OPINION12 October 2023

The feedback epidemic antidote

CX Energy Opinion Trends UK

From building a hypothesis on what’s working – and what is not – to asking employees to experience the brand for themselves, John Sills offers four tips for businesses looking to obtain feedback without bombarding customers.

sign pegged on a piece of string, saying 'your feedback matters'

A few weeks ago, I received a feedback survey request that caught my eye.

‘A penny for your thoughts!’, the headline screamed out. At last! A company was offering to pay me for the time it takes to fill out one of these things. But it turned out, it was just a clever – and fairly ironic – marketing line. More than that, the email went on to say ‘don’t worry, it’ll only take 10 minutes’ – only! – ‘…and is much more fun than washing the dishes!’

We’re living in an epidemic of feedback requests, being bombarded daily by emails from organisations keen to understand what customers think of the service they provide.

While well-intentioned, these requests add unnecessary pressure, especially when the ‘Don’t miss out!’ reminders appear a few days later, trying to elicit a sense of feedback fomo (fear of missing out).

Organisations are effectively outsourcing jobs to customers, asking them to ‘help improve our service’ while offering no compensation at all. This might be OK if the service subsequently improved, but statistics from the Institute of Customer Service suggest the opposite, with an almost inverse relationship of feedback surveys increasing while satisfaction declines.

So how can organisations get feedback without bombarding customers with requests? I’d suggest a four-step process: extract, experience, enable, engage.

The first step should be to use all the existing data already in the organisation to build a hypothesis for what’s going right and wrong. For example, if you can see someone has completed their online transaction within a minute or so, you can probably guess that it was a good experience. Equally, if you can see high drop-out or bounce rates, repeat calls or call transfers, complaints volumes or goodwill payments, you can probably have an educated guess that something isn’t working as it should.

Most customer-led organisations have leaders who regularly use their own product, such as Chiltern Railways, which asks senior leaders to live somewhere on the line and use its trains every day (while wearing their name badges). It can be harder than it seems, with ‘the curse of knowledge’ making it difficult to dispassionately experience life as a customer. Simple tools like ‘mystery shopping’ templates for colleagues to use – followed by regular discussions of findings – can be useful, either to test your own service or that of competitors.

Most organisations have a team of frontline colleagues who, every day, are being told by customers what’s working and what’s not. Enabling them to share that feedback quickly and easily is a great way to understand what’s really happening. Octopus Energy’s personalised hold music idea came from something they call ‘Friday Night Dinner’, where anyone from the company can join a Slack call and share their thoughts on the week. A colleague mentioned how many customers were complaining about hold music, an engineer suggested a Spotify API, and within a couple of weeks, it was in testing. Colleague surveys, feedback portals and leadership ‘fishbowls’ can all help to do this.

At this point, organisations can engage customers in the process. But crucially, if you’ve extracted, experienced, and enabled properly, customers should only be being asked about very specific areas, testing existing hypotheses, and filling in the gaps where there’s no other way to find out.  This drastically reduces the burden on customers because the requests become much rarer – and drastically increases the chances of them responding with high-quality, considered thoughts to high-quality, considered questions. To increase the chances of response even more, contact them again to tell them what you’re doing with what they’ve told you.

These feedback surveys are all well-intentioned but have started to be sent out of habit rather than considered thought. The result is annoyed customers, overworked colleagues and costly programmes. They also lead to leaders believing they’re close to what matters to customers, whereas, in truth, they’re only really close to customers’ opinions of their business –a subtle but significant difference.

Having a process that starts from what you know and only asks customers to fill in the gaps will help – as will remembering one of the most important lessons any leader can learn: nobody cares about your business as much as you do.

John Sills is managing partner at The Foundation

1 Comment

9 months ago

Well said, John

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