Customer feedback is an important part of any business relationship. That’s why collecting customer feedback should be central to any customer experience (CX) operation.
This guide will define customer feedback, explain why customer feedback is important, identify different types of customer feedback tools, and outline tips from customer service experts on how to make the most of it.
What is customer feedback?
Customer feedback is any information that customers give a company about their experience, says CX expert Jeff Toister. It includes: insights, opinions, reactions, preferences, and complaints about the company’s products or services.
- Why is customer feedback important?
- Customer feedback examples
- Customer feedback strategy
- Customer feedback methods
- How to use customer feedback
Why is customer feedback important?
Customer feedback is important because it tells a business what people are thinking, feeling, or experiencing when dealing with the company. The company can then use that information to make better, customer-centric decisions.
The stakes are high. When used well, a strong customer feedback loop can:
- Improve products or services
- Improve internal processes that impact the customer experience
- Help build stronger connections with customers
In this special CX Moment, Leanna Nazzisi, Sr. Manager, Customer Operations & Communications at Birchbox, explains that “asking [customers] what they need, rather than telling them, ‘Here’s what we can do'” can help to build and maintain a feeling of community and humility.https://www.youtube.com/embed/Wur06UYkYVA
Of course, customer feedback isn’t always positive. Though negative feedback can hurt, it can hurt more in the long run when the business is unprepared to act on it.
Examples of customer feedback
Customer feedback can be qualitative, such as a feedback form or information a customer shares with an agent or a sales representative about their experience. It can also be quantitative, such as a customer satisfaction score or a numerical review.
- Customer service feedback
- Sales or customer success feedback
- Social media posts
- Support ticket spikes
Types of customer feedback
Customer feedback can also be direct, such as a survey answer or conversation with an agent. Or, it can be indirect, such as a comment on social media that wasn’t addressed to the company.
1. Direct customer feedback
- Customer service feedback. Using a customer satisfaction survey, customers rate the experience they had in a support interaction. The results impact an agent’s customer satisfaction score, a numerical value also known as CSAT.
- Customer surveys are used for many different reasons, including measuring customer satisfaction, market research, or gauging expectations.
- Customer reviews for products may be gathered and displayed with the product on the company’s e-commerce site. Customer reviews of experiences and services may be located on the company’s website or housed on a third-party review site, like Yelp. Reviews on third-party review sites often take customer service and customer experience into account, as these types of reviews are more helpful for evaluating mechanics, nail salons, accountants, and restaurants. The purpose of both types of customer reviews is the same: to help customers or potential customers make an informed decision based on other peoples’ experience.
- Sales or customer success feedback. Existing customers, especially large accounts in business-to-business relationships, often have a dedicated sales or success representative. An account executive or customer success rep can relay feedback to product teams or other internal teams for assistance.
2. Indirect customer feedback
- Social media posts about how great (or not great) a product or experience was. Social media blasts can be hard to decipher, so tread cautiously—the customer might just be venting rather than speaking intentionally to the company and expecting a response.
- Comments about the company that are read or heard in a store, event, or in online forums.
- A spike in related customer support issues. A help center or community forum is a great way to help customers self-serve on simple, repeat issues. But if there’s an uptick in searches and pageviews for the same help article or question, this could be a form of indirect customer feedback. If everyone is having an issue about the same thing, there may be something amiss with your website, UI, or discount code for example.
- Returns. Take a common scenario: buying a pair of shoes, realizing they don’t fit, and returning them. Since a smooth returns process is becoming more common, it’s likely you wouldn’t need to speak to anyone in this situation. Still, the fact that the shoes are being returned is an important data point. Some people say why they’re returning something, and others don’t. Similar to a spike in related customer support issues, if many people are reporting that the sizes are off, the online sizing chart could use some work or maybe even the product needs revisiting.
Before you start collecting customer feedback, the first step is to start with your why, Toister says. Why are you asking customers for their feedback? What are you going to do with it? We have all the data in the world at our fingertips, but it means nothing if you don’t know what to do with it.
“Different tools in your toolkit are useful for different reasons,” Toister says. “Feedback is like that”
Some questions to answer:
- Why do you want customer feedback?
- What do you hope to learn from the feedback?
- What do you plan on doing with the feedback once you get it?
