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5 Mistakes You're Making With Customers' Feedback

You know you need customers' comments, but are you really listening? Here's how to find out if you have a clunky feedback system.

Finding the right system for soliciting customer feedback doesn't have to be complicated. At the very least, it shouldn't be cluttered with unnecessary red tape, protocols, and procedures. Your customers should be able to file a complaint to the right department--the one that will take action on it--and know that it's been received.

Rob Markey, partner and head of global customer strategy and marketing practice at Bain & Company, says he has seen a multitude of companies make the same mistakes with their customer feedback for the past 25 years. The biggest problem with customer satisfaction metric systems is that they don't help your employees learn from the consumer.

"Make feedback a part of your daily operations. Deliver the feedback directly to the employees who need to hear it," Markey writes in the Harvard Business Review. "Focus your company's customer listening efforts not on measuring more precisely, but on learning more effectively."

Below, read five common customer feedback system mistakes and what to do instead.

Don't crunch feedback into numbers.

A big mistake Markey has seen is when companies turn feedback into scores, percentages, and averages and stop there. "This common mistake completely obscures any individual customer's voice and prevents employees from linking the feedback to a particular event, behavior, or action they can remember," he writes. 

Don't hold onto the feedback.

If your company holds onto the feedback, breaks it down into summaries, and only then sends it all at once to the correct departments, you're making a big mistake. Same goes if you're only sending feedback quarterly--you are hamstringing your company's response to issues, complaints, and problems your customers are experiencing. You have to have a daily system that allows employees to take action on a complaint right away. "How well do you remember each of the many conversations and interactions you had six weeks ago? Chances are your employees don't either--which makes it awfully tough for them to remember what they did that might have contributed to variations in their customers' feedback," Markey writes.

Don't silence the customer's voice.

Eliminating the human voice and replacing it with a company survey is a bad idea. Markey says the point of customer feedback is to hear from the customer in his or her own words, not aggregated through company jargon. "Too many companies ask customers to rate their performance on a predetermined list of factors--typically offering many prompts covering every conceivable element of the company's product or service. Multiple-choice questions are convenient for your company to process and analyze, but they impose a burden on your customers," he writes. He suggests implementing a system that allows customers to address whatever issues they want in plain English.

Don't motivate with bonuses.

It may sound like a good idea from afar, but giving your employees bonuses and promotions based on increased customer satisfaction will end up corrupting the feedback. Putting so much stake on customer satisfaction will beget forged ratings, Markey says. "But tying people's compensation and promotion prospects to changes in your customer-satisfaction metric doesn't focus them on customers; it focuses them on a number," he writes. "More often than not it leads to begging customers for higher scores or discouraging angry customers from providing feedback." Keep customer feedback and satisfaction separate from the criteria you use to evaluate merit bonuses.

Don't make customers anonymous.

If your feedback is coming in anonymously, your system is antiquated. Markey says anonymous feedback is a leftover from the old "market research mode," when companies thought customers would be more honest if their identities would not be revealed. "Anonymity in customer feedback is, frankly, overrated. People want to be heard. They want their feedback to be acknowledged. They want to know that the time they invested sharing feedback meant something and was acted on," he writes. "Closing the loop is essential to building lasting customer relationships, and it is an invaluable opportunity to dig more deeply into the details of what delighted or enraged them." He says that knowing which customer said what and when can help find the "root causes of customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction" and help eliminate bad policies and practices.

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Last updated: Dec 9, 2013

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported on the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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