26/07/2010

By Keith Schorah, CEO of SynGro

An interesting story surfaced recently regarding AT&T threatening a customer with legal action after emailing the CEO twice complaining about the company’s pricing structures. This is in stark contrast to Apple’s Steve Jobs’ customer engagement approach, which sees him preferring to send personal responses to his customers’ emails.

Organisations that use customer feedback to inform and shape the business plan can reap huge benefits to the bottom line, not to mention dramatically increase customer satisfaction and retention. Whilst this is true, a successful customer feedback management programme can only happen with visible, passionate and relentless commitment to the initiative from the CEO.

AT&T’s response is quite simply over the top. He’s clearly not seeing the bigger picture. I have observed many CEOs who are often so focused on their own business and how to run it better that they don’t see that it’s the customers’ feedback that can help to run it better. A business’s ‘culture’ is more than just an environment or a mission statement; it’s about the way in which the CEO (and the directors) go about their jobs each moment of every day. And it is certainly reflected in every customer interaction, no matter how brief.

When implementing a customer feedback management programme, organisations must establish clear objectives from the top down. Effective customer engagement is an ongoing process aimed at creating a cultural change within an organisation to improve the experiences of its customers. Senior management must be given the data they require to act upon any issues in order to give frontline staff the support they need to improve customer experience.

Stimulating a customer-centric culture

Being customer centric is about empowering everyone in the organisation to continuously learn about their customers and how their experiences — both positive and negative — can shape the business. Make sure employees are focused on the customer and fully motivated to provide exceptional customer service. Use a system that clearly defines what actions are required to rectify issues and respond to the customer. Create support hubs where employees can go to for guidance if dealing with a customer complaint.

Using customer complaints to your advantage

Negative feedback can help you build better customer relationships and a stronger business. Customer enquiries and complaints come with built-in opportunities that can help you to understand what the organisation is good at and where it can make improvements. Set-up a process within your customer feedback management programme which deals specifically with complaints. It can allow you to spot repeated issues or complaints which have escalated allowing you to respond more effectively.

Busting the silos for quicker responses

Customer feedback must be reviewed, analysed, reported upon and disseminated out to where it is most relevant within the organisation. I often hear of organisations that have a mound of customer feedback that is never properly reviewed or if it is, takes weeks to gather into a meaningful report. Data should be stored centrally so that the information is accessible to all departments. Set up a system that provides real-time reports which are distributed to the relevant people and allows them to act on issues with all the knowledge available. Being better informed and sharing knowledge is the key to creating enterprise-wide best practices in dealing with customers and achieving the ultimate results from their feedback.

Opening up communication avenues with customers

One of the biggest barriers to gaining feedback is when companies often make it difficult for customers to make enquiries or complain. Whether it’s online feedback forms hidden away within a website, too many menus to get through over the telephone or a lack of proactive communication to obtain feedback. If you open up avenues for ongoing, two-way communication your customers will recognise that you are open to receiving feedback, meaning they are more likely to engage.

Integrating the ‘voice of the customer’ into business operations

Always ensure the feedback you obtain is actually used! Develop an action plan that builds on what’s already working well and resolves any areas that are causing your customers concern. Organisations that take the time to actively listen to customers, gather their feedback, and vitally take actions to improve their business, will not only survive, but also thrive when it comes to competing for and retaining customers.

Food for thought...which side do you fall into when it comes to engaging with customers? Do you view customer feedback as a headache or a gift to your company? What role does the customer play in the strategic direction of your business? Do they have a ‘virtual seat’ in the boardroom?

Want to know more? Visit our website at www.syngro.com, engage with us on the SynGro blog or follow us on Twitter @syngro.