- Answers to these deceptively simple questions will point you toward the best and most effective way to gather customer feedback.
Customer feedback strategy
A customer feedback strategy includes your methods for collecting feedback, and just as important, acting on it. Digital channels provide companies with ample opportunities to get feedback on their product, service, and overall customer experience, but many don’t have the tools to put that feedback to work. Both steps are critical to a successful customer feedback strategy.
Methods for collecting customer feedback
Now, we’ll discuss some of the best practices for collecting customer feedback. Three of the most common ways are by sending customer surveys, building a community forum, and rolling out a Voice of the Customer program.
- Send customer surveys
- Clearly define your goal
- Write unbiased questions
- Send surveys in relevant channels
- Keep it short
- Offer rewards
- Provide a variety of questions
- Give your customers options
- Always follow up. “If I hear from one person about an issue, I assume everybody else is affected,” Toister says.
- Sending out surveys but not doing anything with them. “Most companies ignore that data routinely. As a customer, it’s generally not worth your time to fill out a survey because it’s not going to be used for anything,” Toister says.
- Manipulative language. “A majority of surveys out there are deliberately manipulative in their language,” Toister says. “They’re designed to get you to give them a good score, not to get honest feedback about your experience that they can then turn into action.”
- A focus on feelings over facts. “Surveys are really good about feelings,” Toister says. A customer was upset about the wait time because it was really busy in the store or the restaurant, for example. Many companies seek that kind of feedback and get it easily. But they don’t always go a step further to determine what went wrong to lead to those long wait times. In a poorly constructed survey, the customer only repeats their frustration, which is the result of a problem—it isn’t the problem itself.
- Build a community forum
- The help center is hard to find.
- The article is incomplete or outdated.
- The product documentation is unclear.
- There is a more serious issue with the product that isn’t addressed in the help center.
- Roll out a Voice of the Customer program
- Customer surveys
- CSAT score
- NPS, or net promoter score
- Advocacy teams—as frontline customer service representatives and as daily users of the product themselves
- Advisory boards
- 1:1 conversations with customer-facing teams and individuals
- Sales—client feedback or insight from lost opportunities or deals
- Product pilots and early access programs
- Gathering feedback from different sources
- Identifying themes, and
- Serving up actionable insight for the business that describes customer pain points, how they can be addressed, and the impact on the business of taking those actions. Maybe they think it’ll impact churn, customer retention, customer loyalty-it always goes back to the impact on the business.
- Integrate the VoC team into the entire CX operation. Good intentions aren’t usually good enough. Connecting VoC with product, sales, or go-to-market teams helps drive awareness, and therefore better processes, more commitment, and greater accountability.
- Invest in a customer feedback tool. A successful VoC program doesn’t rely on spreadsheets and manual data entry alone. Research the best tools for customer feedback management.
- Don’t flag every single feature request to a product manager—but do have a plan for managing them. The best solution to a customer’s problem isn’t always a product or feature update. While a “workaround” might seem like a copout, a partner solution may, in fact, be the best solution.
- Manage expectations. Be clear with customers and internal stakeholders about what will be communicated, to whom and when.
How to use customer feedback
Now that you’re collecting customer feedback, what to do with it? Bill Gates once said that “your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning,” and the truth is that customer feedback, good or bad, is only valuable if it’s used.
Here are a few ways to ensure that customer feedback is having a meaningful impact on your business:
- Share customer feedback widely
- Listen and act
- Make it right, prevent customer churn
- Identify and nurture champions
- Celebrate success
Customer feedback is customer data
All customer feedback is customer data. When used well, it can mend relationships and make existing ones even stronger. Take the returned shoes as an example. One-off issues will always happen. But if an inaccurate sizing chart or improperly sized shoe is to blame, it could touch off numerous problems:
- Customers are inconvenienced and annoyed
- Customers share their negative experience or complaints with others on social media or via a star-based review on the ecommerce website.
- If gone unchecked, the brand now has a reputation for selling off sizes—and for allowing the problem to continue despite multiple forms of customer feedback. In this worst-case scenario, not paying attention to feedback adds insult to injury.
Know why you want customer feedback, build a process around getting it, share customer feedback widely, then act on it to champion your customers at every step of their journey.