It's a question every brand that's really thinking about its customers needs to ask. Customer feedback from reviews and surveys is essential to build up a brand, keep customers satisfied, and drive sales from new sources. But there’s a catch — some of that feedback is a white elephant.
Eh? “White elephant?”
“White el·e·phant / noun — a possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of.”
Sure, that pile of raw customer data looks impressive and research-y, but without proper analysis and application, it amounts to a pile of expensive *ahem* data points collecting virtual dust.
4 Ways to get the right kind of customer feedback
Many companies treat customer feedback like it's pure gold, but that mindset can quickly backfire. The most frequent feedback might have nothing to do with what really makes your customers stay or leave. It pays to know which feedback is relevant to your bottom line, and which is just empty venting. It helps to gather the right data in the first place.
1. Remove bias from the equation — tainted answers are useless
Many retailers, stores, and brands put an outsize premium on positive customer reviews. Customers are often given incentives like discount codes and free items in exchange for positive reviews; it’s common to receive an order from Amazon, for example, with a small card asking for a positive review (“if you are satisfied with our product”). There's incentive to gaming the system — studies show that reviews for a product have a direct correlation to purchase probability; the higher the review, the more likely it will be for customers to purchase that product over another.
While it may seem like a good idea to increase response rates, this is a cardinal sin in the world of data gathering. Biased responses are absolutely useless when it comes to assessing your business success. They inflate your numbers in the short-term, sure. But in the long-term, they act like a slow poison for your value proposition because they don't reflect reality. You'll be creating your own expectation gap.
2. Ask intentional questions — don’t ask if you can’t deliver
Brands need to be highly intentional about the questions they ask customers. Even if it's about a relevant issue, if the brand cannot or will not act on customer feedback, it defeats the purpose of the exercise. Not to mention, customers will be left with the impression that the brand either doesn't care or isn't competent enough to make the changes.
Many brands also make the mistake of asking for too much information, and as a result, bite off more than they can chew. Customers often expect that when a brand asks about something, it’s about something they can act on or improve. Strategize about what you can and cannot do. Only collect data on actionable issues, and market the improvements appropriately.
3. Reduce friction — short and sweet is the way to go
Speaking of too much, let’s imagine for a moment that you’re a customer. You’re generally happy with your purchase and the brand asks for feedback. But the survey is long, it asks too many and even sometimes weird or leading questions, which then makes it confusing. There are too many numbers to process and there are too many answers to choose from. Your satisfaction quickly turns into frustration.
It’s not an uncommon story. At best, you fail to gather relevant information. At worst, that last frustrating contact with your brand will leave a lasting impression on your customer, which could very well affect their decision to buy from you in the future.
Keep the feedback process simple and to-the-point. Define what you want feedback on, or the customer may very well define it for you, to your detriment.
4. Take returns as a form of feedback — they're more valuable that way
One feedback channel often overlooked is customer returns. The action of returning itself already reflects customer feedback — too many returns of a single product could mean a defective shipment or product line, or your return policy could be needlessly lax and ripe for abuse. It can also be a symptom of how customer feedback (usually reviews) can backfire.
Sales can seem like the end-all, but that’s only on the surface. Returns don't always cancel out a purchase, but in many cases they do cost the company. Even more reason to take a closer look at them as direct feedback, rather than writing them off as one more operating expense.
But some make it harder than it needs to be...
Returns don't always have to be negative, either. Take FlipFit's strategy, for example. You can virtually try on clothes, get your shipment, then send back what you don't want. Returns are built into the customer journey and aren't just expected, but encouraged. You can bet they're using that return information to improve their buying experience, too.
While customer feedback is important, it’s important to recognize the right kind of feedback, and take the right steps to manage that data and — most importantly — follow through. It’s a significant investment in both time and dollars, but it comes with a generous return down the road.
Take a closer look at the quality of the customer feedback process, its relationship to your customer experience, and how all these moving parts affect your bottom line. Brands can't afford to treat customer feedback in a casual or cavalier way, but that's just the bare minimum. To really reap the benefits and keep up with the speed of change, you need to go above and beyond.