Customer relationships are damaged when companies hear too late about customer concerns or issues to do anything to repair them. Even worse, many crucial concerns aren’t being heard by the right people at an organization. For example, are managers aware of which customers are unhappy? Did an employee treat a customer unfairly? What are the specific factors that caused a customer to leave? Which of your organization’s services matter most to customers, by priority?
Many companies are discovering that the best way to build better, deeper and more profitable relationships with customers is to understand their needs and issues on an ongoing, real-time basis. This is important, because customers are more loyal and engaged with an organization that requests, listens to, and acts upon their feedback.
New Ways to Listen to the Voice of the Customer
In the past, listening to customers meant surveys, comment cards, phone transcripts, and even random letters and emails. Data collected in this traditional manner is valuable, but cumbersome to manage and even harder to analyze. By the time customer feedback is organized and redirected, the opportunity to provide customers with a response to their specific concerns and offer a more positive experience has passed.
Therefore, companies are now turning to technology-driven, real-time voice of the customer (VOC) programs. VOC programs involve gathering, managing and leveraging customer feedback and actively responding to that feedback. These solutions allow businesses to continually funnel customer and employee feedback from multiple channels (email, Web, print, phone) into a central database for analysis and immediate action.
Feedback channels can include the following:
- web links
- online comment portals
- email surveys
- social media
- telephone hotlines
- comment cards and letters
- in-person communications
Managing Customer Feedback: Best Practices
Customer feedback and VOC practitioners are responsible for the collection and management of customer feedback to help create measurable business improvement. As customer feedback data is compiled, managers need to understand whether the data makes sense, why it makes sense, and what, if anything, should be done with the data. Using analysis tools, they can make recommendations that will increase customer loyalty at their organizations and, in turn, positively affect profitability.
Successful customer feedback managers follow these practices:
1. Create clear objectives and garner company support. Objectives for the management of customer feedback should be aligned with the company’s overall goals. Before collecting customer feedback, determine the kind of data needed and how that data will be used. Gain buy-in from management by first determining who within your organization needs specific customer information.
2. Actively encourage and promote customer feedback. The more feedback companies receive from customers, the more insights they will have about their business. Having this data also helps to quickly determine those areas that are working and should be more developed, as wel as those that are struggling and need to change. Therefore, request customer feedback on your Web site, in company brochures, in correspondence, etc. The more aware customers are that your company wants and values feedback, the more inclined they will be to give it to you.
3. Offer customers multiple feedback channels. People vary greatly in the way they prefer to communicate, so be sure to give your customers several options in communicating with you. For example, offer them options such as in-person, via phone, Web, in writing (email, a letter, customer comment cards, etc.), through a kiosk, etc. The fewer options your customers have, the more likely it is that your company will hear only from certain groups of customers.
4. Centrally collect, store, manage and analyze customer feedback. By consolidating all feedback and survey data into a single centralized system and using that system across the organization, feedback managers are able to gain valuable insights into what customers need, want and value most, as well as identify important trends and patterns in the data.
5. Use and take action on customer feedback. Many organizations collect customer feedback, but tend to fall short when it comes to actually using and acting on that data. To make the most of your customer feedback, develop an action plan that focuses on building on what’s working well and resolving any areas that are causing your customers concern. Moreover, if your business has received several complaints from customers in one or more areas, conduct a survey to gather more details and insights about those areas.
6. Resolve outstanding customer issues promptly. Nearly all businesses have some customers who complain about something at one point or another. What’s most important is how your organization handles those complaints. Customers who complain and then are satisfied are up to 8 percent more loyal than they would have been if they hadn’t had a problem at all, indicates research from TARP Worldwide. Thus, whenever a customer takes the time to voice a concern, address and resolve the issue quickly, and then let the customer know what specific steps you’ve taken to prevent the problem from recurring.
7. Close the feedback loop with customers. Inform your customers whenever your company initiates change as a result of their suggestions or feedback, and let them know what changes you made. Doing so will encourage future feedback and help you further improve your business. Conversely, if you’re not able to use a suggestion, let the customer know that you heard the request and appreciate the feedback, and explain why you’re not able to use it.
8. Create a company culture that is committed to using customer feedback. To maximize awareness, build an employee rewards program around the positive feedback that your company receives from customers. Then, hold monthly or quarterly meetings to recognize employees publicly for positive customer comments made about them. This will encourage even more positive employee behavior in interacting with customers. Also, promote great examples of how people in your organization used customer feedback to make tangible, positive and long-lasting changes to your business, and reward those employees accordingly.
Companies that take the time to actively listen to customers and gather feedback — as well as use that data to improve their business — will not only survive, but also thrive when it comes to competing for and retaining customers.
Kyle LaMalfa is director of best practices and loyalty expert for Allegiance, a provider of voice of the customer (VOC) and feedback management software to help organizations grow customer and employee loyalty and engagement.