Customer feedback – listen up or lose out

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Snapshot : Every business says it listens to customer feedback. But it’s what they do with the feedback that shows if they’ve really listened. This week, we look at how companies who truly value customer feedback differ from those who don’t. Learn where customer feedback should fit in to your business and why it matters.

We value your feedback says the survey. Yeh, right you think. 

We’re not the only sceptical ones when it comes to customer feedback surveys.

The response rate for all research surveys averages at 33%, but for satisfaction and feedback surveys it drops to between 15% and at best 30%.

You might wonder why customer feedback response rates are so low. 

Two people holding up large ears on a small dog

After all, it’s an opportunity for customers to tell you what they think. Everyone likes to feel their opinion matters, right? 

But that’s not how it really works. 

Because most companies don’t do anything with customer feedback, most customers don’t see the point in giving it. Why take the time to tell brands what you think if you don’t believe they’ll do anything with it?

If you want to increase the amount of customer feedback you get, you need to show customers that it’s part of your business, and you’ll actually do something with it. 

Customer feedback is part of analysing your market

The brand development process starts with analysing your market.

Customer feedback from your existing and previous brand activation and customer experience is part of that analysis. 

Asking customers what they think of their past experience with you helps you identify how to improve their future experience. 

Along with your market research and data, it’s how you learn more about them. 

Flow diagram showing the 5 steps of the brand development process - analyse your market, build your brand goal, segment, target and position, build your brand identity, brand activation

Most business will have some sort of mechanism set up to capture customer feedback. Online forms. Qualitative and quantitative research. Brand equity tracking. Net Promoter scores. 

Here’s the thing, though. 

But if you ask for customer feedback, and don’t do anything with it, what’s the point? If you really listen to customers deeply, you act on their feedback You build your activities around what customers tell you they need, want and like.

There’s two systems we see most often used for customer feedback.

The first is the Net Promoter Score system, which acts as a warning light for changes in customer feedback. When that goes off, then the second system, the market research process kicks in to help you diagnose what’s going wrong. 

Net Promoter Score - Something’s happening

Net Promoter Score‘s that question you get. You know the one. 

Using a 0-10 scale, how likely is it that you would recommend [brand] to a friend or colleague?

Yep, that one. 

Hugely popular, yes? You see it everywhere

Scores of 9 or 10 score positively. 7 or 8 scores are neutral. And 6 and below are negatives. 

Check engine warning messages on a car dashboard

Take the negative away from the positive, and you’re left with an overall “net” score from your customers. 

Great. 

It’s a well-recognised and popular way for brand and customer service teams to get customer feedback.

High response rates because it’s quick and easy to complete. Easy for you and your team to understand. No complex and confusing analysis, you track it over time and it tells you if you’re getting better, worse or staying the same. 

Nice and simple. 

But, the down-side of simplicity is there’s no specificity. NPS can’t diagnose why changes in customer feedback are happening. The warning light flashes when something’s going wrong, but you still need to get under the bonnet to investigate what the problem is.  

When your NPS warning goes off, you pause and put the question into your market research process. You ask customers for more specific feedback to find out what’s wrong. 

Market research - What's happening?

If your brand tracks brand equity, you may already have seen signs of changes in customer feedback.

As per our guide to quantitative research, brand equity tracking is a regular survey, where you ask a sample of customers the same questions over time.

These questions track changes on key measures from the brand choice funnel – awareness, consideration, trial and loyalty for example.

They track how customers perceive your brand and what it does for them.

Person holding glasses in front of them against a blurry street background

You track perceptions related to your positioning statement and competitive strategy. So, questions on price (e.g. this brand offers good value), quality (e.g. this brand is better than competitors) or the brand purpose for example. 

These questions give you more detail, but still don’t exactly tell you why

For that, you’d carry out qualitative research (e.g. focus groups) to better understand what customers are thinking and why. You then go back into quantitative research to quantify how many other customers feel the same way. 

So far so good. You’ve listened to customer feedback and you know why customers think the way they do. But as per our guide to market research in the marketing plan, you still need to do something with that understanding of why. 

Something’s on fire, and you know why it’s on fire. But, you still need to put the fire out. This is where the real challenge with customer feedback starts. 

