In the over 10 years I have worked in customer insights, I can safely say that a lot of organisations continue to look at customer feedback as an isolated channel. A customer submits a complaint, enquiry or suggestion, and it is responded to by a dedicated team. Most organisations manage their feedback this way: separate to any work they’re doing on customer research or insights.
Of more concern is that organisations make the crucial mistake of not exposing this valuable insight across the organisation — where it could be used to inform not just business strategy, but business culture and priorities.
How can staff truly embrace an organisation “customer-first” culture if they are not exposed to what customers are directly saying or feeling?
Today it's the customer influencing the business, not the other way around
Every organisation recognises that the future for winning over their customer is providing a superior customer experience.
According to a Walker study, customer experience will be the key brand differentiator by 2020. A Gartner study predicts that by 2018, more than 50% of organisations will redirect investments to customer experience innovations. But despite this, too many organisations are simply tip-toeing around customer insights rather than going all in with engaging with their customer.
It’s like organisations are sitting at the end of the dock with a single fishing rod in the water, hoping their customers will find the best way to get the bait.
But let's backtrack - what is customer feedback, really?
My definition of customer feedback is anything where a customer provides valuable insight about how they feel about your service or your organisation. What are their pain points? What will it take to make that pain go away?
They are essentially offering your organisation your future growth strategies on a silver platter, without the need to spend thousands of dollars on research, focus groups, or online communities.
Unfortunately, while some organisations have made inroads into how they use feedback or engage with customers, it would appear that most still have a lack of desire to truly embrace the opportunity that today’s consumer and digital savvy world is offering. This is particularly evident in the social media space, where over 70% of companies actively choose to ignore customer complaints on Twitter.
Why can't every department be responsible for customer feedback?
A controversial question, but stay with me. A study by Aberdeen Group Inc found that companies with the strongest omni-channel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89% of their customers.
Back to my fishing analogy — your organisation shouldn’t have a single hook in the water. It should be a fishing trawler, pulling data from everywhere.
So why then, do organisations persist with dedicated feedback teams / departments, when the future clearly lies in multiple channels with 24/7 access to support? If you only have one team charged with managing customer feedback, it means it’s too hard for your customer to provide you this valuable data.
The feedback utopia
A complaint about a front line staff member’s behaviour should be handled by a manager who has real authority to not only respond to the issue, but also influence changes in future behaviour. A complaint about cleanliness should be managed by the facilities manager responsible for the quality and standard they provide.
We have seen some organisations introduce person–to-person live chat which is a good first step, but too often the person on the other end is either too inexperienced or not empowered to be able to provide the response the customer is looking for. They aren’t close enough to the real issues to genuinely affect change.
In today’s digital evolution the available channels should enable staff to be cross functional, while still maintaining their ability to multitask with their day-to-day functions. A customer enquiring about a technical product issue should be able to connect through FaceTime and be guided through the work required by a fully-qualified technician. Or after a dissatisfying experience, they could contact a company via web chat and be responded to by the manager responsible for that area.
There should be no reason why a customer needs to speak to multiple departments, or even speak with someone with no direct knowledge of the issue they are calling about.
So what are the barriers to this future engaged organisation?
If I were to put my customer relations hat on, my first thought to this outlandish idea would be that the quality and feedback of your response would suffer. How could a technical engineer provide the same type of customer focused response/experience that a trained customer service consultant could? How do we ensure the response provided itself, is correct, and the customer is not simply brushed off?
To this I say: isn’t your organisation’s goal to put your customer first? If we could bring about my feedback utopia, where every organisation is a fishing trawler, then this would include education and training for all staff from the onset. In fact, you would go one step further, and make sure that during the recruitment stage, you’d be looking for candidates with the right service qualities — no matter their role.
How would we connect every employee to customers?
Today’s digital age has seen the evolution of some complex business workflow systems where any action completed by one person triggers multiple actions across an entire organisation. The place for a dedicated customer feedback team still exists in this space, but rather than asking them to be the data keepers, the administrators, the technical experts, and the experts in dispute resolution; this team now is the advocates for customers. They would make sure relevant respondents receive the appropriate queries, respond within an appropriate time, and that customers are satisfied following the interaction.
Current day customer feedback consultants are often underutilised members of an organisation, given they speak with more customers than anyone else other than frontline staff, often have the keenest insight into what makes customers happy, and know what customers really expect. We should lean on their knowledge more.
Imagine having this kind of customer insight across every part of your organisation. Imagine if your company was a fishing trawler instead of a single fishing rod.
Like all my harebrained schemes, I’m curious to hear what others think of this idea. Reach out to let me know your thoughts.