The customer feedback experience – an experience not to be taken for granted!

taking customer feedback for granted

Last week I made a telephone call to my bank. A routine query, I chose to pick up the phone and call with my question, rather than use any other channel open to me. Having gone through the usual number selection process (or IVR as it is known technically), I was connected to a human. The chap I spoke to was very nice – he answered my question in less than thirty seconds. The entire experience lasted no more than 90 seconds ‘end to end’. All pretty simple. I disconnected the call without another thought.

Now you may be wondering what this rather banal story has to do with the subject of customer feedback. Let me explain. Approximately five minutes after I had concluded the telephone call with my bank my telephone rang. I was greeted by an automated message from the very bank I had just been conversing with. The message asked if I would be happy to participate in a short survey regarding my ‘recent’ experience. I was slightly taken aback. I had not given anyone permission to call my home telephone number to ask for my feedback on the call I had just made. The nice man I had spoken to did not say anything about it either. Rather than providing feedback, I disconnected the call with a sense of annoyance at what had just occurred – and that is why I am writing about the customer feedback experience.

For many years I have been troubled by one of the key pieces of the Customer Experience jigsaw puzzle – VOC (Voice of the Customer). I have not been troubled by the need for it – quite the contrary. VOC is one of three essential, obligatory elements of any Customer Experience measurement programme (VOP – voice of the process and VOE – voice of the employee being the other two).What has troubled me is the way organisations go about getting it – or in other words, the suitability and appropriateness of the very experience we put our customers through in order for us to find out what they think.

When was the last time you provided feedback to an organisation? Whilst we are able to deliver feedback without any prompting from the companies we interact with, the same companies are constantly trying to get us to tell them what we think via a variety of surveying methods. The same channels we use to conduct our transactions are also used to solicit our thoughts – both in words and numbers. Most of the methodologies used are the same today as they were many years ago – not a great deal seems to have changed. Doing what I do for a living, I often provide feedback when asked – I feel it is critical to allow companies to understand how I feel about my experience with them whilst I am always interested to understand what they want to know.


So let me ask again – when did you last provide feedback to an organisation that asked you for it? What did you think of the experience of actually doing it? Did you even consider the act of giving feedback to be an experience in itself? Too often the experience of giving feedback is not a great one. Regularly faced with lengthy online surveys, many consumers become disengaged very quickly. That is why methodologies such as NPS (Net Promoter Score) and Customer Effort have been so successful – radically simplifying the capturing of information can make it a better experience for the customer in providing it.

The challenge for customer focused organisations today is that they need to be able to design the customer feedback experience in the same way they design their customer journeys. As with the customer journey, capturing customer feedback should have a clear business need as well as defining some form of clear purpose for the customer to align to. It is very common for me to come across customer feedback mechanisms that have defined neither. I therefore urge all those responsible for customer feedback in their organisations to consider the following:

Business Need

  • Do you have a ‘customer feedback strategy’ in place?
  • Have you mapped/designed the customer feedback experience?
  • Is your customer feedback mechanism(s) actionable?
  • Is your customer feedback mechanism linked to employee performance and incentives?

Customer Purpose

  • Do you know how your customers want to provide feedback?
  • Do you know what customers think about the experience of giving feedback?
  • Do you have any defined way of keeping customers informed of actions you take as a result of their feedback?
  • Do you have a defined strategy to maintain customer engagement in continuously providing feedback?

Businesses will always need measurable and actionable customer feedback to continuously improve the experience they have with their organisation. Unless companies get better at designing the experience of providing feedback, there is a risk that too many customers will just not bother to give it any more. The extremes of customer perception will always make their voice heard – the unsolicited voice of the very happy or very angry – via a variety of social media channels. However, if we want the silent majority to keep helping us make our businesses better at giving them what they want and need, we must ensure that we make the experience of giving feedback one that the silent majority can more comfortably engage with.

Businesses will always need measurable and actionable customer feedback – without it, sustaining a focus on customer experience in an organisation is made very difficult We must therefore NEVER take for granted that customers will carry on giving us the feedback that we so urgently need. Go and review your customer feedback mechanism today – walk the experience for yourself and ensure that you are able to maintain your approach to customer feedback in the future.

The customer is not always right…..BUT be careful how you respond when you think they are not!

47 king street west

It is very likely you have not heard of 47 King Street West – a French restaurant based in Manchester in the UK. Although you may not have heard of it, it is possible that the eatery will become infamous as an example of how NOT to respond to customer feedback. When an organisation considers its strategic approach to Customer Experience, it is important it accepts that ‘perfection’ is not realistic. All businesses will get things wrong – it is inevitable. Customers are now free and able to tell the world when they feel you have got it wrong. It is how you deal with things when they do go wrong that can often be the difference between the best exponents of customer centric behaviour….. and the worst!

So let me fill you in on the 47 King Street Story. In 2013, the restaurant was awarded a Certificate of Excellence by TripAdvisor. At the time of writing this blog post, it still has a ‘four star’ rating on the TripAdvisor site…… whether or not it will still have this rating by the time I finish writing this post is a different matter!! To all intense and purposes, 47 King Street appears to be a restaurant that could quite comfortably feature on your list of places to eat in the North West of England.

However, closer inspection of TripAdvisor reveals that all might not be as well as it seems. You only have to scroll down to the review posted on the 28th February 2015 – it does not make good reading (for the restaurant that is):

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If you were the owner of this establishment, you would quite rightly be horrified to read this brutally honest feedback from a customer – a customer who had no doubt spent a significant sum of money in your restaurant. You would also appreciate that it in 2015, any customer has the ability to share their experience with millions of others at the click of a mouse.

Anyone reading this review has a choice – a choice to believe everything contained within it, or to look at the balance of all reviews and form a rounded opinion of the restaurant. One would expect that when a negative review of this nature has been posted online that the company concerned would leave a suitable response to clarify the situation – whether the customer was right or wrong. At the end of the day, the internet is now as much of your shop window as your physical premises are.

In the case of 47 King Street West, the manager of the restaurant DID respond to this review……just not in the way you may expect. Although his comments have been removed from their social media streams, here is his unedited response posted on Facebook:

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Describing customers as ‘the chaviest worst most vile people ever to grace our restaurant’ is perhaps not the best response to their feedback. To dish out a tirade of abuse dismissing those customers as ‘trash’ is almost unbelievable. To  do it so publicly is remarkably naive. The problem with the way that 47 King Street responded is that other potential customers are now likely to base their opinion of the restaurant on his behaviour – even if his customers were wrong, you just cannot do what Mike Hymanson, the owner of 47 King Street has done.

The visibility of this story is only just picking up pace – how viral it will become is yet to be seen. Mr Hymanson has now described the incident as regrettable (not surprising really!) – it is not clear whether he has directly apologised to the poor customer concerned. You can read more about the incident here.

Learning how to deal with customers who you perceive to be wrong is vitally important in maintaining the credibility of your brand and the experience it is intending to deliver. In the same way that you do not want to do something to affect your personal credibility in the future, it is just as important to not ‘retaliate’ in a way that makes the situation worse.

Only yesterday, on an Easyjet flight from Athens to London Gatwick, I witnessed what I saw as completely unacceptable behaviour from a customer. There is no doubt in my mind that I was observing a scenario where the customer was undeniably wrong. The customer was not particularly pleasant from the moment she got on the plane. Carrying her baby daughter, she seemed to expect that the seat next to her should be vacant. The bemused passenger sat in the seat kept her cool remarkably well. The excellent cabin crew managed the situation brilliantly and were able to move the bemused passenger to another seat.

Sensing all was well, I sat back and prepared myself for a restful flight. Shortly after take off, with the fasten seat belt sign still lit, the ‘unpleasant’ passenger unbuckled her belt and vacated her seat to get something from the overhead luggage rack. A member of the cabin crew walked down the aisle and asked her very politely to remain seated until the ‘fasten seat belt sign’ was switched off. A perfectly reasonable request I am sure you will agree. The passenger responded with a torrent of very strong words including – ‘leave me alone’; ‘I am pregnant and you are going to make me miscarry’; ‘why do you treat passengers like this?’

It was really quite unbelievable. The cabin crew members response was in my view the perfect example of how to respond. She replied in a steady, polite, and confident manner – ‘I understand madam’. ‘Please take your seat as quickly as you feel comfortable’. Although quite clearly shaken, the Easyjet employee did exactly the right thing. She did not retaliate. She did not quote policy or procedure that would most likely rile the passenger even more. She quietly left the customer to it.

Now imagine what COULD have happened if she had responded in a different way? What COULD have happened if she demanded that the passenger be seated (as I am sure she had every right to do)? It is perfectly feasible that this lady could have resorted to social media to say how a pregnant lady travelling with a baby was mistreated by Easyjet cabin crew.  It COULD have gone viral, and got in front of the eyes of journalists. Instead, a potentially damaging situation will never be heard of again. In fact the actions of this excellent ambassador for Easyjet almost certainly won her the admiration of other passengers on the plane, thus enhancing the reputation of her company.

Customers will not always be right. Customers who are not right are able to share their thoughts with the world. As the owner of a business, whether you think they are right or they are wrong, it is absolutely critical that you deal with their feedback in a way that does not detrimentally and potentially fatally damage your business. The end to end journey for many consumers now starts with the assessment of feedback found online – the last thing you want is for them to see the public face of your organisation publicly abusing customers who leave what appears to be honest feedback.

The phrase ‘feedback is a gift’ is often an overused term. I personally believe it is and always will be the perfect phrase for describing feedback. Like all gifts, handle it with care!

Online Customer Reviews : “Sorry – Your review didn’t quite meet our guidelines”

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This week I am delighted to feature a new guest blogger. Steve Drake is a Retail Director with a wealth of international and UK experience, across both the strategic and operational aspects of the customer experience mix.  His post is a personal story that questions the lack of transparency that some retailers have with their online customer reviews, with potential unintended consequences for their brands – I am sure you will very much enjoy reading it….

“Sorry – Your review didn’t quite meet our guidelines”. Or in other words, “We really value your feedback, but we will only publish the bits that we like!”

Many brands use Customer Reviews to talk up how great their products and service are. Nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it is also a useful service appreciated by customers when making their own online purchase decisions. Research shows that customers treat these reviews, from other customers, as a strong recommendation (or warning) of what to expect when you deal with these brands. People believe that the reviews are truthful and that the balance of positive and negative comments about a product or an experience are a true reflection of the genuine feedback given.

However, what if this was not entirely the case? what if brands were to “sanitise” the feedback? Would you bother taking the time to share your personal experience of purchasing a product? What would you think of the brand?

These questions came to mind after a recent experience with an online purchase from a well-known British retailer. Like many busy households, over the years we have accumulated an eclectic range of mugs. My wife decided that it was time for a change and she set about ordering a set of 10 new Spotted Mugs from the said retailer’s website. All was well. She liked the mugs and was certainly looking forward to “accidently” dropping my assorted Sports Direct “jugs” on the tiled kitchen floor when these new beauties arrived!

When the package arrived, within the specified delivery period, all was not well. Of the 10 mugs only 2 had survived the journey. 8 had broken handles, cracks, chips or were in several pieces in the box. They had not been well packaged for such fragile items. My wife duly got in touch with the retailer and was quickly refunded for the 10 mugs and told that she could keep the 2. She did, however, decline the invitation to order again for a home delivery!

As she appreciates others reviews of their online purchase experience – which includes getting the product to you in one piece and fit for use – she wrote a review for the retailer’s website. Here it is:

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Seems fair enough, doesn’t it? Praising the product, but warning others that actually getting them in one usable piece may be an issue. Not unreasonable from a customer (my wife) who chose the online purchase route for convenience. After all, the brand experience is not just about the product!

A few days later she received “The Email”. It came from a “no-reply” email address used by the retailer. The subject line read: “Your review has been rejected”. It went on:


Your review didn’t quite meet our guidelines.

Would you like to try again?

