6 ways to stop ignoring customer feedback

Everybody says they want to listen to the voice of the customer, and yet most customer feedback is still roundly ignored. Either it arrives in an unstructured form that a company can’t easily analyze, it never reaches the right personnel, or it imparts tough lessons that are less painful (in the short term) to ignore than to act upon.

When you can’t—or won’t—take the time to listen to what your customers are telling you, they soon realize they can find better ways to spend their money. Before long, they’re someone else’s customers. Here are six ways you can tune in immediately.

Learn from your unstructured data

Your customers tell you important things every day, but you probably don’t have a systematic way to deal with the emails, chat sessions, social discussions, and other free-form text they’re generating. These sources are broadly styled unstructured data and the sooner you learn to process it, the better off you’ll be. Unstructured data is the best source of information you don’t already have about the products and services your customers rely upon. “Surveys can’t go as deep as actually observing what the customer does and says,” says Denise Bahil, customer experience transformist at Temkin Group.

Listen to your (literal) conversations (literally)

There’s a wealth of information in the library of calls companies record “for quality assurance.” Most often they’re trotted out for agent coaching (read: disciplinary) reasons, but they’re much more valuable as sources of unsolicited feedback. “Call center agents interact at the times your customers are in the most need, and you have the greatest opportunity to find out what they want and what their pain points are,” says Greg Gerik, former voice-of-the-customer guru at 3M and now VP of Product Marketing at Shoutlet.

Although nothing can replace the impact of one person hearing the words and emotions of another, listening doesn’t have to be laborious and manual. Voice transcription software is advancing by leaps and bounds and can even flag vocal stress patterns that indicate emotion and distress. That gives you the ability to build data, not just anecdotal evidence. “Your customers are already telling you about the colors, shapes, and sizes they want. They’re telling you the unintended uses of your products and services,” Gerik says. “And finding out what the customer wants from you is a goldmine.”

Watch for signals of doom

It would be nice if every customer sent an explicit warning message before they cut ties with your business, but that doesn’t mean you can’t watch for subtle cues. For example, cell phone providers know full well that customers don’t inquire idly about the fee they would have to pay to break their contracts—odds are the customer is a high churn risk. You can learn from those examples by patterns of interaction, such as a drop-off in usage of your mobile app or web portal.

“When you learn which behaviors make a customer most likely to churn or to feel they have had a poor experience, you can build workflows that improve their satisfaction and retention,” says Arnab Mishra, SVP of products and solutions at analytics vendor Transera.

Be flexible about social listening

Listening to social media discussions must be a part of any customer insight strategy. Avoid the trap of over-reliance on searching for specific sentiments. Learning how many times customers say “my brand rules” and how many times they say “your brand drools” is not the same as good market intelligence.

Social listening teams need to focus on seeking out the most relevant and surprising pockets of conversation about a brand, not on managing a database of rigid queries. “Relying on search terms and hashtags means you won’t learn about the things you really need to know about—the conversations you didn’t have any reason to presume you needed to participate in,” says Gerik.

Do more than listen

Survey data, scores, and even unstructured insights are all well and good, but they mean nothing unless they lead to action. Your organization must collaborate on taking action, not just on listening. “This is where many fall short. They pass insights along to functional areas of the business, without setting any expectations or holding them accountable for taking action on the insights,” she says.

Bahil recommends role-specific reporting on customer insights, which provide executives with top-level overviews but focus on specific and highly relevant details for operational departments. “If more organizations did that, even with the feedback already available to them, you would see more people taking action on their own.”

“Don’t try to fish the entire sea”

Does this still seem too overwhelming? It’s true, your budget and available resources might not be ready to analyze all your unstructured feedback and digest all your social hits. So do something manageable, and focus on starting and understanding the results of specific, targeted discussions instead. “Have specific conversations, ask your questions: what is most important to them and where they want you to help them go,” Gerik says. “Go where the fish are. Don’t try to fish the entire sea. If every brand started there, the world would change overnight.”

Post by Jason Compton

Jason Compton is a writer with over 15 years of experience covering marketing, sales, and service. Based in Madison, WI, he is a regular contributor to Direct Marketing News, previously served as executive editor of CRM Magazine, and has been published in over 50 outlets.