Death to the Survey: How to Turn Customer Feedback Into a Brand Experience

Three Ways Brands Can Improve Their Customer Data Collection Process

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This past summer my wife and I took advantage of our kids being at camp by going on vacation to what most would consider to be a high-end luxury property (we used hotel points). It was a great trip. The property was beautiful. The service was friendly. They were attentive to my wife's dietary needs, and over several days they came to know us and began to anticipate our preferences. Tea instead of coffee. Extra side of crispy bacon. Our last night, one of the waiters whom we had gotten to know pretty well did some card tricks at our table. It was a great week.

A few days after returning home, I got a survey from our hotel, and here's where things went off track. "Tell us how we did by completing this short survey." You probably know what comes next: A long online questionnaire that asked standard questions about how clean the rooms were, how enjoyable my stay was, etc. It felt like the questions were about someone else's trip. On vacation, they knew us so well. What happened?

Credit: iStock/Courtney Keating

While this interaction was disappointing, it wasn't surprising. Four years ago I founded VBP Orange to help brands elevate their customer experience. In that time we have recognized time and again the perceptual gaps that exist between marketers and their customers. For example, 81% of marketers expect to put more focus on customer insights and analytics. At the same time, 80% of customers say that they have abandoned a survey halfway through, and 52% of customers said that they would not spend more than 3 minutes filling out a feedback form.

How to solve this disconnect? Let's start by recognizing that collecting customer feedback is a brand interaction. As with any designed interaction, there are ways to create value and ways to detract from it. It's time for smart brands to reevaluate their approach to feedback. Asking a customer for feedback is another opportunity to create a meaningful brand touchpoint. Here are three things to remember when you create your brand's feedback mechanism:

1. "How did you feel?" trumps "How are we doing?" Customers don't want to be responsible for creating a report card for your employees or your stores. That's your job. When they're asked for this type of feedback, they see it as self-serving.

When you frame things from the customer's point of view, a shift happens. Customers feel that you're listening, so providing feedback doesn't feel like a burden. They want to relate their experience. They want to make the experience better. They just don't want to do your job for you.

2. It's all about expectations. When you are collecting customer feedback there is one question that matters more than any other: "Were your expectations met?" This is the starting point. When I went on vacation with my wife, I had an expectation of what it would be like. My expectations were high, and they were largely met. I'd be happy to give the hotel more details about a couple of areas where they weren't, and I'd much rather do that than fill in a 10-point scale on every relevant metric they can think of. Dissatisfaction is the gap between reality and expectation. Is your customer survey collecting that?

3. Make it a dialogue. Ask yourself: How many times have you filled out an email survey for an airline, hotel or service visit, expressed some dissatisfaction, no matter how small or large, only to never hear back from the company or brand, or to get the automatically generated "Thank You!"? Too often customers provide their thoughts, good or bad, and they simply go unacknowledged. Want your brand to stand out? Respond to feedback. Brands that respond to feedback in a meaningful way not only impress customers with their responsiveness, but they make them more likely to give more feedback because they feel like they can truly impact their experience. That's when customers become fans.

None of what I've outlined here seems that difficult, does it? Why aren't more brands doing feedback in a more customer-centric way? That's simple: We all kneel at the altar of Big Data, or pretend to, and a customer-centric front-end feedback mechanism is at cross-purposes with the needs of back-end data analytics. Don't hold it against them, but the people who are tasked with collecting data from customers are simply not incentivized to create a feedback loop that builds brand affinity.

There are no easy answers here, but the wind is blowing in one direction. In a world where the importance of marketing and advertising is waning while the customer experience is becoming the crucial differentiator, brands that figure out their own rewarding way of getting feedback from customers will be the brands that win.

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