Mmmmmm. So, she clicked through to read the guidelines. This is what they said:

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Or in other words, “We really value your feedback, but we will only publish the bits about our products … not the bits about the total customer experience of buying online with us”

The guidelines are comprehensive for sure, and I completely get the “reserve the right not to post” for the reasons given about obscenities, advertising etc. However, to edit out the genuine, honest feedback of customers who have had the full experience (which means you do not get the product in a usable form) seems at odds with really wanting to engage with your customers.

How many other customers have had the same poor experience with the delivery of these lovely mugs? What other fragile products in their extensive range are also affected? What is the point of online purchasing and home delivery if the lovely products do not survive the journey? Does the retailer have a supply chain issue they need to address? If, as a potential customer, you knew this was more widespread would that affect your decision about making the purchase?

In fairness, I am sure that this retailer is not the only brand that takes this approach. However, it is the freshest in my mind through witnessing my wife’s irritation about how this was handled.

We still do not have our mugs (because we have not had time to get to the store), my wife’s review has not been posted, but she does have a very good dinner-party story … but not the kind that the good folk at this respected British retailer (or other brands for that matter) would like to see on their website!


The gift that is Customer Feedback. How not to accept it by Southwest Airlines & Easyjet

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Customer feedback comes in many different forms. Often sought out by companies, it can be captured via email, web pop up or telephone surveys. It can be recorded in face to face customer focus groups or received in person before, during or after an interaction with a customer. Some still leave good old-fashioned paper forms for customers to fill in, whilst new-fangled QR codes attempt to entice consumers to use modern technology to tell companies what they think.

It is no big secret that the newest form of customer feedback’ is of the unsolicited kind. This is feedback that is not necessarily asked for, yet can potentially have the most significant effect on the companies it relates to. This is the feedback that is being produced on a daily basis across social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Despite the fact they have been in existence for a while, companies are still struggling to adapt to their very existence. On a regular basis, social media customer experience horror stories are being exposed – in this blog post I will be sharing two of them from the airline industry.

The two stories I am going to share relate to customer feedback posted on Twitter. Before I do share them with you, I would like to make you aware of some amazing statistics about Twitter. These statistics were posted in an excellent blog by Brian Honigman called ’10 Surprising Twitter Stats for Community Managers‘. You can read about all ten on Brian’s blog – the ones I want to draw your attention to are as follows:

  1. The average company is tweeted 39 times a day and 273 times a week
  2. 53% of brand followers expect them to respond to their comments in an hour. That number jumps to 72% when it’s a complaint
  3. 60% of company mentions are posted when you’re not at the office
  4. 30% of tweets including company names don’t include their Twitter handle
  5. Only 9% of tweets mentioning a company are directed at the company
  6. 97% of major brands are on Twitter

Companies cannot hide from the fact that Twitter is a hugely important vehicle for BOTH customers and their own businesses. Customers (whether existing or potential) use twitter as a way of stating a number of things. They use it to praise companies and their employees. They use it to ask companies specific questions and to ask for help. They use it to make complaints requiring a response. They also use it to express their dissatisfaction with companies who do things they do not like. In all cases, the insight that can and is being captured via Twitter is an invaluable feed into an organisations customer feedback engine room.

The beauty of Twitter and other social media platforms is that the feedback being placed on them is completely free and unprompted. There is no bias. There is no skewing of data. Customers will say what they will whenever they want to say it. It is therefore VITAL for an organisation to know what to do with the feedback they capture – how to deal with it when it comes in. Twitter is just ONE of many sources of customer feedback – the key is to ensure that all forms of feedback are linked together in someway to ensure that the strategy for dealing with it is in context with the priorities for improvement in the end to end customer experience. Feedback is a gift – but you need to know how to accept it and what to do with it.

Two organisations who have recently failed to deal well with Twitter feedback are both from the airline industry. Let us start with Southwest Airlines. When a good friend of mine brought this story to my attention, I was disbelieving. I had to check the date to make sure it was not April Fools Day. Sadly the story is not a joke. It is very real. It is one of the most amazing stories of the mistreatment of customer feedback I have seen to date. The story is about a frequent Southwest Airlines passenger called Duff Watson. Usually flying with the airline on business, Mr Watson was on this occasion travelling with his two children. Being a frequent passenger, Mr Watson benefitted from priority boarding. Although his two children did not have priority boarding tickets, he did not think it would be a problem for them to stand in the queue with him. To cut a long story short, Mr Watson was flatly refused entry to the plane via the priority boarding queue. As many consumers would, whilst making his way to the back of the normal queue with his children, Mr Watson tweeted his dissatisfaction at the way he had been treated. What happened next is quite simply amazing.

