Customer Feedback is a Two-Way Speech

Gary Schwartz

Maybe it’s because I work in the industry, but whenever I receive a request for customer feedback, I always respond and relate my customer experience. Sometimes the experience was a terrific one: when Housekeeping at the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan found and returned the phone charger I’d left in my room. Or it may have been a poor one, as at a Washington hotel that couldn’t get any of my food orders right during my week-long stay.

Just as my customer experiences vary between providers, so do the responses. The New Yorker customer services manager wrote to me within a few days of my providing customer feedback, telling me how proud she and her staff were to receive it. Not only did her positive feedback on my customer feedback create yet another good customer experience, the hotel used the feedback to create a great employee experience.

The other hotel still hasn’t replied to me, six months later.

Customer Feedback Is Critical

Research by leading IT analysis firm Gartner shows that while 95 percent of companies surveyed collect customer feedback, fewer than half of those bother to alert staff, much less inform their customers as to how their feedback was used. In fact, only 5 percent of the companies surveyed close the loop by providing feedback on the customer feedback.

Far more than price-or product-based differentiation, there’s a real opportunity for the savvy Customer Champion at nearly any global enterprise to differentiate her business on quality of service based on how they handle customer feedback.

Are You Listening to the Voice of the Customer?

In today’s connected world (how clichêd is that phrase?) customers increasingly express their opinions wherever they have the opportunity. In many cases they do so in public forums—Facebook, Twitter and blogs (oh my)—locations over which a company has neither control nor always an expectation to look for it.

Fortunately, the technology now exists to support companies who want to capture and act on customer feedback in a structured, programmatic way. With customer feedback management software, companies can easily (and automatically) request customer feedback at the point of experience. Alert management tools help escalate any urgent or problematic individual customer comments so that they can be handled immediately.

Farmers Insurance instituted an alerts management system within its agent help desk, handling those instances that required immediate attention. The insurer uses a "high five alert" to reward and reinforce call center representatives for calls that were handled particularly well. Not only has customer satisfaction increased, but call center representative satisfaction has risen from 84.5 percent to 89.5 percent year-to-date. Customer feedback now ties into executive compensation.

Past Behavior Doesn't Predict Future Behavior

In the current economic environment, most global enterprises have curtailed IT spending. Interestingly, while overall IT spend is down, IT spend on Voice of the Customer and other feedback programs is on the rise. In November, Gartner released a report that predicted "customer feedback management technologies will be the top investment made in 2009 to improve the customer experience." This dovetails with a survey from Aberdeen Research, which found that, "in this recessionary time, when many companies are curtailing their IT spend, 41 percent of survey respondents indicated that their budgets for customer feedback management initiatives will increase in the next fiscal year."

Why is this the case? In a recession, it pays to invest in customer retention strategies. Today the danger is not merely losing your customer base to your competition, but losing customers to their savings account. The best way to keep customers in the fold is not to try to predict their future customer behaviour from their past behaviour—in today’s economic climate old analytical models don’t work—but to ask your customers. And to show customers that you’re listening and acting on their customer feedback.

After all, at which hotel do you think I’m going to stay again? The one that told me how much it values my customer feedback? Or the one that showed me how much by ignoring it?

First published on Call Center IQ.