The Liability of Customer Feedback


According to a Gartner Research study conducted in 2008, 95% of companies in the United States solicit feedback from customers who frequent their brands. That’s great news! It means the over-whelming majority of leaders in corporate America have realized the true potential of gathering customer feedback as a means to secure long-term revenue growth through loyal customer relationships. As consumers, we should delight in our new-found, direct-line voice to the brands we care about. As survey nerds, we should feel validated that our craft has become an important part of the service profit chain. All is good in the world.

Well, not really. If you get the sense that the “95% feedback” statistic is not the fully story, you’re right! Now we get into the ugly part: the study also found that only 10% of companies gathering customer feedback deploy and improve their companies based on the solicited feedback. That’s a dismal truth. 90% of companies only go half way to a full-circle feedback loop that evolves the company to better suit the needs of its customers. This is borderline irresponsible – it essentially means that the customer’s feedback is falling on deaf or disinterested ears.

Enter the liability.

Any time we ask people to participate in our customer survey process, we’re asking them to invest in our brand. We’ve asked them for a deeper level of commitment and what we promise in return, even though it is never explicitly stated, is to match the investment with action. We make an unspoken commitment that their feedback will not go into an abyss or be digitally round-filed. When we, as business leaders, fail to take action on customer feedback, we do subtle damage to our brands long term.
Bottom line is this: feedback is perishable and if it’s not acted upon, it goes rotten and stinks up the entire company image. We need systems that make it fast and easy to act on customer feedback…
Decay future survey efforts
By not taking action on survey input, it sends a clear message to our customers: we care enough to ask but not enough to listen. How long would you continue to invest in a relationship where you knew the other party would not listen? Not very long. We must treat our customer’s feedback investment as precious.

Alienate valuable customers
Often it’s some of our most valuable customers who provide constructive input on our products and services. Shouldn’t it be our single-most important role as business operators to figure out how to serve our most valuable customers better? By ignoring our customers raves and requests, we cause them to question their decision to remain with out brand.

This reminds me of the countless times I completed a customer survey for our bank stating that I despise the automated answering system and rage-inducing menu options to reach a real person. They didn’t listen. I ultimately switched to a bank that has humans answering the phone. Certainly, I was not the only one.

Inability to recover
It doesn’t matter what company we’re talking about, everyone has customer service efforts that miss the mark at times. We swing for the fences and strike out – it happens to the best of companies. However, we can’t relegate ourselves to simply leaving it at that. We must find out about these occurrences quickly and act to recover a defecting customer. Any customer that is willing to tell us about a bad experience is open to a recovery – they wouldn’t have told us about it otherwise – they would have just walked away.

Bottom line is this: feedback is perishable and if it’s not acted upon, it goes rotten and stinks up the entire company image. We need systems that make it fast and easy to act on customer feedback in as close to real-time as we can. Without smart systems and a desire to change and improve, we’re almost better off not asking customers at all.

By Ryan Farmer

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