Feedback Is a Two-Way Street

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Marketing
Marketing

Maybe it's because I work in the marketing industry, but whenever I receive a request for feedback, I always respond and relate my experience. Sometimes the experience was a terrific one; for example, when housekeeping at the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan found and returned the phone charger I'd left in my room. Or it may have been a poor one, as at a Washington hotel that couldn't get any of my food orders right during my week-long stay.

Just as my experiences as a customer vary between providers, so do the responses. The New Yorker customer services manager wrote to me within a few days of providing my feedback, telling me how proud she and her staff were to receive it. Not only did her positive comments about my feedback create yet another good customer experience, the hotel used the feedback to create a great employee experience.

The other hotel still hasn't replied to me, six months later.

Research by leading IT analysis firm Gartner shows that while 95 percent of companies surveyed collect customer feedback, fewer than half of those bother to alert staff, much less inform their customers as to how their feedback was used. In fact, only 5 percent of the companies surveyed close the loop by providing feedback on the feedback to their customers.

Far more than price- or product-based differentiation, there's a real opportunity for the savvy customer champion at nearly any global enterprise to differentiate her business on quality of service based on how they handle customer feedback.

In today's connected world (how clich?is that phrase?) consumers increasingly express their opinions wherever they have the opportunity. In many cases they do so in public forums (Facebook, Twitter, and blogs)-locations over which a company has neither control nor always an expectation to look for them.

Fortunately, the technology now exists to support companies that want to capture and act on feedback in a structured, programmatic way. With feedback management software, companies can easily (and automatically) request feedback from customers at the point of experience. Alert management tools help escalate any urgent or problematic individual customer comments so that they can be handled immediately.

Farmers Insurance instituted an alert management system within its agent help desk, handling those instances that required immediate attention. The insurer uses a "high five alert" to reward and reinforce call center agents for calls that were handled particularly well. Not only has customer satisfaction increased, but agent satisfaction in the call center has risen from 84.5 percent to 89.5 percent year to date. Customer feedback is now linked to executive compensation.

In the current economic environment, most global enterprises have curtailed IT spending. Interestingly, while overall IT spend is down, IT spend on voice of the customer and other feedback programs is on the rise. In November Gartner released a report that predicted "feedback management technologies will be the top investment made in 2009 to improve the customer experience." This dovetails with a survey from Aberdeen Research that found that, "in this recessionary time, when many companies are curtailing their IT spend, 41 percent of survey respondents indicated that their budgets for customer feedback management initiatives will increase in the next fiscal year."

Why is this the case? In a recession, it pays to invest in customer retention strategies. Today the danger is not merely losing your customer base to your competition, but losing customers to their savings accounts. The best way to keep customers in the fold is not to try to predict their future behavior from their past behavior. In today's economic climate, old analytical models don't work. Instead, ask your customers. And show them that you're listening and acting on what they've told you.

After all, at which hotel do you think I'm going to stay again? The one that told me how much it values my feedback? Or the one that showed me how much by ignoring it?

About the author: Gary Schwartz is senior vice president of marketing at Confirmit (www.confirmit.com)

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION