Vocalabs Newsletter: Quality Times


Closing the Loop in Closed Loop Customer Feedback

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Closing the Loop in Closed Loop Customer Feedback

Closed Loop is a popular buzzword for customer feedback programs today. It means implementing a formal process whereby customer feedback is used to drive change in the company in order to improve customer feedback.

This kind of cycle is a powerful tool--in fact, I would argue that it's pretty much the only way to build an effective and useful customer feedback process. After all, if the customer feedback isn't being used to drive change in the company, then what's it good for?

But most advocates of a closed loop process aren't really closing the loop. That's because most supposedly closed loop customer feedback processes don't formally consider the customer survey as part of the "loop" to be "closed." In other words, the company never reconsiders whether the survey is asking the right questions of the right people. It is just assumed that the survey should keep doing the same thing no matter what.

In fact, some of the proponents of closed loop processes actually advocate for very rigid and inflexible customer surveys: specific questions, with very particular sampling methods, applied in exactly the same way for every company.

That kind of rigidity (proponents would call it "consistency") is important for cross-company and cross-industry benchmarking, but it's not very helpful when trying to improve a particular customer experience at a particular company. It even sounds a little crazy to suggest that the customer survey which will yield useful, actionable feedback from a customer logging on to a bank website is the exact same customer survey which gives useful, actionable feedback from a customer buying a used car.

Instead, the customer survey itself needs to be part of the closed loop process. As companies examine their feedback they should constantly be asking questions like:

  • Are we asking the right questions?
  • Are we targeting the right customers for the survey?
  • Is this survey yielding useful data?
  • Are there issues we should be exploring in more depth on the survey?
  • Are the right people getting the right data from the survey to make the best use of it?

The questions to ask, customers to talk to, and how to use the survey data will all change constantly as the company and its business environment evolves. The survey which works today isn't likely to be optimal a year from now, and five years from now it may seem close to irrelevant.

So when you build your closed loop customer feedback process, remember that the customer feedback also needs to change with the company.

Metrics are Less Important than Process

I see a lot of people spend a lot of time and effort making sure they focus on the "right" metric in their customer feedback program. Net promoter? Customer Satisfaction? Customer Effort? Something else? All of the above?

There's often a lot less thought going into what to do with the survey data: who should get it, how often, how will it be used, how will people be coached and compensated, how will you follow up with customers, and so forth.

This is a big mistake, since most of the value of a successful customer feedback program comes from all the things that happen after the data is collected. In my not-very-scientific estimation, I would say that 75% of the value is in the process, with only 25% from the metrics.

I could be wrong, though: I would believe that as much as 90% of the value is in the process.

Even a mediocre metric is going to allow a lot of improvement in a well-designed closed-loop feedback process. But no metric, no matter how good, is going to drive change if there's no follow-through.

So why so much attention to the metric, and not everything else?

I think it's because deciding what metrics to include on a customer survey feels important but doesn't require much hard work. Everyone can advocate for their favorite survey questions, there can be a lively discussion, and an executive can weigh in to break the tie. You get to feel like you had a productive day.

But getting everything else right takes a lot more time, effort, and attention. A successful customer feedback program needs to be actively managed, it requires ongoing executive attention and support, and it requires constant tweaking to adjust to the changing dynamics of the business. You can't just throw money at it.

Most people think that the scarcest resource at most companies is money. That's often true in small companies, but most large companies have plenty of money to invest in the things they think are most important. In big companies, often the hardest resource to obtain is attention--especially executive attention.

So it's easier to pretend that the customer feedback program doesn't need any ongoing attention, that you can make the big decisions once and be done with them.

But that's not a recipe for success. Success requires focusing on the rest of the customer feedback process, and making it an ongoing priority. That's hard. And that's why people spend so much time worrying about the metric.

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