How to get value from customer feedback that is not always what it seems

By Liezel Jonkheid, co-author Betul Yilmaz

Do customers tell the truth when asked for feedback?

Recently a friend shared his approach and experience of providing feedback after buying his new vehicle. As a Voice of the Customer specialist, his response as a mature consumer, astute businessman and “petrol head”, was interesting and shed some light on why customer feedback is not always as it seems.

He experienced several frustrating moments during the purchase journey of his new car, including the car arriving late and without the agreed upon specs, price disputes, etc. resulting in senior management intervention. He was asked (prepped) by the young sales consultant to rate the experience as “10” when he gets called for his feedback. Reflecting on this request and being rather annoyed at the unpleasant experience buying his car, when the research agent eventually called, he changed his mind and gave a high score. His reasoning was interesting and very rational (not at all emotional, as he really felt). He described it, as follows:

I felt emotionally blackmailed”

”I felt somewhat emotionally blackmailed, but as I reflected on the situation, I realised this young sales consultant, like my own son, was trying his best to earn a living. My feedback could jeopardise his earnings (commissions) if I shared my “true” feelings and my corresponding rating. He lacked the maturity and training and it was not entirely his fault. So, I went back on my original intention to rate my true experience”. I was probably hoping that some other customer will also cut my son some slack if he did not delivery the best service experience.

This projection is only one of many reasons for these “HALF TRUTHS”. Others include:

  • Sympathy for the frontline staff (sales agent or call centre agent, etc).
  • Time lapse Where memory is exaggerated by the emotional “residue”… the emotional impact of the experience (good or bad).
  • Apathy It is too much effort to fully engage in the feedback process.
  • Hopelessness The belief that nothing will be done to remedy the situation.
  • Halo effect Interaction and experience with one, is assigned to all.
  • Speak no evil Unwilling to criticise, afraid an individual will be punished, or the inherent belief that to always look on the “bright side”.
  • Avoidance Would prefer not to give feedback (inconvenient, bad timing) and just want to get rid of the obstacle (caller).
  • Rationalisation Assigning valid reasons for experience or rating (off occurrence).

If customers provide half truths, why do organisations choose to believe it?

The question is, do false truths serve any purpose? If customers don’t share their honest feedback, how does the feedback help organisations to improve customer experience? We believe there are a few reasons why organisations choose to accept feedback on face value.

  1. Legacy & purpose The organisation may be stuck with legacy systems, churning out emails with surveys to customers, without any further consideration. The cost to make amendments could be too high or resistance to change may be embedded in ignorance.
  2. NPS rules The organisation is too focused on the “industry” metrics like NPS or CSAT and not understanding or addressing the problems. When the results are positive, the motivation to review (or change the current feedback format) may be absent.
  3. Inside out The results are embedded in the KPI (or balanced score cards) structure and driven to achieve targets (or even incentives). NPS or CSAT are built in the business’ performance structure.
  4. Yes but…The questions in the survey do not cover what customers want to say, and open-ended questions are challenging to analyse.
  5. Timing when feedback is requested, is not right for the purpose – too soon, too late.
  6. No chiefs No-one “owns” the management of the surveys, process or the dashboard in the organisation.
  7. CX side plate The survey results are not used as part of a regular business practice or conversations.
  8. CX silence The results are not shared with everyone in the organisation, so no one knows how they perform (except top management).
  9. Numbers over words The results are only analysed in terms of metrics, not verbatims.
  10. Fix this now The focus is on solving immediate problems, rather than avoiding those in the long run or using the information to understand how to enhance experience.

These are the realities for many organisations. Without a defined and considered Voice of the Customer programme, sending surveys to customers will provide little or no value to an organisation, even less to customers, who shared their feedback. Too often organisations boast with pride their NPS or CSAT scores in public forums or around the boardroom table, when customers are not loving their interaction with them. There is a classic saying in research… “garbage in, garbage out!” So how can feedback be used effectively, given the potential half truths offered by customers?

Firstly, review these fundamentals of Voice of the Customer programmes to improve customer experience: understand and define the intention of the VoC programme, empower a support structure to manage the programme, get the timing of surveys right, ask the right type of questions, choose the best suited channels for the feedback, and ensure there is ownership to work and manage the feedback.

Secondly, use feedback to improve and align their service to their customers’ needs (articulated through the feedback) and to engage with customers.

Tips to get the best value from customer surveys

  • Don’t ask customers feedback if you don’t intend to do anything about the feedback.
  • Build effective close the loop pathways.
  • Give customers an opportunity to explain their sentiments, problems and what they want from you (open ended questions).
  • Don’t ask questions only about what your company needs to know or track, give customers an opportunity to TELL YOU what they want to share.
  • Respect people’s time and contribution to help YOUR business.
  • Fix the problems raised by customers and give them feedback on how you can solve it.
  • Look at trends to identify internal system/process or people issues to fix.
  • Be on the lookout for ideas to solve problems mentioned which would not be considered in the direct influence of your organisations, for cues to differentiate your value offer.
  • Thank your customers for their support and investment to help improve your business… then improve your service.
  • Avoid using surveys as a punitive mechanism for staff… it will only inspire creative ways to manipulate the results. Position customer feedback as part of the learning culture in the organisation.
  • Use criticism to inspire problem solving and innovation. Use feedback primarily for everyone to participate in problem-solving, contribute new ideas, a fresh look at the way things are done and to build a learning culture.
  • Use compliments from customers to encourage best practice and team spirit.
  • Carefully consider the impact of integrating the VoC results with employee’s individual performance results.
  • Integrate employee feedback in the VoC methodology, and metrics.

Customer feedback, whether obtained through surveys, interviews, focus groups etc. (organisational driven) or spontaneous feedback (customer driven) through social media, call centre queries, emails, chat bots, letters etc. provide organisations with precious gifts. They hold the key to unlock the insights for planning, the opportunity to fix known (and new problems), or provide the right amount of “push” or justify making investments to change.

Partner with the Consumer Psychology Lab to design your purpose-driven Voice of the Customer Programme. We are specialists is design and management of customer feedback. Make sure that your customers’ voices, matter… to your business, and their their experience. www.consumerlab.co.za and www.elephantistanbul.com

#voiceofthecustomer #customerfeedback #customerexperience #consumerbehaviour

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