The 3 Golden Rules of Customer Feedback

Guy Letts

The business benefits of customer satisfaction are immense.  Happy customers are more loyal, spend more, and will recommend you to others, which means faster growth and higher profits.  Not to mention the boost to staff morale of a great reputation for service.  It’s a virtuous circle.

But it’s easier said than done, as we can all testify from our own experiences as customers.

In my years as a head of department one initiative was dramatically successful at improving customer satisfaction.  Like all the best ideas it’s very simple.

Bonus: Download 10 Free Feedback Form Templates you can use to supercharge your customer feedback efforts.

Rule Zero – Don’t destroy the goodwill.

OK, so this makes four golden rules. But it’s actually more of a pre-requisite.

You have to measure satisfaction in a way that doesn’t immediately make a satisfied customer unsatisfied. So, no 20-page surveys, no irrelevant questions, no pestering, no coercion.  You’re aiming for a quick, polite check whereby the customer appreciates you asking, without crossing the line into irritation.  It’s a delicate balance.

Think of a good waiter – easy to get hold of and politely enquiring now and then to make sure everything’s on track.  But frustrating as soon as they’re intrusive, or they don’t ask at all.

Rule One – Make it very easy for customers to give feedback.

This is not as obvious as it might seem – it’s about psychology as well as logistics.  First you need to put customers at ease so that they know you will welcome their comments.

Unless you’ve made it clear that you’re listening, you can have little confidence that all your customers are happy, because nobody likes to start an awkward conversation. If they’re suffering in silence, what you have taken to mean approval may instead mean you are missing out on repeat business and referrals or, even worse, that some customers are at risk of slipping quietly away.

Once you’ve got the message out that you want to hear from customers, then it’s time to make the process as fast and simple as it can possibly be.

To sum up:

  • Make sure your customers are in no doubt that you welcome their comments, good and bad.
  • Check for satisfaction at appropriate times, perhaps with a short, fast email questionnaire.  This will give you a quantitative measure of sentiment and actionable feedback.
  • Provide an obvious and simple way for a customer to give unsolicited feedback.

Rule Two – Act promptly on all feedback

Feedback is a double-edged sword. If you invite it, you can to really impress your customers with prompt follow-up.  However if you invite it but don’t act on it, or the customer receives no acknowledgement of their comments when one might be expected, then it’s probably worse than not asking at all because you’ve raised an expectation but failed to meet it.

These rules should help you get it right every time:

  • Choose the right time and sooner is usually better.  Although if you’ve shipped a product then time it for just after the product should have arrived.  You’re aiming to be able to deal with any anxieties or follow-up questions at the earliest point that they might arise.
  • Follow up promptly and appropriately on whatever the customer says. It builds trust, reinforces the customer’s confidence in you and makes them more likely to recommend you to others and take up more services themselves.
  • Make sure roles and responsibilities are clearly defined for processing feedback. If you use software make sure it lets people manage multiple issues, keep track of everything and work together to give the best customer experience.
  • Put regular reviews in the diary to not only check the process is working, but also see whether there are any recurring problems that need attention to save money.

Because prompt action is so important, annual satisfaction surveys are extremely unwise if done as a ‘big bang’ survey (that is, when sent  to every customer at once) unless you can guarantee to handle within 24 hours every action arising.

Rule Three – Show the feedback to everyone

This is the key to unlocking business benefits.  If the first mistake is to ask for feedback and then do nothing about it, the second mistake is to get valuable customer comments but only let a few people see them. (At CustomerSure we know this is so important for yielding the benefits that we include unlimited free users for viewing feedback).

Customer service is everyone’s responsibility – not just so-called ‘front line’ people.  If you read horror stories on the Internet, or just listen to your friends and colleagues, it might be a call centre that’s the culprit, but it could also be the delivery driver, the receptionist, the over-eager payment chaser, the sales manager, the recruiter who fails to understand that the candidate is also a customer… clearly everybody has the ability to give a customer a bad experience.

So everyone stands to learn by seeing the customer feedback.  In my role as head of department I was constantly amazed at how dedicated and concerned every person was to do their best job for customers. But I also saw that they were more effective when their efforts were informed by real customer feedback.

So the last guideline is:

  •  To improve customer satisfaction show customer comments to everyone. When they’re positive, it makes for extra motivation and job satisfaction.  When the news is not so positive, it means the best person can fix any problems and it’s the best way for everyone to learn – much more effective than hearing the feedback second-hand or not at all.

I hope you find this useful and I’d be interested to hear your comments.  Whether or not you use CustomerSure to help, the rules apply equally well.  We just like to think we’ll help you secure those business benefits faster, cheaper and better. Good luck!

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  • James Lawther

    Hi Guy,

    Particularly like point 3, show the feedback to every one

    It is far too easy to create a rolled up score 72% top two box satisfaction and it is completely meaningless.

    Real comments make people sit up and take notice.


    • Guy Letts

      Thanks James – I can’t emphasise enough how much of a difference it makes and I know many of our customers have found this too. In our software we provide a real time feed, a daily summary and a weekly summary, so whatever one’s role it’s possible to stay in touch with the reality of how customers feel.

  • Adrian Swinscoe

    Hi Guy,
    I, like James, like number 3 as well. I would advocate that when you say everyone you mean everyone both inside and outside the organisation because it shows that you are really serious. Is that what you mean?


    • Guy Letts

      Adrian, thanks for commenting. Yes – I agree with you.

      To take your point further, I observe that:

      – publishing externally helps the company by attracting new customers and helps a prospective customer by revealing the values and character of the company;

      – publishing internally gives the opportunity for the feedback to be acted upon, whether that be a short term response or a longer term improvement.

      The conclusion is the same – the more people that see the feedback, the better for all.

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