Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Managing Consumer Feedback – Listen, Understand, React

Recently I filled out a consumer survey for a company that I shop with regularly. The company in question will remain nameless; suffice to say that with my consumer hat on, I found myself getting fairly frustrated with the way in which the survey was structured and delivered.

As is frequently the case, this led me to put my professional hat back on and started me thinking why, with consumer feedback and insight being more important than ever in the current climate, would a company rollout such a substandard survey? Surely collecting and analyzing consumer feelings and opinions is critical in determining how your business is doing and how you can improve services?

Having a feedback programme is an extremely valuable asset, although embracing it and using it to its largest potential is equally important. My recent experience has shown me that having a feedback programme is not enough on its own; there must be a culture within the business that embraces it. As a consumer it is easy to spot when a company is simply paying lip service to consumer feedback, it is also clear when a company cares for the data gained from their programme and understands their consumers purchasing behaviours and attitudes.

A commitment to consumer feedback should be evident in different channels, not purely with consumer surveys. For example, social media is an excellent resource of honest consumer feedback as are face to face interviews, as long as you are aware that different channels will produce different sorts of results (typically responses gained through social are far more likely to be honest than those gained in person).

Somewhere in the middle of this scale is not responding to a disgruntled person effectively, which on Twitter is in some ways worse than not responding at all. Given the immediacy of the format, any interactions deemed to below standard can quickly proliferate around the Twitterverse, particularly if the user is well connected with a large following. Embracing feedback and being committed however is wholly different from being obsessed. Listening and reacting to feedback is appreciated by consumers, whereas a contiguous barrage of surveys is likely to be a nuisance. On a practical level, survey questions should be kept relevant and the surveys generally should be kept as short as possible or your consumers will be left as frustrated as I was during my recent surveying experience.

But where do you start? If you want to gain valuable consumer feedback and use it to improve your business, you can follow these best practises below:

1. Implement a feedback programme and commit yourself to building a culture of understanding the important of consumer feedback to the direction of your business in the future.

2. Make sure your employees are encouraging consumer feedback although they should also appreciate that their approach and manner is critical if they are to avoid annoying consumers.

3. Manage and analyze consumer feedback with systems to gain valuable insight into consumers’ needs and wants as well as buying patterns.

4. Take action with the consumer feedback information. Use your insight to correct any issues or concerns and let your consumers know when they have been corrected in order to build rapport. Never ignore your consumers’ feedback; this is will have a negative effect on your consumer loyalty.

5. Learn to share the feedback with the whole company and don’t leave valuable insight sitting in one department; the entire business should be aware of consumer service data.

6. Act promptly with all feedback however it is gained, if a consumer has a poor experience with one of your products or services and defects to a competitor there is little point in contacting that consumer 2 months later or even a month later. The opportunity has been missed and the chance of retaining that consumer has gone.

7. Decide your communication methods and the mixture of channels in order for your consumers to feedback using the medium they feel most appropriate and comfortable with i.e. Twitter, email or telephone.

The ultimate objective of consumer feedback is to create new ideas from recommendations, resolve problems and improve consumer service. The increased engagement with consumers can help form tighter purchasing relationships and build significant brand value. In turn, it will also help your business make better informed decisions based on your consumer’s behaviours, attitudes and experiences; decisions that will be more profitable in the long term.

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