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Customer feedback – listen up or lose out

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Why read this? : We explore the value of asking for and acting on customer feedback. Learn how customer feedback strengthens your brand. Read this to learn how to listen to customers.

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

We’re not the only ones sceptical about customer feedback surveys.

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

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

Two people holding up large ears on a small dog

After all, it’s a chance for customers to tell you what they think. Everyone likes to be listened to, right? 

However, many customers don’t see the point in giving feedback as most companies don’t seem to do anything with it. Why take the time to share your thoughts with brands if you think it won’t make any difference? To get customer feedback, you have to convince customers you’ll actually do something with it. 

Customer feedback is part of analysing your market

Customer feedback is part of brand development.

It’s core to analysing your market. You review what customers thought of your existing and previous brand activation and customer experience

Asking customers how they found their past experience with you helps you identify ways 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 businesses set up systems to capture customer feedback. 

This often starts with gathering a Net Promoter Score (NPS). This acts as a warning light for changes in customer feedback. Then, they run continuous and ad-hoc market research to flesh out the customer feedback in more detail. Online forms. Brand equity tracking. Qualitative and quantitative research. 

Let’s look at how these systems work. 

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 you’d 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 get 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 as 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 downside 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 the source of the problem.  

When your NPS declines, that’s when your market research process kicks in. You ask customers for more specific feedback to find out what’s wrong. 

Market research - What's happening?

If you track brand equity, you may already have seen changes in customer feedback.

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

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

They also track what customers think of 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. For example, questions on price (e.g. this brand offers good value), quality (e.g. this brand is better than competitors) or the brand purpose

These questions give you a better understanding of what’s happening. But they still don’t tell you why. So, you do qualitative research (e.g. focus groups) to find out why by asking customers directly what’s going on. Then, you quantify the answers with quantitative research

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

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

It’s hard because, for many businesses, customer feedback gets in the way of what they do. It means they have to change. And change is hard. 

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 businesses handle that OK.

As per our customer service article, they don’t have a choice. Customers have rights in those areas which businesses have to support.

But what if it’s something else? 

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

For example, what if your business uses palm oil, but ignores the customer feedback which asks you not to? Or your business is still using unrecyclable packaging, even though customers tell you they want to recycle. 

There are lot many examples of things businesses do that customers 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 a product, but keep the same price. (Known as 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 they won’t care. But customers do notice and care when changes benefit the business, not them. And they won’t be slow to let you know when they dislike something you do.

Customer-driven means customer first, brand second

Great marketing puts customers first. (e.g. see our importance of market research article).

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

Customer needs come 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 which, 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 often not what happens. In many marketing teams, it’s the brand which comes first, not the customer. Don’t get us wrong. Brands are important. Very important. But they’re meant to serve the customer, not the marketing team. 

Marketing teams live with their brands every day. When you live with something every day, it takes over your life. You get tunnel vision. You forget the brand’s there for customers, not for you. The brand can end up being how you justify your position and power in the business. But that’s not a good thing.

Most marketing directors and CMOs come from a brand marketing background, not a customer-focused one. Not many senior marketing leaders have worked in market research or customer service.

And let’s be clear, the brand’s nothing without customers. Unless you put customers first, your brand will struggle to connect.

We know many senior marketers who spend very little time with actual customers. Too busy “leading” to get close to customers. Too busy driving their flashy German cars and spending 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 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 6 months in advance.

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

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 lost it somewhere in transit. (OK, maybe that one is very specific to us). 

Customer-focused businesses 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, brands matter a lot. We didn’t write all our brand strategy content for nothing. 

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 usually care much about what brands do. They care about what brands do for them. 

Boring advertising

For example, brands that do boring adverts 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 are 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 ones. If it makes life better for customers, great. But really, most innovations over-promise and under-deliver. 

Look at the PR press releases which go with new launches. Full of marketing jargon and managerial blah. All about the brand, not about the needs of the customer. Pointless, right?

Let’s face it, 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 marketing mistakes article). 

Great marketing listens to customer feedback and does something with it. It’s a waste of time and money if your brand activity doesn’t meet customer needs.

Build a customer-driven 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 analyses their customer feedback rigorously. They wrap their customer experience around what customers need. 

Go to any business which listens to customers. Look around their offices. Look through their presentations and watch where they spend their time. In customer-centric businesses, the customer rules 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 your profit and loss and brand health are an outcome of what you do.

But the input which 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 forecast. Yes, it’s important. But they should spend more time working with customers to hit those numbers, than explaining the numbers.

These marketers need to think customer first, brand second. If the noise of your brand drowns out the voice of your customer, you lose out to brands who listen to, and act on, feedback. 

Conclusion - Customer feedback

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

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 thinking, feeling and doing.

But to 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 at the heart of your marketing activity. Customers should be in the DNA of the culture of your business, and everyone should listen to, and act on, their feedback.

Check out our customer experience guide for more on this. Or get in touch if you need help with gathering and acting on 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 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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