Thursday, November 14, 2013

Continuous Improvement Through Customer Feedback

By Laura Iles - Sr. Consultant, Integrated Insight

Customer feedback is one of the most valuable tools an organization has – be it compliments or complaints, this window into the client’s mind is invaluable. But, to use it effectively, a company’s structure and systems need to be designed to support continuous improvement based on this customer feedback. It’s a multi-step process, replete with opportunities fail in proper execution.

Collecting the feedback
AT&T does a superb job of collecting customer feedback through text messages. After each interaction with an AT&T representative, I receive a series of text messages asking me to rate various portions of the transaction, and then submit any comments I may have. Other firms operate through phone calls or emails – the appropriate medium depends on your customers.

Conversely, my doctor’s office recently missed a perfect opportunity to solicit my feedback. When the office called to ask me to schedule an appointment, I informed them that I was switching providers. “Ok. We’ll make a note on your chart.”

This was an overlooked opportunity for their office to gather valuable information about what is driving clients away. It’s likely this employee was never trained in collecting feedback.  Her responsibilities for the most part lie elsewhere and her priority was to execute on those other, more pressing matters. Training every employee who interacts with customers to solicit feedback when they see the potential to gather valuable information should be part of the program.

Startups are often excellent at this, proactively soliciting feedback from those who test the first few generations of product releases. These customers feel valued and, even though the product isn’t perfect, they are engaged and become invested in making it better. Those who send feedback, however negative, have the potential to become your most ardent supporters and ambassadors if you engage with them.

In the process of collecting this information, there will occasionally be those high-alert items that require immediate assistance. They are different for each firm, but we all have certain situations that have the potential to damage our brand or cost us our best customers.

Do your employees soliciting feedback know what these items are? Have they been trained to recognize a priority situation and escalate it appropriately?

I recently watched a customer complaint on Twitter spiral out of control – in front of the customer’s 2.5M followers – because the employee on the social media front lines didn’t recognize an urgent customer-care situation.

The result? The firm publicly lost a loyalty-customer and the customer in turn received an invitation from a competitor, complete with the promise of better service.  In this very public day and age, training your service members to recognize and respond appropriately to priority situations is an absolutely critical step in the feedback process.

Classification and Execution
At specific intervals, it’s important to stop collecting data and turn your focus to execution. Post data-collection classification and action is a particularly challenging piece of the process to manage.

Often, firms don’t have systems in place to support thoughtful use of the insights that have been compiled. Further, not every piece of feedback requires action. Knowing how to separate the wheat from the chaff and execute on the most important items is crucial.

Ensure there are specific procedures for review in place, as well as working relationships with impacted teams. Create an appropriate forum for discussion and solicit buy-in from those who will be required to execute on the actionable items. Don’t allow your firm to be caught in the trap of collecting data while never acting on it.

Follow Up (As Applicable)  
This last step will need to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Certainly the majority of the feedback your firm receives may not require any personalized follow up. But when utilized, it can absolutely cement customer loyalty.

A brief follow-up to ensure the concern was addressed, or to say thank you for positive feedback, does wonders for reassuring your customers that you care about their experience. And if their concern hasn’t been resolved, giving them a quick option to connect to a live person for further help can allay much of their frustration. General follow ups, such as blog posts, are a great way to let consumers know that your team is working on addressing their feedback.

Companies aren’t required to be perfect. We’re all human; we’ve made our fair share of mistakes and we’ve worked with systems that don’t always perform perfectly. Most of your customers understand, and are willing to make allowances – so long as they feel their critical concerns are heard. Listen to your customers, let them know you take their feedback seriously, and you’ll create a fanatically loyal following.

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