The Customer Service Survey

It's Not Customer Feedback if it Didn't Come From a Customer

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2013-10-25 16:18

Getting good, actionable customer feedback is not easy. Wouldn't it be great if there was some technological solution which would just tell us how customers feel, and we could avoid all the mess and bother of actually going out there and talking to customers?

The world is not lacking for ideas of how to measure customer satisfaction without talking to customers. Back in the old days of call centers, a lot of people thought they could track a few metrics (average time to answer, abandon rate, etc.) and know that customers were satisfied.

These days I see more technological solutions like speech analytics and big data number crunching. But I have yet to see anything which comes even close to convincing me that it can replace direct customer feedback for understanding what opinions the customer has, and why.

The problem is that without getting your hands dirty and talking to customers, you are limited to information available on your own side of the customer experience. Customer experiences, like any other kind of story, have (at least) two sides: the customer's side and the company's side. Even with perfect records of the entire interaction, you only have the company's side of the story.

This becomes obvious when you put a customer interview next to the record of the customer experience. As human beings, customers carry a lot of invisible baggage into any interaction: they may be biased by outside factors, they want to avoid making waves, they don't want to embarrass themselves or the employee they are dealing with, and if the experience is going badly they don't want it to last any longer than it has to.

So what appears to be a calm, forgiving customer could be seething with rage on the inside. Or someone who seems to accept the company's resolution to a problem may be planning to take his business elsewhere at the next opportunity. And the customer is actively hiding his true feelings because of the social context of the customer interaction.

But when you approach the customer and ask for feedback in the right way (that is, in a way which communicates that you want honest feedback, care about the customer's opinion, and genuinely want to improve) you will get this side of the story. And what's more, you will also be able to get the customer to explain why he feels the way he feels, what could be done differently, and how any problems could be fixed.

None of this is available using just the data available with the company's side of the story. The best technology in the world can't find information which simply is not there.

(That said, if there is way I want to be the one to invent it. Never say never.)

So that's why I say that it's not customer feedback if it didn't come from the customer. Metrics, analytics, and big data are all powerful tools, but they can't tell you what the customer is thinking.

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