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Why do you ask for customer feedback?

Apr 16, 2023 Management, Sunday Nation

You’re familiar, I’m sure, with the guest feedback survey that hotels send out to those who have stayed with them. You click a link, provide some ratings based on your experience of the hotel, and perhaps some more detailed points if you have the time or inclination.

That opportunity, however, is typically provided soon after a guest stay is over. The other day, I was surprised to receive an email asking to provide a quick rating during my sojourn with a hotel. I was taken aback—and then quickly saw the point.

If you encourage and receive feedback while a customer experience is still happening, this gives you a chance to review matters before it is too late. In my experience, most hotel feedback provided after a stay is usually met with bland, saccharine, soporific responses. Or sometimes, the really dumb reactions by managers—denials, abuse, recriminations, even playing out publicly on TripAdvisor.

But if a hotel receives a subpar rating while a guest is still at the property, that can result in an automated ping to the manager on the ground to step in to find out what’s wrong, to remediate, to rescue matters. If done smoothly and sincerely, this achieves two big results: it shows the client that the institution actually cares about their experience while it is happening; and it prevents matters from descending further. Good thinking.

Processes, however, are not results. This sort of automated feedback triggering can be done with ease these days; what matters, though, is what happens next. And that takes me back to a point I often make here: what really sets customer-experience (CX) champions apart are their fundamental principles and intentions regarding their clients.

Why do you want customers to give you feedback in the first place? Don’t rush to the standard answer—to help us improve ourselves. That, I’m afraid, is only true for a few. The majority ask for feedback for a whole different bunch of reasons. Because our competitors do it, and it makes us look bad if we don’t. Because it gives us an audit trail with which to whip or reward our employees. Because it acts as a salve to customers if we let them believe we care what they think.

Because it helps us pretend we care, in other words.

The true CX champions out there are fundamentally different. They actually care what customers feel and express about them. They flinch whenever customer feedback is tough. It hurts them when their hard work in designing and delivering great CX is not reflected in customer sentiment. When they get bad ratings, they scramble: to apologise, to redress, to fix, and to learn.

CX champions are serious about CX, in other words. They care deeply about being the best they can—and this caring is transmitted throughout the organization. Owners care first. Then they hire leaders who care. When bosses care, frontline workers also care. The caring leads to rewards, as well as consequences. The feedback customers give in this situation really matters—it is acted upon, and it is the data that feeds improvement.

A great CX engine like that one leads to excellent results. It helps you make more money, firstly. Customers who feel cared for tend to do many things for you: they stick with you; they recommend you to others; and they become less price-sensitive when they know they can trust your intentions. Sealing a happy and steady community of customers is the holy grail of business—it provides the regular pool of money from which everything else can be paid out—salaries, bonuses, dividends, supplies, taxes. Without great CX, that pool starts to dry out and shrink.

Great CX also provides a happier workplace. Employees feel great about their work when they can see the smiles on their customers. General goodwill generates general positivity, and that makes employees stick as well. A place where there is high customer churn usually has high employee churn as well, with the line of causation running both ways. It is a place of scowls and suspicions.

Do you need a third reason? OK, since you asked. We should also care about CX because that is the first, most visible result of our work—and we should care about our work. We shouldn’t do good CX just to strike a good pose, or to win the PR game—we should do it because it matters personally and privately to us. We should do it because we are not here to wallow in mediocrity. We should do it because we are not here to trick and deceive customers. We are here because we care about our work.

So do ask for for customer feedback, by all means. Ask for it smartly and opportunely. Make it easy to provide, and act on it quickly and meaningfully. But the big question remains: why are we asking for this feedback, and what will we do with it?

(Sunday Nation, 16 April 2023)

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