Ten simple steps to effectively actioning customer feedback

Our own research and experience has shown that the vast majority of companies today capture customer feedback in some form. This may be a formal customer satisfaction programme, or ad hoc analysis of customer comments, but the focus is on trying to support the company putting the customer at the heart of its strategy. However, nearly all companies struggle to successfully implement change based upon that feedback – in short, proactive customer management presents a challenge because an understanding of how to action customer feedback coupled with a corporate desire is lacking. This article identifies ten simple steps that will significantly support the delivery of a successful customer programme.

Ten steps to effectively actioning customer feedback

Through working with a number of companies both in the UK and internationally, Customer Champions has identified ten crucial elements required in order to ensure that companies successfully transfer that customer knowledge into successful customer communication and change.

1. Proactive management leadership = proactive customer management

It is not enough for the organisation’s senior management to simply agree to conduct a customer satisfaction programme. Their focus needs to be on the key findings, and then very importantly the activities that take place because of the findings.

Management schools have always placed great emphasis on the monitoring and management of the financials. If customer satisfaction programmes are to be successful management need to place an equal emphasis on the customer feedback data, and what is being done about it. This will only happen if we can provide a link between customer feedback and company financials. Proactive management leadership is not just about giving approval to a customer satisfaction survey – it would involve activities such as ensuring that senior management regularly report on activities undertaken and planned because of customer feedback, and tracking the impact these have on the bottom line of the business. It is about participation, not just observation.

2. Establish customer programme champions

A corporate wide programme will not succeed if there is only one person representing the customer in the business. Each primary function needs at least one champion to ensure that the customer’s voice is heard in management decision making. They may be a provider of customer data, or a change management facilitator, but the primary role of this team of customer programme champions must always be to ensure that the customer’s voice is heard, listened to, understood, and never forgotten.

3. Establish customer KPI and process metric linkage

Questions of customers need to be linked to both the overall KPIs of the business, and the internal process metrics that are gathered and reported upon. The link to KPIs such as market share, ROI, or share of wallet, will ensure that customer feedback is owned and acted upon at all levels of the business. A link to internal process metrics will allow:

  • improved prediction of customer feedback
  • reduce the need to default to always asking customers, when the information is already available internally
  • improved data analysis to support root cause identification
  • internal metrics to be closely related to the customer experience (if they aren’t, are the right things being measured?)

4. Ownership of metrics / questions

Too often analysis of customer feedback focuses on what is wrong, and therefore identifies who in the company needs to put things right. This will often be received as negative feedback to an individual, and will be perceived as an “additional task to be completed above their day job”. The chances of effective corrective actions being developed and implemented in this scenario are somewhat limited. A more effective approach is to get senior managers to literally sign up to the individual questions before the customers’ views are obtained. The managers therefore automatically become owners of the responses. These responses could either be positive or negative. If people are not willing to sign up to individual questions you have to ask whether it is a good use of your customers’ time telling you the answers!

5. Cross function customer teams

Although individuals sign up to questions and their related answers, it is highly likely that a team of people will need to focus on the issue and develop / implement corrective actions. This team needs to be cross-functional in composition. The vast majority of companies are still functionally silo-based in their structure, yet customers experience a journey in dealing with the organisation that transgcends these functional silos. Therefore, to be effective, the team structure needs to mirror the customer journey rather than an organisational structure. For more on this read Customer Journey Mapping.

6. Customer communication

Within Customer Champions’ own research we have identified that only 50% of companies consider themselves being any good at communicating customer feedback into their own organisation. When we have examined closer what the issue is, it revolves primarily around the individual employee being able to translate customer feedback into his or her own role and responsibilities. Employees need, as a minimum, to be able to understand what their functional team needs to do in order to improve the customer experience, and preferably bring this down to an individual level. This approach will significantly impact the likelihood of corrective actions being developed and implemented, and the effectiveness of these plans.

7. Priority based upon customer KPI impact

Prioritising areas for action can be difficult, and various criteria such as the following could be used:

  • lowest performance or satisfaction score
  • highest impacting aspect upon satisfaction
  • worst performance, relative to the competition
  • organisation already had plans in place to improve a specific related aspect, so a quick-win will be possible

However, the most effective will be those where there is a proven link to the KPIs of the business, i.e. attributes that matter most to customers, where performance needs to be improved, and where resulting success will deliver bottom line improvements. Almost all actions will need some additional resource whether that is manpower and/or financial, the likelihood of resource being made available will significantly increase if a link to a KPI can be shown.

8. Root cause analysis

Customer Champions have found that companies can falter at this stage as they allow individuals to express personal beliefs, based on anecdotal evidence on why something “has gone wrong”. This lack of a structured approach can lead to incorrect identification of root causes, which ultimately results in both ineffective use of resources, and reduced likelihood of improving the customers’ experience.

The use of a structured approach also supports a standardised reporting structure that allows comparison of progress against a number of areas that have been identified for corrective action.

The effectiveness of root cause analysis and the associated countermeasures will be greatly supported if links to internal metrics have been established at the earlier stage of the programme.

9. Countermeasure development and deployment

Again the use of a structured approach at this stage will ensure that all possible countermeasures are identified and their feasibility and effectiveness can be assessed. This information can also be shared with other corrective action groups as the countermeasures may also impact their work, and the customers experience with it.

As the countermeasures are deployed their effectiveness should be assessed through tracking either or all of the previously identified internal metrics, mystery shopping and customer feedback. If they are successful they then need to be defined in the form of standard procedures.

10. Customer / market / internal communication

Companies are always very keen to ensure that they ask customers for feedback, but so few are equally keen to provide customers feedback on what they have heard, and what they have acted upon or plan to do Yet without this feedback to customers there is a significant danger that:

  • the company misses the opportunity of illustrating to its customers how much it cares about their views, and how it acts upon them.
  • customers’ perception of the company will be worsened, as they have been set an expectation that something will be changed because of their feedback but have yet to notice any improvement
  • response rates to surveys will reduce as customers see less and less value in telling companies what they think (what is in it for them?)
  • employees are not fully engaged in the programme as they don’t see any appetite for change based upon previous findings

Although the successful implementation of these 10 steps does not guarantee a successful customer feedback programme, there will be significant improvements for the customers, and therefore for the company.

Take the next step

To discuss how to action customer feedback in your setting, please get in touch.

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