If I were to ask all the marketers in the room to summarize the feedback they’ve received from their 20 most recent customer conversations, I think we’d all be surprised at how few could do it. There’s no doubt that customer insight is critical to driving business success but capturing it in a meaningful way, organizing it, and leveraging it effectively can be a daunting task. Too often, customer feedback is reactive (i.e., there’s an immediate and urgent problem) or a one-off and not at the scale needed to be directionally valuable. In either case, it’s fragmented, not collected consistently, has no defined focus and is not disseminated to the right internal stakeholders.
The Value of customer feedback
In his book, The Lean Startup, Eric Ries champions voice of customer as a way to bootstrap innovation through iterative cycles of development, customer testing, and customer feedback. The intent is to bring to life a minimum viable product for which a target audience is willing to pay. The customer is at the center of the product development process and continues to be as the product and business mature.
And while Ries is speaking in terms of a start-up, the concept should apply equally well to any organization. After all, your customers are paying for your product or service. They’re in the trenches, day to day, dealing with the pain points that your offering is designed to address. Furthermore, they’ll be the first to tell you about a gap in functionality, a breakdown in process, or a challenge with efficiency. They’re a wealth of knowledge about what you should deliver next, why it’s important to them, and what it’s worth. Likewise, they can be your greatest champions or biggest detractors. As marketers, it’s our job to know which it is, why it is, and what to do about it.
All that said, if your organization has a well-oiled customer feedback program in place (many do!), that’s fantastic and you can stop reading here. For the rest of us, I’ve outlined a few things to consider as you think about your own program – whether it already exists or whether you’re developing something from scratch.
The customer perspective is critically important. Since I’m advocating for customer centricity, let’s start with them.
- Make your clients a part of the process.
Whether you’re already managing a customer feedback program or starting fresh, a conversation with a few friendly accounts will establish a sentiment of shared ownership and promote a willingness to support. At a minimum, you should discuss the intent of the program and ask them how they would like to be involved and how they would like to be asked for feedback. Be sure to discuss the frequency of contact and mutual expectations about the process.
- Make your program mutually beneficial.
As stakeholders, your customers will be interested in the findings of any research that they’ve supported. For participants of any customer advisory program, plan to offer a summary report highlighting themes, areas of focus, and an action plan the organization intends to take. As the program evolves, report out on progress. This action demonstrates commitment.
- Be respectful of your client’s time.
Whether you’re sending a survey, hosting a call, or leading a small group session, set expectations clearly about the topic as well as time commitments – then execute accordingly. Surveys should be short and to the point. Calls and meetings should have a clear agenda and timekeeper. Make sure your topic is thoroughly vetted and doesn’t take any more time than is needed.
- Show gratitude.
Reality check! You’re not as important to your customers as they are to you. They’re also likely being petitioned to participate in numerous feedback programs. Communicate often – with intent – and make sure to thank them for any time that they make available to you.
Within your organization, it’s important to establish a clear process with clear intent and ownership and then support the program accordingly.
- Identify an owner (and, ideally, an executive sponsor)
A RACI matrix (RACI) – a methodology for assigning team members to a project – works well here. The program should have a responsible party, or recommender, who will develop and implement the program end-to-end. This is combined with an executive sponsor, or approver, as well as contributors and those who need to be informed of the program’s scope and progress.
- Bring internal stakeholders together for governance
As part of a RACI matrix, the program owner should convene a regularly scheduled steering committee (or SteerCo) to determine program structure, expected outcomes, success criteria, and other program details.
- Know what you want to get out of the program.
Understanding a customer’s perspective on features is very different than having a discussion about operational efficiency and cost savings. Be clear on what’s important to understand and with whom you need to speak to get the information you want.
- Start Simple. Iterate. Improve.
But where to start? In past experience, I’ve often kicked off customer feedback programs with a broad customer satisfaction survey. The results were immediately actionable and helped dictate what to prioritize in an initial round of customer interviews. To prime the process and set expectations accordingly, we briefed our client service teams, sales, and other customer-facing roles as well as pre-promoted the survey to customers to raise awareness. As a starting point, this would precede a round of virtual 1:1 interviews or small group discussions leveraging the key points outlined above. As processes mature, changes can be made or additional elements can be introduced as needed.
Over the years, I’ve successfully implemented a number of voice-of-customer programs each of which has its own scale, scope, and rhythm of business based on organizational need. Above all else, my biggest takeaway was to be consistent and to clearly communicate as often as needed to set expectations with participating customers. Equally important – and I advise my clients of this all the time – take accountability for what you learn and share that with your customers as well. Make the process transparent and let them know how much you’ve valued their input by taking action as a result. At the end of the day, it’s about nurturing these relationships and maintaining a mutually beneficial conversation about their success.
About the Author
Brent Phillips is an Atlanta-area product marketing executive, engineer, and educator. He is also the owner and developer of servbetter.io, a platform designed to help service organizations optimize their customer experience through feedback tools and analytics. You can reach him directly by emailing email@example.com.