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Why Do You Ask?
Be prepared to act on customer feedback.
Posted Dec 15, 2009
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Have you ever filled out one of those "How was our service?" questionnaires and then never heard anything back? If you've experienced this, you know what it feels like to be asked your opinion and have it be ignored. When it comes to enterprise feedback management (EFM), there is no greater sin.  

Enterprise-class online survey and feedback management software, an emerging category of software known as EFM, ensures that the right people have the right data at the right time so they can make informed business decisions. EFM transforms surveying from a single-event data collection process into a centralized, automated, and ongoing discipline that collects and monitors customer, employee, and partner experiences.

This is considerably different than the capabilities offered by more basic survey tools. Lower-end consumer tools may be suitable for short, one-off questionnaires. However, if the goal of a surveying initiative is to create a business process for sharing data to drive timely decision making and identify important trends in customer or employee behavior, the capabilities found in EFM software are critical. These functionalities include:

  • role-based, custom views of survey data;
  • sophisticated reporting;
  • data sharing capabilities; and
  • integration with enterprise databases and CRM platforms.

Over the years, I've worked with smart, successful companies. From that experience, I've picked up a number of EFM best practices, especially around how companies should act on customer responses. I'd like to share some of those best practices here.

Every Question Sets an Expectation

I tell executives they shouldn't ask a question if they're not prepared to act on the answer. Every question sets an expectation of action. When customers see their input has been recognized, they feel they're being heard and consequently, they're more loyal. If customer feedback isn't at least acknowledged, customers will feel their time was wasted and next time, they'll think twice about giving you their opinion — or their business — ever again.  

Focus, Focus, Focus

I think it's fair to say that most organizations strive to make better decisions, produce better products, or provide better services. In the quest for continuous improvement, EFM offers great insight, but it's important to focus on a limited set of predefined key metrics. For example, ask a customer about the salesperson's product knowledge and service shortly after a purchase is made. When asking for feedback, companies should keep the scope fairly narrow and focused to avoid becoming overwhelmed with data and stall any action that might be taken. Otherwise, this becomes a wasted opportunity for the organization and a frustrating experience for survey respondents. 

What's My Motivation?

To ensure you're asking the right questions, begin by clarifying your business purpose. Identify the motivations for implementing a survey in the first place. What is it that the organization is trying to learn and what actions might be taken once the results are received?

Action and Automation

Of course, collecting the data is only the beginning. Once you've asked the question, you must be prepared to act on the answer. Optimally, your EFM software will include automated triggers and alerts, ensuring individuals within an organization are aware of customer feedback — particularly negative feedback — fast. The same software can even automate the initial reply to negative feedback, which gives your organization precious time to investigate the problem's source and react before the customer is lost. Automation can also be used to initiate regular customer checkups, identify any potential shortcomings before they exacerbate, and reinforce the customer's identification with your brand.

Closing the Loop

The actions an organization initiates, and the way they communicate this back to the survey respondent, are the final step, and what we refer to as "closing the feedback loop." This action can take many forms:

  • sharing key findings with customers;
  • communicating specific actions and acting upon them; or
  • following up on specific issues raised.

The speed with which organizations close this loop is essential to building a trusted dialogue with the consumer.

So remember, when you put your organization on a path toward becoming more aware of, and responsive to, customer mindsets, start by asking the right questions. When developing those questions, always think ahead to what your follow-up actions might be given the range of possible responses. 

About the Author

James Martin (jmartin@inquisite.com) is the chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Inquisite, a provider of enterprise feedback management. At Inquisite, he has collaborated with hundreds of market researchers over the last 11 years to help corporations collect, analyze, and act on feedback. For more information, visit www.Inquisite.com. 

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top.
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For the rest of the December 2009 issue of CRM magazine please click here.


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