Harnessing the Power of Customer Feedback: Create a Program that Delivers Results
We’re almost a full quarter into the new year, and the end of the first quarter is a great reflection point. Are you honing in on your quarterly targets or recognizing that there are opportunities for improvement?
If you realize that you’re in danger of falling short or have a nagging sense that your business could be doing even better, there’s a group of people who can tell you everything you need to know to make your business better: your customers.
Your customers know what was great about interacting with your business — and what wasn’t. But unless you have a customer feedback process in place, you likely won’t hear about it.
Do you have a customer feedback system in place that allows you to gather frequent, balanced feedback from your customer base, analyze the data, and take action on opportunities to improve your customer experience?
Implementing a customer feedback process doesn’t have to be daunting - you already have everything you need to get started.
How to collect customer feedback
There are two challenges in collecting customer feedback: getting feedback directly from customers and extracting it from the people in your company.
1. Gathering feedback directly from customers
You may already have some systems in place for gathering feedback directly from customers — you may send an email after completing a service, asking them to rate the service they received. You may ask regular customers for reviews on social media.
To get the most balanced feedback, it’s ideal to ask for direct feedback consistently and frequently. Here are few examples of when to ask:
- Any time an invoice goes out, include a link to rate your business on social media
- During every service call, ask field reps to ask customers how easy it was to get a quote or schedule an appointment
- If your sales calls are recorded, ask sales reps to tag calls with “customer feedback” for others to review later
- Send out a customer survey twice a year, asking about every aspect of your business they’re interacted with
- Add a link to rate your business or fill out a short survey in your email footer for all employees
Depending on your product, you may also be able to ask for contextual feedback while the customer is engaging with your product or with some aspect of scheduling or paying for your product.
2. Extracting feedback internally
Customer feedback doesn’t just live with your customer service team. You can ask the following groups to help out in making the customer experience better:
- Office staff,
- Field team
- Sales team
- Scheduling or booking team
- Accounting team
The first step is asking employees to document feedback in a central location. It doesn’t have to be complicated. The easier, the better. You could create a:
- Shared Google spreadsheet with columns for the date, the customer’s name, and their feedback
- Channel in your internal chat tool (like Slack) for posting customer feedback
You want documenting customer feedback to become a habit for your employees, so automate it so that they don’t have to think about it. They hear something, and they document it.
For employees to adopt the new process, it has to be simple and accessible. To make the habit stick, someone will need to own the program and help employees develop muscle-memory for posting feedback in the right place.
Who owns the customer feedback program?
While customer feedback will trickle in from all corners of your business, you need a designated person to manage the program as a whole. The owner of the customer feedback program can be:
- Direct employees to provide feedback in the appropriate channels
- Ensure all feedback is documented
- Spot patterns in the feedback
- Lead regular meetings to discuss and prioritize the feedback
You have several options for the best leader of the program, preferably someone who:
- Is naturally exposed to the most feedback
- Has the capability to handle the administrative overhead
- Is new to the business and learning the customer base
The natural choice is the person who’s exposed to the most feedback. This could be a customer success manager, a salesperson, or someone who works in the field with your customers. They naturally receive insights from customers because of how often they interact with them.
But what if that person is your highest-value salesperson or a customer success manager that recently took on a large new project? There are circumstances where the people closest to the feedback don’t have the bandwidth to lead a new initiative.
If you have someone in your business that’s central to many employees, like an office manager, they can be a great choice for leading this program. They may or may not directly interact with customers, but they do interact with all employees and can naturally ask the question, “What have you been hearing from customers?”
Another choice is someone new to your business. What better way to learn about how your company operates and your customer base than developing a company-wide feedback gathering process? They may need more guidance in spotting patterns and learning which feedback is most valuable, but depending on their role, they may also be able to take a larger role in implementing solutions that come out of the feedback your company wants to address.
How to analyze customer feedback for actionable insights
Feedback doesn’t always arrive in an actionable format. Once feedback has been gathered, the next step is to make it useful.
How do you make feedback useful?
For feedback to be useful, it must be:
- Specific and problem-oriented
- Part of a larger pattern
Specific and problem-oriented
How often have you heard the phrase, “Bring me solutions, not problems!” For feedback, we actually want to adopt the opposite mindset — bring problems, not solutions.
There are two reasons for this:
- Bringing solutions obscures what the problem is, which leads to less comprehensive solutions.
