In life, each of us interacts with people who think we’re the greatest thing ever or the least impressive thing they’ve ever seen. In our daily interactions, we get feedbacksome subtle, some not-so-subtle—that indicates what people think of us and whether or not they agree with our dress choices or driving decisions.

We’re constantly learning what we’re good at and where we may want to consider our life choices and make a change.

Business is no different.

Customer feedback (aka Voice of the Customer) is a gift. I believe that. Your customers are doing you a huge favor by taking time to alert you to a problem when it occurs with your business or to their happiness when that’s the outcome.

Business is more competitive than it has ever been, and differentiation is tough. Your competitors can and will imitate your products. Your competitors can and will imitate your pricing. Customer experience (CX) remains one of the most profuse opportunities for your business to stand out.

Customer feedback should be cherished, not evaded. That’s because the value of customer feedback is heightened today as customer experience sways purchase decisions more than ever. In less than a year, companies will be competing on their ability to deliver on CX. According to Walker, customer experience will become the key competitive differentiator for B2B customers, outweighing price and product.

Listening to and analyzing customer feedback is crucial to ensure businesses meet or are able to exceed ever-growing customer expectations.

And, let’s be very clear. Those expectations are high: More than three out of four customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. No business is exempt from this.

A core question for businesses in this day-and-age is this: Are you listening—really listening—to each and every one of your customers?

Harnessing the swell of customer feedback

I’ve interviewed dozens of companies to learn why so few businesses make a strong level of commitment to feedback and customer service. One of the main obstacles is the overwhelming amount of data available.  

Yes, your customers are talking about your business in more places today and in greater number than you realize. Thanks to the internet, customers have a multitude of options to give you feedback, and they use these options every day based on convenience and circumstance.

Digital channels provide fairly straightforward ways to gauge customer attitudes based on social media posts and online review, but the volume of available data can be vast, and the implications can be unclear.

For example, the overwhelming majority of tweets about a particular business do not tag the business in question. Most businesses don’t participate or listen in online forums, and there are entire communities of people that get overlooked online every day. Unstructured Voice of the Customer (VoC) data is like trying to make a sculpture out of water: the material, not the maker, is in control.

Structured VoC data isn’t ironclad either. Many companies go to the trouble of asking customers to complete surveys but invalidate those responses by encouraging the wrong behavior.

There are several examples of how businesses do this, but one of my favorites to pick on is the auto industry. Many dealerships financially reward their employees for high survey scores rather than reward their employees for high survey completion rates. Surveys and structured data mechanisms should embrace real feedback, not manufactured feedback that is influenced by the person that data represents.

If your Voice of the Customer (VoC) program relies on understanding the customer experience mostly or entirely offline, you have a novel challenge to manage: Less than 0.5% of customers follow through on leaving feedback once they’ve left your store. To optimize customer experience, you must have data about CX, and it’s not as easy to come by offline without easy and obstacle-free mechanisms in place.

When you assemble the data mechanisms for your VoC program, the goal is to get the most complete picture of your customers and to understand their experience as fully as possible.

Here’s one area you may not have considered: include your employees in the data collection process. According to McKinsey, including your employees in customer experience design can boost their engagement by up to 20%, which boosts customer satisfaction rates. Your VoC data is most effective when it includes all customer sentiments, including overt responses, and non-overt mentions.

Without data, it’s impossible to improve, and improvements are paramount. A single bad experience has an effect. Fifty-seven percent of customers have stopped buying from a company because a competitor provided a better experience.

Losing customers is bad for the bottom line. Not only is that customer lost, but it will cost your business 5–25x as much to acquire a replacement than it does to keep one you’ve already earned.

FREE GUIDE: How to Run a Successful VoC Program 

VoC data: how to act on the good, the bad and the impartial 

Most companies today want to hear from their customers, but they are also afraid of what customers might say. Here’s what I want you to remember: Feedback of any kind—positive, neutral, or negative—is a gift. It’s a gift your customers are openly giving you and oftentimes, it’s free. When received, your customers are going out of their way to tell you what they like, or where you fall short.

I released a modern customer service book called “Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers.” In the book, I wrote, “One of the least-discussed benefits of hugging your haters (complainers) and paying attention to customer feedback is the potential to glean insights about your business that can improve your operations and processes.”

When you’re able to analyze and act to improve your operations, feedback isn’t something to be scared of. Rather, it’s massively valuable information that can be a catalyst for excellence. Regardless of the tone or sentiment, feedback tells you what to do, where to get better, or where to remove the friction that’s frustrating your customers.   

