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Do you hear what I hear? employee feedback about customers

Getting customer feedback is the rage in today’s business world, whether the industry is retail, transportation, consumer packaged goods, banking, telecommunications, government or something else. How many times have you bought something in a store, only to have the checkout clerk circle a URL and ask you to go to a website and provide feedback? Or you’ve bought something on the web and are then presented with a survey, or you are asked at the end of a telephone call to provide more feedback?

Companies often seek feedback at the end of every interaction and almost appear to be begging for participation. Many customers feel conflicted about it when they decline, while others strongly believe that this business behavior is invasive and downright annoying. They flick these requests off like shooing away a nuisance bug and don’t think twice about it. That attitude of annoyance makes collecting customer feedback even harder, with diminishing returns the more a company tries. Now, counter-intuitively, some businesses use a minimalist approach by asking for the barest amount of feedback in hopes that customers will at least be willing to provide a happy face or sad face as the single data point about their most recent experience.

What is a customer-driven business or government agency to do? They can’t give up. Feedback is the lifeblood for providing great customer experiences. For example, feedback supplies insights to more than the call center; feedback also helps product marketing learn more about the new products, services and features that customers would like to see, and helps field service employees understand what types of problems customers are encountering with the product. Without this insight, companies are flying blind and can only hope they are creating happy customers instead of disgruntled buyers.

Increasingly, marketing organizations are turning to creative approaches for listening to customer feedback without overtly asking customers to fill out yet another survey. One innovative way to listen and learn about customers is to talk with the firm’s own employees. After all, some of these employees are on the frontline every day with customers—fielding requests, listening to complaints, answering questions about products and so forth. One immediate advantage is the higher survey response rates of 25% to 60% from employee participation–in marked contrast to the lower response rates from customer surveys. Plus, employee feedback can be both strategic and actionable. For example, one company gained significant insights by talking with employees and another research firm reports significant benefits from talking to employees:

  • Hulu combined its employee and customer feedback systems for greater insight. Executives were concerned that customer service reps may be pushing unhappy customers too hard to renew their subscriptions. To gain new insights, Hulu created and linked an employee feedback system to its customer feedback system, and flagged situations where customer and employee opinions differed. In divergent situations, a short survey was sent both to the employee and the customer immediately following a transaction. This integrated system provided greater customer insight, and helped managers coach employees, determine if they had the right tools and resources, and identify employees with innovative ideas and leadership potential.
  • Research by Medallia Institute uncovered significant insights from front-line employees. The research firm interviewed more than 25 CX and HR executives and surveyed 1,000 frontline workers at large U.S. companies in the automotive, financial services, retail, telecomm, and hospitality industries. Medallia found that linking customer and employee feedback systems allows companies to enlist frontline employees as change agents. Fifty-six percent of employees had suggestions for improving company practices, and 43% felt their insights could reduce costs. However, a third of the employees said they were surveyed once a year or less, and more than half said employers weren’t asking the right questions.

Other advantages of using front-line staff include the low cost to gather information, the reliability, loyalty and willingness of employees to share information, and the opportunity to create a culture of everyone listening to customers. Yet, asking employees for customer feedback is often an overlooked treasure trove of customer insight. Companies starving for customer information should start to turn things around by finding new sources and techniques for gathering customer feedback. Whenever a firm or government agency launches a customer survey, a best practice is to ask internally if the information can be gathered another way. Going to employees for feedback and insight helps to reduce customer fatigue with surveys, provides news and different insights about customer interactions and has the added benefit of engaging employees who only wish that someone would listen to them.


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