Customer feedback is at the heart of a responsive organisation. These organisations are continuously listening to their customers. Listening to what they have to say, and then evolving their offers in response. But customer listening is more than just collecting up details of what is being said. Customers also want to feel like they have been heard.

If you’ve ever responded to a customer survey and felt your answers just disappeared into a vacuum, you’ll know what I mean. Listening is part of a conversation, and conversations are two-way. The three steps to greater responsiveness are:

  1. hearing the customer feedback
  2. showing the customer you were listening
  3. responding to what customers are telling you

Step 1 – hearing your customer feedback

To understand their customers an organisation must hear what people are saying, thinking and feeling. They also need to observe what they do. This ‘listening in stereo’ is important because customers share different pieces of the puzzle in different ways. As advertising guru David Ogilvy once put it “Consumers don’t think how they feel. They don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say.”

So collecting customer feedback requires a blend of:

  • Research – to hear what customers think about a specific subject
  • Listening – to hear what customers say to others, whether on social media or face to face
  • Talking – to hear the emotions people express during focus groups or panels
  • Observing – to see how their feedback compares to what they actually do

Step 2 – showing the customer you were listening

Big data is giving organisations a big personality crisis. The opportunity to collect lots of data, is leading to a focus on quantity not quality. Feedback processes become automated and individual responses disappear into the bucket of anonymity. No-one is listening to the individual, as they’re just interested in trends and averages.

But customers don’t want to be anonymous or average. They’ve taken the time to talk to you, and an automated thank you won’t inspire them to open up again. By way of example, Vodafone used to send me text-based “quick surveys”. On one occassion I scored them 1 out of 10 for all three questions, and put in the text feedback that I was fed up of them surveying me without listening. But no-one was listening. I got the same automated response about how important customer feedback was. When my contract was up I gave them one further piece of feedback. I switched providers.

In this blog post, Seth Godin talks about how great things can happen when customers feel they are being listened to. From my experience of working in several sectors, I’d say that more complaints can be resolved by genuinely listening to what customers have to say than can be resolved by bribes and incentives.

A simple way to start is to share the results of a survey with those who contributed. Better yet, tell them what you’re going to do about it. If you must run automated surveys, via text or email, set a condition that all customers giving a low score get a personal follow-up call or email. It will help the customer to feel heard and hence valued. But more than that, the resulting conversation will help you better understand the root cause of the feedback.

Step 3 – responding to what customers are telling you

To turn insight to impact, customer feedback needs to flow through the veins of an organisation. It can’t live in dusty draws or shared folders. It needs to be brought to life and shared across the organisation, with the expectation that people will make decisions with it. A restaurant won’t last very long if the waiters don’t pass on customer feedback to the chefs. Consumer products rarely get launched without customer feedback informing product design, marketing and even the choice of distribution partners.

A simple way to get things going is to invite the customer into the board room. Regularly sharing customer feedback with the Board and management teams helps provide a context for their decision making. Then cascade this principle down to operational and local team meetings. Those closest to the customers can share personal experiences to support and enhance the customer feedback shared by the national teams.

Which brings us full circle. I’ve found that the best way to have people apply customer feedback, is to involve them in collecting it. Those closest to the customer often have the best sense of what customers are thinking, feeling and saying. Tragically, they’re also the people furthest from the decision-making. So helping the workforce to collect and interpret customer feedback has several benefits. It helps the workforce feel listened to and engaged. It helps the organisation ensure customers feel listened to. And it helps the organisation turn customer insight into real impact.

Given all of these benefits, how are you paying attention to your customer’s feedback?