Customer Feedback Can Be Dangerous – Here Are Two Examples
“A Voice of the Customer (VoC) Program is essential for maximizing retention and growth.”
This statement is widely accepted nowadays. There are any number of research firms, professional associations, software companies, and investors advising company executives to keep their finger on the pulse of customer sentiment. Without line of sight into the evolving needs of your customers, it’s impossible to maintain a competitive edge. The widely held consensus is that companies not serious about collecting customer feedback are at risk – risk of losing customers, risk of damaging their reputation, and risk of falling behind the competition.
When Not to Ask for Customer Feedback
As the founder of Satrix Solutions, I’ve dedicated the majority of my career to guiding business leaders on the appropriate way to execute VoC programs and reap the business benefits. Given my passion for the customer experience, you might think I’d never discourage a company from adopting a VoC initiative. The truth is, there are two circumstances when I advise companies NOT to stand up a new VoC initiative. That’s because in the cases I’ll outline, it’s actually safer to do nothing. Let me explain:
1) There is no buy-in or commitment to properly action the feedback.
Imagine a customer responding to an online survey or participating in an in-depth interview or Customer Advisory Board (CAB). They share thoughts, suggestions, frustrations, and then…crickets. Their feedback isn’t acknowledged, nor do they actually experience any improvement or notice any meaningful change at all. How likely is that person to participate in any of that company’s feedback endeavors again in the future?
Worse still, they may feel like the company doesn’t value their time as the feedback provided was ignored or wasted. It’s easy to see how a VoC program enacted without a strong plan to close the loop and action the findings could do more harm than if the program was never launched in the first place.
Alas, this is all too common. A frequent example we see is a company rushes into the fielding of a survey because management or the Board wants a customer satisfaction metric. A well-meaning email from high up says “we need to know our Net Promoter Score and how we compare to others” and there is a rush to push out a Net Promoter survey. Unfortunately, there was little forethought on the right way to respond to the feedback received. The precious gift – of the customer’s time, engagement, perspective, candor – goes unappreciated.
The more time perceived to be wasted, the greater the potential damage. We’ve been brought into re-energize CAB programs that are on life support. One of the main culprits is that senior customer contacts spent hours with the company in CAB meetings without clearly seeing any impact from the extensive feedback they shared. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to encourage those same contacts to attend another meeting. In fact, to add insult to injury, we’ve seen Promoters turn into dissatisfied customers because they felt they took valuable time out of their schedules for nothing.
So, until you’ve properly planned for how your organization is going to respond, action, and close the loop with your customers, I strongly advise you hold off on your VoC program.
2) The customer feedback elicited isn’t reliable or trustworthy.
This is a dangerous circumstance that often goes unnoticed because it’s almost always unintentional. A Voice of the Customer program is launched without employing the right governance processes or best practices, and it leads to junk data. This could be because there was gaming involved, because participation rates were low and the resulting dataset is not representative, or because the right people weren’t invited or asked the right questions in the first place.
Most of these conditions commonly come about because the program owner or executive sponsor delegates the design and execution of the program to someone without the requisite experience. Because there are so many pitfalls (some of which are difficult to detect), the ‘garbage in – garbage out’ situation arises. It also happens, innocently, because people inherently have preconceived notions or biases. If the individuals analyzing and interpreting the data & feedback are too close or have ‘skin in the game,’ they have a tendency to see what they want to see (see confirmation bias).
Take a moment to consider the potential ramifications. A leadership team correctly determines the company should solicit feedback from existing and/or potential customers to help answer some important questions. The program is deployed improperly, and junk data is returned. The executive summary with analysis and recommendations are shared, but they are based on feedback that isn’t reliable, or representative, or is skewed or biased in some way. The company might actually push forward on an investment or improvement project with faulty inputs!
I think you’d agree, this situation has the potential to be quite damaging. For that reason, it’s the second circumstance in which I strongly advise a company to hold off with their program launch, until they possess the knowledge and expertise to ensure the VoC program yields data and feedback that is reliable, trustworthy, representative and statistically valid.
For more on this topic, watch my video:
Because the team at Satrix Solutions is so passionate about the power and impact VoC programs can have on a business (when best practices are followed), we have long been committed to sharing content and thought leadership on a wide range of topics that are essential for strong design and execution. Several members of our team (including myself) also make ourselves available for complimentary office hours should you want expert advice on any of the topics we write about.
If you’re considering a new VoC program, or are looking to reinvigorate an existing one, I encourage you to check out our content or reach out to schedule time for us to talk.
As my Mom used to say – “If you’re going to do something, be sure it’s done right!”