- A single problem can have many different solutions, varying in scale, cost, and complexity, which can only be prioritized if all decision-makers are clear on the problem.
For example, your customer success manager says you need a new way for customers to pay online. That’s a very specific solution and one that is likely expensive and time-consuming to set up.
You ask for more details, and find out that a customer told them it’s difficult to pay their bill through your online bill-pay system.
Still, you need more details about what the problem is - at what stage is the problem? What if it turns out that the email you send your customers about how to pay is unclear or links to your main website instead of directly to your billing portal? Those are easy fixes.
You may find out that your billing system truly is confusing and is costing your company time and resources trying to collect payment. But you have to be clear on the problem to make sure your solution solves the right problem.
Unless customers engage with your business daily, it’s safe to say that their memory is short. That means they’re unlikely to remember the details of what made their experience great if you wait too long to ask them about it. Customers who had negative experiences are likely to remember for longer, but actionable details will fade.
It’s also less beneficial for you to hear about a specific problem one of your snow-plow customers had in January when you send out your semi-annual survey in July. It’s only useful if you hear about it in time to do something about it. If not for that customer, then for the rest of that season’s customers.
This is why a system for continuous feedback is so crucial. It gets the information to you in a timely fashion and allows you to act quickly.
Part of a larger pattern
One of the benefits of documenting all customer feedback and reviewing regularly is that you’ll be able to spot patterns.
Let’s go back to our earlier example, in which a customer said your billing system was confusing. Are they the only customer that’s raised a complaint? Have you switched to a new system and received feedback from dozens of customers that the new system is great?
The only way to know whether feedback is worth taking action on is if you know that the specific piece of feedback is not an outlier. To determine that, you have to have enough feedback to see if there’s a pattern.
In this example, if others in the business have concerns about the billing system, but only a single-complaint has come in, you could ask for your customer success team to specifically ask their customers how they like the new billing system on upcoming calls. Timely, specific, and it’ll help you determine whether or not there’s truly a problem.
Review customer feedback regularly
Now that you have employees regularly documenting feedback, systems in place for customers to provide feedback directly, and a process for making that feedback useful, you need time to review all the feedback that’s come in.
The owner of your customer feedback program should schedule a regular meeting (monthly, or every other week, depending on what makes sense for your business) to review the feedback with the important stakeholders in your business.
The goal of the meeting should be to review all the feedback received since the previous meeting, surface any concerning patterns or opportunities to reinforce positive patterns and determine priority for addressing what is surfaced. In later meetings, you can review which actions have been taken and their impact on the business.
This is also a great time to pull in feedback from other sources. For example, the customer feedback program manager might pull up all the feedback documented by employees, results from a customer survey, and the social media sites that are most critical in your industry.
If your team is tagging calls with valuable customer feedback, the program manager may listen to these conversations before the meeting and highlight one or two for stakeholders during the meeting.
Optimize your customer feedback system
You’ve increased the volume of feedback that’s being gathered, have regular meetings in place to review it, and have started taking action on some areas for improvement. Now how do you measure if the system is working?
There are a few metrics you can look at:
- Volume of feedback is valuable in and of itself. The more feedback you’re hearing, the more likely you are to solve problems and identify new opportunities.
- Quality of feedback. Does your team begin to provide more specific, problem-oriented feedback for further discussion? Is the feedback you’re getting within your control to act on?
- Balance of feedback. You shouldn’t be hearing only good news or bad news — if you are, there’s likely a subset of customers you’re missing in your outreach.
- Measures specific to the solutions you implement. For example, in our confusing billing system example, let’s say you change the email that goes along with every bill to include more specific instructions on how to pay. Does the volume of feedback around confusing billing drop off? Does the average time it takes a customer to pay their bill improve?
One common question is, “How can I adjust my customer feedback system to focus on the areas I need it to?” If all the feedback you’re getting is out of your control (for example, “I don’t like that my appointment for a new roof keeps getting pushed back because of rain”), you may need to expand the set of questions that your employees are asking to gather feedback. It may also be a sign that you’re not reaching a large enough percentage of your customer base.
If you know that there’s a specific area of your business you want to improve, you can always weave in additional questions to your team’s workflow or set up a specific customer outreach campaign dedicated to solving that issue.
A successful customer feedback process
You now have everything you need to continuously improve your business’s customer experience and results. You’re gathering more feedback than ever before and have a system for acting on it. Share some of the results with us on social — how has implementing a customer feedback program impacted your business?