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9 Ways to Squeeze the Most Value From Customer Feedback

9 Ways to Squeeze the Most Value From Customer Feedback

The term "active listening" has been batted around for decades as a communication methodology for resolving interpersonal conflicts and facilitating healthy relationships. Simply put, it's a structured way of listening and responding to others. How can corporations implement a structured way of listening and responding to customers?

In November, as the crowds of caffeinated holiday shoppers began to swell, Starbucks baristas received a corporate edict: slow down. Going forward, they were to make only one drink at a time, no matter how many customers were waiting in line. According to sources, Starbucks customers were complaining that the company had "reduced the fine art of coffee making to a mechanized process with all the romance of an assembly line."

In addition to slowing down, baristas were told to steam milk for one drink at a time instead of a preparing an entire pitcher of steamed milk. Other changes recently made in response to customer feedback include rinsing pitchers after each use, remaining at the espresso bar at all times and using a single espresso machine.

One reason Starbucks has long been viewed not only as a paragon of good customer service but as one of the great success stories of all time is that it actively listens to its customers. Customer feedback management is an integral part of the company's genetic makeup.

When it comes to customer feedback management, it's helpful to think in terms of "active listening." The term is one that's been batted around for decades as a communication methodology for resolving interpersonal conflicts and facilitating healthy relationships. Simply put, it's a structured way of listening and responding to others.

How can corporations implement a structured way of listening and responding to customers? The answer, according to the new "Gleansight" benchmark report, "Customer Feedback Management," is by putting into place the right set of business processes, organizational resources, enabling technologies, analytic capabilities and performance metrics and also, perhaps most importantly, by fostering the right culture.

Following are nine ways companies can maximize the value of their investments in customer feedback management.

  1. Instill an organizational focus on listening to the voice of the customer.

    More important than any single process or action, Top Performers cite the need for a culture that is open to the voice of the customer. Instead of allowing the internal pressures, politics or short-term financial factors to drive business decisions, employees need to focus on the idea that, as Procter & Gamble puts it, "the customer is the boss." When an organization internalizes this idea, it can drive cooperation across functional silos and empower front-line employees to question policies and processes that customers are telling them degrade their experience with the brand.

  2. Derive actionable insights from customer feedback.

    Resolving the complaints and suggestions that come in through customer feedback channels is, of course, important. But Top Performers see even greater value in looking at the data more broadly as a source of insight into the business. Finding recurring problems or identifying patterns across the body of individual feedback events can help identify operational inefficiencies or surface unmet customer wants and needs that can lead to new product or service ideas.

  3. Disseminate data/insights to the right people.

    A customer satisfaction or market research team alone can't effect the change that customers may desire. An essential part of a company's feedback strategy must be to set up the channels by which the findings are regularly communicated to the functions that are empowered to act on them, from customer service to new product development to the C-suite.

  4. Identify and proactively engage with key influencers/high value customers.

    With the rise of social media, the power of "word of mouth" has not only become evident but a dominant force. Beyond merely preventing a negative posting, demonstrating the company's responsiveness to an influential customer who wields persuasive powers online can reverberate to improve the company's reputation among key constituents.

  5. Enhance feedback data with transaction, psychographic or other data.

    Data is data -- a lifeless set of numbers unless they can be set into some kind of context. And customer feedback data can be of such high volume and so diverse in nature that it can seem random.

    Data enhancement can answer critical questions: Are these comments from core customers, a fringe segment, or an emerging customer base? Do they disproportionately represent a particular geography or type of interaction with the company?

    Also, consider establishing weightings based on segment or even individual customer value. Not all customers are equal in value, and not all complaints should necessarily be given the same priority. By integrating customer feedback with individual customer profile data, companies can become adept at knowing when (and when not) to respond with VIP service.

  6. Implement real-time alerts to communicate insights deemed urgent.

    It has always been the case that the faster a company can resolve a client complaint, the less potential for damage to the brand -- and the more likely the customer will tell others about the great service she received. Technology is both raising customers' expectations for how fast their complaints will be addressed and giving companies the tools to identify and act on problems in a real-time manner.

  7. Inform customers of actions taken in response to complaints/suggestions.

    Feedback is fast becoming a closed-loop process. Not only must companies listen, analyze, disseminate and act on what they hear from customers, it is increasingly important to let customers know that their opinions are valued and that they have the capacity to impact change. By closing the loop, customers are apt to see that the company is behaving in a customer-centric manner. This, in turn, should help engender increased customer loyalty and, ultimately, profitability.

  8. Host one or more branded customer communities.

    With people increasingly building online communities and social networks, companies can expect their customers to demand becoming part of the company's community. This adds a new dimension to customer feedback that companies will benefit from: Instead of unidirectional feedback coming from consumers to the company, companies can engage in an ongoing dialogue, asking customer input on plans and ideas before implementing them.

  9. Tie employee incentives to customer feedback.

    It is axiomatic that employees do what they are incentivized to do. But in most cases, motivating participation often comes down to the question of "What's in it for me?"

    To instill an organizational focus on listening to the voice of the customer, a company may need to put financial rewards in place. Such rewards might, for example, include bonuses based on the number of new product ideas derived from customer feedback. By aligning employee incentives with corporate goals and customer needs, organizations can most effectively become a listening organization.


Jeff Zabin, research director at Gleanster, formerly was a research fellow at Aberdeen Group. He can be reached at jeff.zabin@gleanster.com. Jim Nail, research fellow at Gleanster, formerly served as CMO at Cymfony and a principal analyst at Forrester Research. He can be reached at jim.nail@gleanster.com.


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