5 ways customer feedback systems are damaging your brand, and what to do about it.

Feedback from customers, about how businesses collect feedback from them, is cause for concern. It's called customer feedback systems where we get opinions of our customers about our services or products. 

We’re all exposed to regular pressure, to give our opinion of a product or service. Sometimes we have to give feedback before the completion of transaction.

In our increasingly data-driven society, where KPIs are the language & performance measures of any enterprise, whether business, not-for-profit, or government, it’s easy to identify the reasons for this relentless and ubiquitous feedback-gathering.

But what seems less obvious, is the corrosive, longer-term impact on your customers.

So while an individual brand may see no harm in a quick little survey, it’s actually the cumulative effect of multiple brands integrating feedback at multiple touchpoints, that's creating a backlash.

As an insight to what ‘real’ customers have to say about it, I’ve extracted reader comments from a recent article about customer feedback-systems, by Stuff writer Jane Bowron.

This is like a case-study of a customer discussion forum. Insights into the Hearts & Minds of a group of people, via an online conversation, and a technique I’ve personally found very productive for B2C.

As it taps into social-media conditioning on mobile, resulting in people’s high comfort level and openness, when given stimulating topics and problems to solve in a friendly environment.    

Note - as with any ‘qualitative’ research method, the comments and interpretation are not projectable as statistics. But instead, are indicative of potential reasons WHY people are rebellious. And in a wider research project might be quantifies and certify or not, in a larger sample survey.

It could be argued that because the article takes a poke at feedback, albeit in a light-hearted way, there could be a built-in bias towards the negative. But that underestimates what I usually find to be people’s honesty and directness in such a forum. And there are also positive comments in the chat thread.

 And while these people may be more outspoken than the more passive majority, they are also most likely to be influential in their social (on & off-line) circles. And will sway others, in an era when people will often trust their friends’ opinions more than marketing messages.

So, here are 5 major themes raised by the group, including individual quotes. Not in any particular order of importance, but they do tend to echo market research industry concerns based on other studies. 

1. No one’s actually listening

There’s cynicism that the survey is “only to make the company appear they are listening”, and people question whether their input will make any difference … “the worst thing is you give them honest and rigorous feedback and nothing changes. It seems as if it is like they are only seeking positive feedback for affirmation; not improvement. It is just a box ticking exercise like mission and values statements.”

WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) is a key issue, as with any aspect of marketing … “these surveys are annoying and you are doing a company a favour with extremely little chance of anything in return”. Summed up as … “the idea of feedback is that the recipient modifies their practice, not continue in the same vein.”

While this story highlights a positive outcome …“after I gave a scathing feedback to an automated email after a car service, I was contact to a member of staff, I was offer an apology, they actually made changes to their procedures and fixed the issues I had raised at their cost. It took a few hours out of my life but I believe it was a win win for all parties in the end. I'm just speaking from experience. Perhaps genuine, brutal and honest feedback sticks out and is noticed.”

2. Irrelevant contact

Goes to the heart of the instant, on-the-spot surveys.

Like this example of an inbound call about a dishwasher that broke down while under guarantee …“the person at the end of the phone was difficult to understand and it took forever to try and get the problem sorted asking what appeared to be irrelevant questions and then we were asked to give feedback. I said never in your nelly.” The good news is they called the company back later to talk to a different person, and found someone able to get the machine fixed.

Then there’s our old friends, the telecoms … “my new Spark account manager called me to say he's now taken over from the previous guy. That was it, just a courtesy call and then I get the feedback request of how well they'd done PLUS he asked for a 9 or 10 rating. Really??”

3. Opening the gate to spam

This is of course, a perennial challenge in managing direct-marketing communications, and research surveys are no different … “If you do one survey then you will get another and another in your Inbox - every month. Better to avoid them in the first place.”

 And not limited to any particular channel. There are the apps, where it’s very easy to hard-wire in a survey … “Dominos has this on their app, once you enter once, the emails of spam never stop.”

 And the retail dockets … “just ignore it, it is also an information gathering exercise, once you have handed over your e-mail address you will get e-mails you don't want or need. Best thing I do is check my docket is correct re my purchase scrunch up in my right hand and throw in the yellow bin. Job done.”

This theme also connected a related issue of not trusting competitions … “and I also NEVER, EVER, give my e-mail address in order to win some mythical prize. You never hear who wins, or indeed IF anyone ever wins.”