Positive feedback

We all love to hear what we’re doing well or how we’ve made someone’s day or life more awesome. While good for the ego, positive feedback is the least informational. Praise makes you feel terrific, but it’s not very illuminating because chances are you almost already know what you’re good at, don’t you?  

Positive feedback provides validation, and it can also tell us what to continue doing and what to keep alive. If you’re beginning to get positive feedback on a touchpoint in your customer journey that you set out to improve, you’ve got an insight into your CX process and the decisions you’re making.

Take that positive feedback and evaluate how you can repeat your approach for another priority in your customer experience improvement plan.

Neutral feedback

People who take the time to give a three-star review or answer your survey question with a middle-of-the-line neutral are neither encouraging nor are they warning off future behavior.

But they are doing something.

They are documenting their satisfactory experiences, and they are giving you operational nuggets of insight. Look for trends in their experiences. Middling reviews are authentic.

By analyzing the topics that repeatedly come up in this feedback, businesses can address persistent issues that annoy customers but are not deal-breakers. Instead of taking this feedback as indifference, see the gold lurking behind it. Look at the content. What’s the actual commentary you’re reading? Break it down, categorize it, and score it. In doing this, your business can resolve minor complaints before they become larger problems.

Negative feedback

When your customers complain, they are the canaries in the coal mine. What these customers are doing is providing you an early warning detection system for your business. The real problem isn’t people who have a poor experience and let you know about it. The real problem for businesses is people who aren’t passionate enough about your company to take the time to say anything.  

For as big a deal as they seem, complaints and negative feedback are the mathematical minority. Ninety-five percent of disgruntled customers do not complain to the entity responsible for their dissatisfaction. Be thankful for the 5% that do. They’re giving you a roadmap to fix whatever it is that ails your business.

Respond to the negativity

Your customers will tell you both offstage (in traditional communications channels like email or phone) and onstage (in social media, discussion boards, forums, et al.) how your business is doing. For most businesses, offstage complaints are the majority.

Sixty-two percent of complaints are first made via telephone or email, but the balance of power between offstage and onstage complaints is shifting rapidly. Why? There’s a shifting perception in the ease of use and difference in outcome if a complaint is made publicly or onstage.  

Not ironically, the issues communicated in social media, review sites, forums or message boards are more frivolous than those communicated on the phone or via email. When complaining in public, onstage complainers expect a response roughly half of the time. In many cases, they’re airing grievances onstage and want an audience, not necessarily a response. When people tell you what they think in private or offstage, they almost always expect a response. This is because they are looking for an answer.

The problem is that many complaints go unanswered. Answering complaints increases customer advocacy. Not answering them decreases customer advocacy. This is true for all customers across all customer service channels.

Here’s the shocker: The greatest advocacy impact occurs when you help your customers who don’t expect you to respond. Customers have come to anticipate a particular style and speed of response from businesses. If you can defy or exceed those expectations, it creates an effect, making customers more likely to advocate on your company’s behalf.

While the negativity can be maddening, it’s anything but. Not only does it provide you with valuable information about your operational performance, but it’s also an opportunity to create advocacy with your customers.

The operational improvements formed in the petri dish of negativity can create business benefits that impact the bottom line, and this is an effect that can be massive in companies that understand the relationship between customer feedback and complaints, insights, customer service, and consequent customer experience tweaks.

Free Guide: How to Run a Successful VoC Program

This guide will teach you how to launch a VoC program, take action with your customer feedback, and prove the ROI of your efforts.

Get the Guide

Voice of the Customer (VoC) educational video 

We’re not the only ones obsessed with the Voice of the Customer. In fact, we recently partnered with our friends at Forrester and launched a webinar on how to build a simple and effective VoC program that impacts the bottom line.    

The webinar covered:

  • Why VoC is a critical pillar in a strong CX strategy.
  • How to build a simple and effective VoC Program.
  • How to quantify the business impact of your VoC efforts.

Check out the full webinar recording here.

Learn how GetFeedback can help you exceed customers’ expectations—start your free trial today.

About the guest author

Jay Baer

Jay Baer, founder of Convince & Convert

Jay Baer is the founder of Convince & Convert, a Hall of Fame keynote speaker and emcee, host of the award-winning Social Pros podcast, and the author of six books including his newest: Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth. Connect with him: convinceandconvert.com | @convince 

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