in favor of quick posts on platforms like Google, Facebook, and TripAdvisor, unsolicited feedback has become an increasingly valuable source of information for companies looking to understand how their customers really think and feel.
Key differences between solicited and unsolicited feedback mean that you must be able to strike the right balance and successfully manage both.
For example, while handing out surveys can be a great way for your organization to obtain baseline information about customers, you can also benefit from managing feedback that comes from people who have decided to share their thoughts and experiences without being asked to.
Solicited verified reviews vs. unprompted reviews: A recent study that aimed to explore the impact of online reviews — one of the most popular forms of customer feedback today — even found differences between unprompted (unsolicited) reviews and solicited verified reviews.
The study, conducted by Northwestern University’s Spiegel Digital and Database Research Center, found that verified reviews produced higher ratings than unprompted reviews, while the average length of unprompted reviews was 376 characters, compared to only 203 characters for verified reviews.
Structured Data vs. Unstructured Data
Another useful way to understand customer feedback is by assessing the kind of data it provides.
Structured data from customer feedback is clearly defined and easy to report on.
Examples of structured data types that you can procure from customer feedback include: customer name, age, location, income bracket, star rating, survey score, and NPS score and label, among others.
Notice that these types of data can be collected, analyzed, and organized using a data collection platform, a feedback management tool, a spreadsheet application, or traditional statistical tools and methodologies.
Unstructured data from customer feedback, meanwhile, is more difficult to define, analyze, and report on.
According to IBM, as much as 80 percent of all data today — including enterprise-relevant information — is unstructured.
Examples of unstructured data from customer feedback include: free-form text found in online reviews, social media posts, “additional comments” in survey responses, forum posts, call center transcripts, customer support inquiries, live chats, and video reviews.
Why is unstructured customer feedback data harder to define and analyze? It has something to do with how it takes on a form akin to human conversation — characterized by misspellings or grammatical mistakes, or lack of punctuations, or the presence of multiple unrelated ideas, or sentiment that’s hard to pin down.
While managing and analyzing unstructured data from customer feedback has become a growing challenge for many companies, natural language processing applications and analytical methods like text analytics and sentiment analysis can help make unstructured data more manageable and easier to understand.
This is why an increasing number of companies are leveraging these various methods and techniques: in order to dig deeper into the customer experience, find patterns and trends, and uncover information and insights about customer sentiment, tone, emotion, and motivation.
Your 2018 Customer Feedback Cheat Sheet
To compete in a world where purchase behavior and consumer decision-making are heavily influenced by what others are saying online, your organization must be able to effectively manage customer feedback. This cheat sheet maps a strategy for helping you harness customer feedback at key customer touchpoints, in ways that make a positive impact on your key objectives and bottom line.
Managing Customer Feedback: Other Keys to Success
The most successful companies listen to and act on feedback in order to understand customers better and deliver improved customer experiences. Here are some things to keep in mind as your company looks to do the same.
Make the commitment. Embrace customer feedback and foster an organizational culture in which everyone from the C-suite to the frontline is empowered (and equipped) to listen to the voice of the customer.
Work with a technology partner. Spending bulk of your time just collecting data is not the most efficient way to manage customer feedback — especially if you’re running a company with tens, hundreds, or thousands of business locations. To make sure you are really hearing your customers, work with a technology partner or customer feedback management provider who will help you meet your business goals and extract meaningful insight from data.
Stay engaged and responsive. When you hire a third-party provider or invest in a software platform, there’s a temptation to let your tools do all the work. But this shouldn’t exempt you from continuing to engage with customers who have shared their feedback.
Read the comments. Respond to reviews. Resolve issues. Technological capability is great, but it won’t close the loop on your behalf.
Reach out to customers if you’re not getting enough unsolicited feedback. Have a customer feedback survey or review generation program in place to encourage your customers to be more vocal. Reaching out to customers and soliciting feedback using a timely approach also helps you determine whether or not you’re delivering experiences that meet or surpass customer expectations.
Integrate unstructured data into your strategy. Some companies focus exclusively on capturing structured data, but unstructured data from customer feedback often holds rich information that you simply cannot ignore. Instead of just seeing your average star rating or your customer satisfaction scores, you get to hear the story and experience of your customer — through their own words.
Focus on insights. Don’t make data collection your goal. More information, after all, doesn’t necessarily equate to smarter business decisions. Focus on how you can gather actionable insights from customer feedback, as well as how you can address challenges based on the information available.