Forrester's Kerry Bodine: How to Close the Loop Without Being Creepy

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Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
Just like any well-intentioned action, closing the customer feedback loop isn't always the right thing to do.

As my colleague Andrew McInnes pointed out in his report Ten Major Voice of the Customer Trends, more companies are closing the loop with their customers. During Forrester's 2009 Voice of the Customer Awards, entrants with
closed-loop processes were the exception. In 2010 they were the rule, with many top finalists integrating closed-loop processes with their sales and marketing efforts. For this year's awards we expect to see a new crop of innovative closed-loop applications.

But just like any well-intentioned action, closing the loop isn't always the right thing to do.
A few months ago a friend of mine got married. I was really excited to see that her gift registry site included severable charitable donation options, and I quickly decided on a $100 donation to the Massachusetts SPCA. On the gift registry site, I needed to enter a "quantity" of $1 donations to get to my desired total donation -- which is a bit weird in and of itself -- but the real problem I had was that the quantity field would only accept two digits! So instead of making a nice round $100 donation, I ended up donating $99.

Because I didn't want to look like a complete weirdo to my friend and her new hubby, I added this explanation to the gift message I sent them through the donation site: "Hmmm. The field where I could enter the quantity of our donation would only allow for two digits, so that's why you're getting a wacky $99 donation. :) I just can't take a break from usability..."

A few weeks later I got an email from the site's founder with the subject: "Thank you for pointing out the usability issue." The email read, "At the end of November you purchased a gift with us for [friend] and [hubby]'s wedding. In your message to them you mentioned that you were only able to buy 99 units of an unlimited gift. We are so sorry for the inconvenience and appreciate you pointing out this bug. We have since fixed the issue thanks to you."

My first reaction was, "Wow, cool! That's super nice." But then I remembered that I didn't point out this bug. The company learned about the bug by reading my personal wedding wishes for my friend... And I started to get creeped out. Yes, technically speaking, the company had a right to read my message, as outlined in its privacy policy. And of course Facebook and Google are mining everything I read and write so they can show me more targeted ads. But this post honestly isn't about privacy -- it's about handling the VoC feedback you have access to in a way that makes people feel comfortable.

If you have a website that solicits product ideas or if a customer directly sends you an email, then by all means close the loop. But if you're collecting customer feedback via (seemingly) personal communications or without the customer's explicit knowledge, then it's probably best to leave the loop open.

What do you think? Was this situation creepy -- or was it just me?

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Aboutthe Author: Kerry Bodine is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research serving Customer Experience professionals. She blogs at http://blogs.forrester.com/kerry_bodine

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