Customer feedback: Listening and learning

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When I started my career, in a small, family run hotel, I was told: “When someone receives good service, they might tell someone about it if our name comes up, or they may tell close friends. But give bad service and that person will make sure everyone they know knows about it.”

That was more than 10 years ago, wireless internet was new and I am sure I was still unplugging the house phone to get online. A decade later and you’re more likely to leave the house without your shoes on than without your phone and the entire internet is in your pocket.

We no longer have to trawl the high street to find a business or thumb through the Yellow Pages to see if anyone else can offer a similar service. Go online and you have pages and pages of businesses waiting for you to choose them.

Given this choice, how do customers decide where they want to spend their money? For some, it’s purely pennies and pounds; if you are the cheapest, you win the business. But it’s a customer’s world now, they are only loyal to you if you look after them. Any customer who has bought cheap and been burned by bad service will have learned their lesson.

This brings us neatly to the world of customer reviews. Google, Shopzilla, Trustpilot, Ekomi and others all steer consumers to the companies best loved by their customers. If you provide good service, you have a better chance of the customer wanting to share their experience, but deliver bad service or break your promises and you are guaranteed to get a review. Just like I was told back in the hotel all those years ago.

What’s disappointing is when a business replies to a poor review with anything other than an apology. Working in the service industry, you quickly learn that things go wrong and people get upset. While it’s important to learn from this, you shouldn’t take it personally. And you definitely shouldn’t enter into a public argument with your customer – what does that say about your resolution abilities?

Feedback isn’t just to warn off or encourage new customers; it helps us learn where our focus should be. Are you spending money on a service that nobody likes? Are you getting the same kind of reviews again and again that say you’re not doing a bad job, but by doing this you would be better?

As a consumer, I love Trip Advisor and always read the reviews – I will always skip to the lowest scoring ones first, see what went wrong and see how important it is to me.

As a business, we take the time to read every single review. Not all reviews warrant a response, however where a response is required we make sure we get in touch, either to thank the customer or try to understand if something went wrong how we can prevent this happening again.

Business managers have adapted to this new era by learning to be more realistic, generous and flexible. There is no point in spending all of your Adwords or SEO budget to get people on the site if you don’t take care of them and make sure they want to come back time and again.

That money can be better spent on customer service training, generous policies and empowering your customer care team to be flexible with the rules. Why waste time quibbling over a 12 month returns policy when the customer calls up a week too late, if you’re only going to end up doing exactly what the customer wants after they leave a bad review.Customer Feedback speech bubble

Instead, we encourage the team to take the customer’s side. We tell them to imagine the scenario being described was happening to them. Are we being fair? Would you want to do business with us again? If our team answer ‘no’ to those questions, we need to recognise we’re in the wrong and need to resolve this.

Being generous with customers doesn’t always mean with cash, time and understanding are important too. So don’t rush your agents off the phone, allow them the time to accommodate all the customers’ requests – it means a lot to people who are looking for help. Refunds, discounts and upgrades also go a long way to letting customers know you valued them enough to fix the problem.

To measure feedback, we ask customers to complete two types of review, one is internal and based on the quality of the product. It is managed in-house which allows us to spot trends and nip issues in the bud.

To review the service customers receive from us, we use an impartial third party service. They contact customers and ask them to rate us. If we are scored low, we are encouraged to reply to the customer to resolve the issue. If we have broken our promise and the customer cannot be won round, then the review is published but if what the customer claims is untrue it isn’t published.

Any customer who is contacted regarding a review has the review recorded on their file to ensure issues aren’t repeated and prevent any inconvenience to them in the future.

We only use email prompts to encourage customer feedback. 10 days after an order is placed, an email is sent to the customer asking them for their feedback. We don’t want to intrude, so we never call to ask for feedback as these types of calls have a stigma of being intrusive.

Customers who want to give personal feedback are giving praise more than criticism and how that is handled is down to the individual. For some of my team, as nice as it is to hear, it’s the most embarrassing part of their day. Once the call is dealt with, the comments are fed back to the person or people involved. We also keep copies of happy comments on our task board so we are constantly reminded of the good job we are doing.

Unfortunately there have been occasions when it’s not been positive. If negative feedback is coming for a member of my team I don’t like it be given directly to them by the customer. This kind of incident belongs in my hands, so I call the customer to get their version of events. I assure the customer that the matter will be investigated and it is. All calls and emails are gone through and a discussion is held with the person concerned about the findings.

We grade all types of contact with customers and all team members receive feedback in their monthly one to ones. This way, if there are any deep-rooted issues or character flaws, we can manage this issue.

It’s easy to feel that as a business and as individuals, we learn more from negative feedback because it’s easy to see what went wrong and where to make it right. However, don’t forget those good reviews. They are the reinforcement that what you implemented and want to do is right.