Because for many businesses this new customer understanding gets in the way of what they were doing, and that can be hard to change.  

What are you going to do about it though?

Think about when you’ve filled in a customer feedback survey. How many examples can you think of where your feedback made a difference? 

If you’ve got a specific problem – say a return or a refund on an e-Commerce order, most business will handle that OK.

As per our article on customer service, they don’t have a choice though. Because customers have rights. Business have to support those rights.

But what if it’s something else? 

Blue Neon sign saying "Do Something Great" on a black background

What if your business uses palm oil, but ignores the customer feedback that asks you not to? Or maybe your business hasn’t cracked recyclable packaging yet, even though customers tell you that’s what they want. 

There’s lot of examples of things that businesses do that customer’s don’t like. 

Like when they change the flavour or recipe and customers prefer the old one. (e.g.the classic example of New Coke back in the 1980s). 

Or when they reduce the weight of product in the packaging, but keep the price the same. (a process sometimes called shrinkflation).  

We’re sure when this happens, the smart alec who proposed the change (usually to save the company money) will say customers won’t notice, or don’t care. These changes might be better for the business, but they’re not better for the customer. And customers can surprise you with what they notice or care about, which is why you need to listen to their feedback.

Customer driven means customer first, brand second

Great marketing empathises with and respects customers. (as per our very first article on this site, the importance of market research).

It listens to what they think and feel, watches what they do, and only then does it act. 

Customer needs comes first. Everything else comes after that.

You build this approach into your marketing planning and agency briefs.

If what you do doesn’t meet customer needs, you question why you’re doing it.

Do your segmentation research. Pick your target audience. Create your brand positioning that guess what, starts with the customer. 

Everything else from brand identity to brand activation comes after you understand the customer.

What happens when brand comes first?

That’s the ideal of course. But it’s not what happens in many marketing teams where the customer isn’t king, the brand is. 

Don’t get us wrong. Brands are important. Very important. But they’re important to serve the customer, not the marketing team. 

Marketing teams live with their brands everyday. When you live with something everyday, it takes over your life. You get tunnel vision. You forget the brand’s there for customers, not for you. The brand’s not how you justify your own position and power in the business. 

Look around at the marketing directors and CMOs in most businesses, and they’ll be from a brand marketing background, not a customer focussed one. Not many marketing leaders we know came through market research or customer service.

But let’s be clear, the brand’s nothing without customers. And unless you put the customer first, you’ll struggle to really connect with them.

We know many senior marketers who spend very little time with actual customers.

Too busy “leading” to get close to customers. No time to listen to customers while driving their flashy German cars, or spending their time in business class lounges, fancy hotels and on the golf course. 

At best, they might drop into a focus group.

Though more likely, they’ll probably just ask to see a video copy. Or ask to read the exec summary at the research debrief.

If they do ever deign to visit a customer, chances are the poor market research team has to plan it about six months in advance.

The best marketing comes from marketers who get close to customers. They listen to customer feedback and use it to position the brand to solve needs.

Front on image of the bonnet and grille of a black Audi car

Customer driven businesses solve customer needs

Solving customer needs is what brands should be about.

They can be broad needs. 

Like buying anything you want online which is the need the famously customer-centric Amazon try to solve. Or improving the quality of your website content for customers by focusing on key search trends in Google.

Or they can be narrow needs. 

Like ordering a $10 replacement part for your microwave because the moving company managed to lose it somewhere in transit. (OK, maybe that one is very narrow to us). 

Customer focussed business understand all levels of customer needs. They understand all the interactions that go into the customer experience. They prioritise activities to improve those interactions and seek out customer feedback to make sure needs are being met.

When brand activity doesn’t meet customer needs

So what happens when marketing teams put the brand before the customer?  And again, don’t get us wrong, brand’s matter a lot – we didn’t write all our brand strategy content for no reason. 

But brands are only important because of what they do for customers. Great brands tell customers who you are, and what you do for them. They show customers why they should care.

But customers don’t care about what a lot of brands actually do.

Boring advertising

For example, brands that push out boring advertising to “drive awareness”. Pretty much anything you do that the customer sees drives awareness. 

