The 3 Golden Rules of Collecting 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 Customer Services one initiative was dramatically successful at improving customer satisfaction – collecting customer feedback.  Like all the best ideas it’s very simple but even so, many people still collect customer feedback in a way that impairs rather than improves customer satisfaction.

(Or maybe you’ve never received a survey that’s far too long, a pesky reminder, or you have invested time to give feedback, only to be left feeling that you’ve been ignored).

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 and perhaps surprisingly – NO prize draws!  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 – making it easy is about timing and psychology as well as the design of customer satisfaction surveys and the process of collecting feedback.

To ‘make it easy’ you need to ask at the right time, in the right way, with the right questions. And that means ‘right’ from the customer’s point of view.

To decide the best time to collect customer feedback, ask yourself the question “If I was the customer, when would I want to give feedback?”

It’s unlikely they would answer “Once a year” or “When the company wants some customer satisfaction scores.” Because neither of those times benefits them. It’s much more likely they would say “When you’ve just done something for me, so that it’s no effort for me to give praise to someone who’s done a great job, or to make it easy for me to tell you something went wrong and get it fixed quickly.”

You’re aiming to deal with any anxieties or follow-up questions at the earliest point that they might arise, so that your customer doesn’t have the frustration of struggling through your phone system or finding the right email address to reach the person they need.

It follows that the (only) right way to ask for feedback is the way that’s convenient for your customers. This is not just about designing short, fast surveys rather than interminably long ones (though it most certainly includes that). It’s also about the psychology. You probably have an excellent relationship with your customers, so they might feel awkward criticising the friendly person they’ve just dealt with.

Especially if they want that person to be equally helpful the next time.

So first you need to put customers at ease so that they know you will welcome their comments, even comments that are critical. If you indicate that you’re desperate to know any way you can improve their experience with you then, instead of worrying that they’re criticising you, that customer feels they’re helping you.

You’re giving them permission to tell you what you need to do to keep their business.

Which is actually what you both want.

To sum up:

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 feedback but don’t act on it or respond, then it sends a signal that you’ve ignored it. And that’s worse than not asking at all because you’ve raised an expectation with someone then failed to meet it.

These rules should help you get it right every time:

  • 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 renew or take up more services themselves.
  • Make sure roles and responsibilities are clearly defined for processing feedback. If you use software make sure that it’s integrated with your business processes, helps you follow up easily, keep track of everything, gain insights from the feedback you collect and that it helps everyone work together to give the best customer experience.
  • Put regular reviews in the diary to not only check the process is working, but also analyse the data you’ve collected over time and see whether there are any recurring problems that need attention.

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.

Even then, it’s better to collect customer feedback when a customer is most likely to want to give it.

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.

Customer service is everyone’s responsibility – not just so-called ‘front line’ people.  If you read horror stories on Facebook, 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.

Everybody has the ability to give a customer a bad experience.

So everyone stands to learn by seeing the customer feedback and finding out what your customers like and don’t like about their dealings with your company.

I was always amazed at how dedicated and concerned every person was to do their best job for customers. But I also saw that they were so much more effective when their efforts were informed by real customer feedback. And there are always a few surprises.

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 they’re not so positive, it means the best person gets to see and fix any problems. 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 receive your comments.

Good luck with your own customer satisfaction surveys!

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  • 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.


    • 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.

  • 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?


    • 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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  • Olanrewaju Femi Lambe

    Hi Guy,
    Thank you for this wonderful piece. Still on Rule 3, While I totally agree with internal sharing of a customer survey, I think publicly publishing a bulk of negative feedback from a survey could do more harm than good to the integrity and public perception of the company. For example, if a shoe company gets feedback that their shoes wear out after a month use. That would definitely impact on the purchasing preference of not just their existing customers but their potential customers.

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