The following is a guest post by Jim Jones, CEO & Founder of Voyant Consulting.
Over the past two weeks I’ve written about building up your company’s voice of the customer program. We began with a look at “moments of truth” – those points in the engagement with your customers that can have a very big impact on your relationship with them. Last week’s post was about analyzing and responding to customer feedback. In this final part of the series, we’ll tackle the topic of closing the loop with your customers.
Why Respond In The First Place?
You may question whether it’s necessary to respond to every piece of feedback you get. Let me tell you unequivocally that a good response to anyone who provides feedback is essential to the growth and success of your feedback program. Not acknowledging feedback is almost as bad as not asking for it in the first place.
If you think about it, when an employee or customer gives you feedback they’re making an investment in their relationship with you. They wouldn’t give you feedback – positive or negative – if they weren’t interested in improving the relationship. Once they tell you what they’re thinking, it’s incumbent on the recipient of that feedback to make a similar investment in the relationship.
Experience has taught me that there’s an optimal way to respond to customer feedback. I’ve boiled this down to a formula I call “The Four ‘A’s,” which I’ll cover next.
The “Four A’s” Of Responding To Feedback
Regardless of the communications channel you use to respond to a customer, I’ve found it’s helpful to cover some key areas. I always make sure that my organization’s response to feedback covers the following points:
Acknowledge the Response
Take a moment to thank the customer (or employee) for what they’ve told you. It’s very tempting to immediately give a response or an excuse for the behavior in question when feedback is given. Resist that temptation, especially if the feedback isn’t good. As I stated earlier, the respondent is placing their trust in you by giving you feedback. Let them know that you appreciate their openness and honesty. Doing so builds stronger bonds of trust in your relationship.
Acknowledgement should also be done as quickly as possible after the feedback is received. This is a really good opportunity to put automation to work for you. Make sure your survey and marketing automation platforms are integrated. When a survey response or some unsolicited feedback comes in via email, your marketing automation system can respond immediately with an acknowledgement. Depending on your needs, you can even set up different responses based on how good (or bad) the feedback is.
The initial acknowledgement doesn’t need to contain a full response or action plan on how you’ll deal with the feedback – it’s just a quick way of letting the customer or employee know you heard them.
Articulate the Feedback
Much of your customer feedback can simply be acknowledged and stored for later analysis and action. However, you’ll start to see occasions where customer or employee comments need to be dealt with sooner rather than later. A customer may have a complaint or comment that’s specific to them: maybe an order that wasn’t received, or a really good interaction with someone on your customer success team. In cases like that, it’s always important to take what you heard and articulate it back to the respondent, to ensure that you heard their message correctly.
Ideally these types of responses should be made individually and within 24-48 hours of the initial acknowledgement. You should use this as an opportunity to reiterate what you believe you heard from the customer or employee. State their feedback in your own words and ask them to clarify if your understanding is correct. Taking this step first shows that your company really listens and wants to understand what’s being said.
Act as Appropriate
As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Customers appreciate that you heard what they said, but they also need to know what you’re going to do about it.
Sometimes, feedback from a customer or employee may not require a response that’s tailored exactly to them. For very short surveys or surveys with only quantitative data, your action could be to let the customer know that you are aggregating all customer scores and will provide an action plan in the future.
For concerns that are more specific in nature and are specific to that customer, you may need to act in a different way. If a customer tells you they haven’t received their latest order yet, find out what happened and let them know. If they feel that they were overcharged on an invoice, look into it and provide them the facts.
It’s also important to consider your actions when a customer gives positive feedback. Let’s say that your customer responds to a survey after their implementation and tells you that they love the work their customer success manager did on their behalf. The customer success manager should know what the customer said about them! Pass the feedback along to the CSM mentioned, but also share it as appropriate with the rest of the team and management in the company. One of my clients has a policy that any positive feedback their enterprise customers provide about their assigned CSM gets forwarded to the executive management of the company. These CSMs deserve recognition, and the customer needs to know that they’re recognized.
Ask for More
You’ll want to consider closing out your response by asking the customer for any additional feedback they might have. I worked under a sales leader years ago who said “Always ask the customer ‘What else can I do for you?’ at least five times.” His rationale was that the more feedback the customer gave, the more investment they were making in their relationship with you.
In asking for more feedback, you have a great opportunity to remind customers of all the feedback channels your company has. If a customer completes a satisfaction survey after closing a support ticket, remind them that they can provide direct feedback to their customer success team, or to managers or executives within the company. If you have a specific email address you use to collect unsolicited feedback (something like firstname.lastname@example.org), you should remind the customers that this channel is also available to them.
If you ask for more feedback expect to get it, and make sure you respond appropriately.
Communicating Back To Customers
In this series we’ve talked a lot about about communication with customers. I thought it would be fitting to close the series out by discussing the various communications channels you can use with customers and when those channels are most effective.
As mentioned above, most marketing automation platforms allow you to integrate with your survey platform. You can use automated emails to invite customers to take brief surveys after a support ticket is closed, or when an order is shipped. You can typically use content variables to personalize the message – using the customer’s name, their order or case number, and a few details about their most recent transaction.
In the case where your company conducts a periodic (i.e., quarterly or annually) survey of all its customers, automated emails can also be used to communicate results and conclusions to all customers.
Not every survey requires a response, and automated emails can handle the job quite well in most cases. But sometimes, a more personal touch is required. Consider from whom the response should come: if a customer gives you positive feedback about your customer success team, the response should come from the manager for the team. If an enterprise customer indicates they’re extremely dissatisfied with your products or services, it may be best to have the follow up come from a member of your company’s executive team.
If your company has a newsletter, consider how you can use it for closing the loop with customers and prospects. When distributing feedback to a broad audience, it’s best to keep it general and focus on themes rather than specific feedback. You may want to indicate that you’re updating your product strategy or adding new services based on customer feedback without getting into specifics of what the changes are. Invite customers and prospects into a deeper discussion with you offline, where you can tailor the message to the audience.
We hope this series has been useful to you and has provided some good food for thought on building your own voice of the customer program. You don’t have to do everything all at once: start with measuring a few key touch points, and expand the program from there. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you learn from your customers and how it can change your relationships with them.
About the Author:
Jim Jones is the founder and CEO of Voyant Consulting, a Chicago-based firm that helps clients improve customer loyalty by improving their Customer Success organizations. In his previous roles with multiple international technology companies, Jim has a history of increasing customer loyalty, and improving customer retention by building world-class customer success and customer support groups. He has also been a featured speaker and blogger on the topics of customer success, voice of the customer programs and customer experience.
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