But the customer doesn’t need to be aware of you, unless they have a need you can satisfy. Most advertising goes unnoticed, because customers don’t need it. 

Then there’s those ads that waffle on about brand purpose. These only get noticed if it’s relevant to customers needs. If it isn’t, they don’t care. 

Woman wearing smart business suit in front of a laptop looking bored

Pointless innovation

Then there’s the frequent launches of pointless new products, or screwing around with the existing one. If it makes life better for customers, great, but really, most innovations over-promise and under-deliver. 

Look at the public relations press releases that come with most new launches, and find yourself drowning in marketing jargon and managerial blah

All about the brand, not about the needs of the customer. How often does customer feedback actually say they want more innovation? 

Question mark spray painted onto a tree trunk among a wood of trees

Too many brands seem to spend their time faffing around with packaging and formulation changes. Not based on customer feedback but to reduce costs and improve profitability. 

Customers only care about this when they suddenly find their 900g pack has become an 800g pack for the same price. Or their favourite flavour of snack or chocolate bar isn’t available any more. 

Do businesses really listen to customer feedback when they do all this innovation, or is it just lip service? 

(see also the alcohol example of not listening to customers in our article on marketing mistakes). 

Great marketing listens to customer feedback and acts on it to meet customers needs. 

If your brand activity doesn’t link back to customer needs, then it’s wasted. If it does, then that’s a sign you’ve got a customer-centric culture. 

Customer-driven businesses build a customer-centric culture

The businesses that show they’re customer-driven (rather than just talk about it) have it baked into their culture.

For example, Amazon.

Sure, there may be challenges to working with them.

But from their customer-centric culture, they have their famous “empty customer chair” added to key meetings to remind people not to forget the customer. They put the customer first. 

Customer service headset sitting on a desk next to a laptop

Amazon analyse their customer feedback rigorously. They wrap their customer experience around what customers need. 

Go to any business who listens to customers. Look around their offices. Look through their presentations, and watch where they spend their time. In customer-centric businesses, the customer is king and you can see it, hear it and feel it all the time. 

Customer-driven cultures love talking about customers. They value customer feedback and spend as much time with customers as they can. When they make key marketing decisions, their first question is what impact it’ll have on customers. Not how it’ll affect sales, efficiency or margins. 

Strong performance comes from a customer-driven approach

We come across many businesses where performance matters more than what customers think. But they’re inextricably linked.

If you don’t keep customers happy, your performance drops. 

Performance numbers like sales, profit and even brand health are an outcome of what you do.

But the input that drives them is customer satisfaction and meeting customer needs. Customer feedback tells you how to do that.

But look at how most marketers get measured. How much time they spend filling in management reports and telling finance why they have or haven’t hit their number. Yes, it’s important, but they should be talking more about how they’re working with customers to hit those numbers, not rationalising the performance. 

For these marketers it’s the brand who’s king, not the customer. But if the noise of your brand is drowning out the voice of your customer, you’ll lose out to brands who know how to listen to feedback. 

Conclusion - Customer feedback

Gathering customer feedback is important. But you need to do something with that feedback.

And many businesses don’t.

Customer feedback warning systems like your Net Promoter Score or your brand equity tracking are a good start.  They tell you something’s happening. 

Market research helps you diagnose what customers are actually thinking, feeling and doing.

But to really make customer feedback count, you have to do something about it.

Close up of a hand with thumb up

Put customers first. Build your brand from what you know about them. Identify customer needs, and make sure they’re the start point for all your marketing activity. Customers should in the DNA of the culture of your business, and everyone should listen to and act on their feedback.

Check out our article on customer experience for more on this topic. Or contact us if you need help with what to do about your customer feedback.

Photo Credits

Dog ears : Photo by kyle smith on Unsplash

Engine warning light : Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Glasses : Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

Do Something Great : Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

Customer Experience Coffee Shop : Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Audi Car Bonnet : Photo by Velito on Unsplash

Bored in front of computer : Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash

Question Mark on Tree : Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

Customer service headset near laptop : Photo by Petr Macháček on Unsplash

Marketing Dashboard : Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash

Thumbs up (adapted) : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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