4. Staff get into trouble

In the rush to automate, and link customer feedback data with staff performance, down to an individual level, there’s a fairness issue that’s on people’s radar … “the feedback and ratings are used to measure the sales person who did the sale. And if you don't rate them a 9 or a 10, they get in trouble.”.

Uber is a high profile example, which “uses the driver ratings against them as they want their service to be "trusted" and seen as better than the competition. While it’s wrong and rather dishonest its par for the course with these platforms, everyone should read "What’s Yours Is Mine" by Tom Slee you would avoid these money making platforms as the poor people are just trying to earn a living but are feeding multi-millionaires.”

What is a simple feedback survey to you, may be sending a negative message about your social values.

5. Quality control

All self-completed surveys are vulnerable to the level of participant engagement with the process i.e. whether they’re giving it their full attention, and giving carefully considered responses OR clicking through in cruise mode, just to get it over and done with for the prize-draw.

“I don't mind the ones that have a few yes / no or 1-5 questions (except I never use 1 or 5 so they're flawed). But you get to a second or third screen and suddenly they want an entire essay on your experience. Then I either type nonsense or don't finish the survey.”

So it’s a balancing act for sure, designing the questions and scales to gather useful data, especially in a very short point-of-purchase type. And in that example, the participant wasn’t given enough information about the duration of the survey and what to expect. 

And a related article here describes a new feedback tool, where you can’t complete the Eftpos transaction until you’ve answered a question. This comment revealing an avoidance technique, based on the participant’s previous experience … “I find it intrusive already, and I haven't seen it yet. Just pressing 0 every time is "a response", as is shopping elsewhere or online.”

This folds in a related theme on how the participant’s mood and distractions can affect quality … “although feedback is subjective and can depend on so can sometimes have nothing to do with what happened but everything to do with the fact the survey was there they had a bad day and they can’t vent at their loved ones or co-workers.”

What to do about it?

The 5 points create a dehumanised perception of research surveys, just being shoved at people without context of the experience, purpose and outcomes – essential hallmarks of a trusting interaction.

Which is unfortunate because both businesses and customers are gaining an impression of market research being devalued to the level of robocall-telemarketing.

While instant-feedback systems may be here to stay, to fulfill the need for a KPI, they’re no substitute for in-depth insights into not just the WHAT, but the WHY of your customers’ perceptions and behaviour. “Crowded store, specials not quite as good as you'd expected, harsh lighting, trouble finding a car park, just having a bad day? No problem. Now you can vent your feelings without providing any reason or context. Possibly the most self-destructive investment retailers can get.”

Context. Without it, you just have a bunch of numbers, But not the real feedback on how to continuously improve & innovate in your customer service, experience, messaging, and content marketing.

The solution is Research as Relationships & Conversations

This means gathering feedback from customers, away from the high-pressure of point-of-purchase surveys, online or off-line, and the types of brand-damage expressed in these comments.

So that people feel engaged, valued and comfortable with the process. Trusting of your motives, sharing your sense of purpose, and vested in the outcome. Just like your ‘real-life’ relationships!

Giving you the tangible benefit of much more in-depth, actionable research information.

OK, it means changing the mindset & methodology from ‘0-9 Rating’ KPIs, OR at the very least complementing them with a new context and meaning.

Here’s an example of practical steps in a B2C business …

  • Recruit a permission-database of people who want to give you feedback – think of it as a ‘Pop-Up’ Insights Community. This can be branded like a VIP Advisory Panel, something catchy to suit your category.
  • The ‘sense of purpose’ is to give you their feedback, and improve their experience of your product/service. Its not about prizes, even though that’s part of the essential ‘housekeeping’.
  • Send them regular short, fun surveys, more like a pop-quiz, they complete in their own time and space as entertainment, not a chore.
  • Invite them to participate in conversation forums where they exchange opinions and ideas with other customers. Like the comments in this case-study - honest views that come together as themes for either further confirmation or overnight decision-making when you’re stuck. And yes, we have an on-line platform for that ?.
  • ‘Shareback’ the outcomes of their participation, so people don’t feel they’ve given up their valuable time for no return. This can also be included in periodic newsletters.                              

Relationship-based research does not thrive in cold isolation. The warm sense of community between your brand and your customer, and between customers, will help counter the negatives of irrelevancy and spam. They will actually look forward to your communications because of the high engagement values and sense of purpose.

Last word …

“For service providers with long term major relationships with clients, constant communication that is meaningful and not time wasting is key. As I think if a service provider doesn't ask, they won’t know what they should continue doing and need to amend or stop.”

If you’d like to know more about Research as Relationships & Conversations, please reach out for a chat.


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