Having taken their seats on the plane, Mr Watson and his children were told to leave the aircraft immediately. When back at the gate, he was told that his tweet of dissatisfaction constituted a ‘safety threat’. The only way he would be allowed back on the plane would be for him to delete the tweet. With two distressed children, Mr Watson did this – waiting until he arrived at his final destination to tweet the airline again. Quite a remarkable story – you can read more about it here.

Just when I thought it could not get any worse, my good friend sent me another story – this time about Easyjet. Mark Leiser, a lecturer at Strathclyde University, was on the receiving end of some curt, uninformed customer service. Concerned that a delay to his flight would cause him and other passengers the inconvenience of missing important travel connections, all Mr Leiser wanted was help from Easyjet staff. Being dissatisfied with the response he received, Mr Leiser, like Mr Watson, took to twitter to express his dissatisfaction. Mr Leiser tweeted the following:

Flight delayed 90min. Soldier going to miss last connection & @easyjet refusing to help pay for him to get to Portsmouth. Get right into em!

As a result of this tweet, Mr Leiser was allegedly threatened with not being allowed to board the aircraft. Told he was not allowed to tweet ‘stuff like that’, he was genuinely at risk of being refused access to the plane. Astonishing. Eventually Mr Leiser did board the plane, but like Mr Watson before him, the story of the way he was treated will rumble on long after his flight ended. You can read more about this story here.

In both cases, valuable repeat customers of two airlines used their democratic right to leave ‘feedback’ about companies they were interacting with. In both cases, the actions of the companies were wildly inappropriate. Rather than trying to prevent customers from saying what they think, these organisations should be LISTENING to vitally important feedback that identifies weaknesses in their ability to deal with certain scenarios. Rather than defending the actions of employees who have clearly not be trained to deal with these situations, Southwest Airlines and Easyjet should be giving unreserved apologies to Mr Watson and Mr Leiser and reassuring customers that they welcome feedback in the quest to continually improve their customer experience.

I hope I will not read more stories like this in the future – sadly I expect I will. I was told a long time ago that feedback is a gift. I thought that was a very wise statement. Receiving the gift is easy – knowing what to do with it is the hard bit.


Innovating the market research industry – a startup perspective

One thing is certain in the environment we live in today – innovation is essential if organisations want to achieve sustainable growth. Innovation will help ensure that our ever changing and more demanding needs as consumers are met. In this guest blog post, I am delighted to introduce you to Ben Claxton – Ben is the Founder and CEO of a new, innovative company called nativeye – a mobile research platform that in his words ‘helps your business stay relevant’. Ben talks us through his thoughts as to how innovation can help to transform the way we seek feedback from customers…..

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Anyone who has tried to get traction for an innovation – whether startup or internal initiative – will recognise the challenge. You have a view of a better future for your customers, if only you can convince them. Sticking doggedly to your grand vision on the one hand may not bring along enough people to achieve market success, while being too customer-centric limits your potential and fail to deliver the game-changer.

The trick of course if navigating a third way of market-driven innovation that meets people’s unarticulated and unmet needs – giving them the thing they didn’t even know they wanted but from which there’s no going back.

The following are some personal experiences from the last 3 years of launching and growing a mobile research platform – a tool that seeks to transform the market research industry. The examples are specific but hopefully the lessons are relevant to anyone trying to get their innovation off the ground.

Mobile – the next frontier in market research

When asked at the recent Insight Innovation Exchange in Amsterdam when the time of mobile market research is coming, Ray Pointer of Vision Critical replied, “About 18 months ago”.

This anecdote gives you some insight as to a market that has been hotly tipped for a while now but is still waiting to catch fire. (that said Survey Monkey recently reported that they had seen x14 increase in their mobile traffic in the last 3 years).

The case for mobile is various but includes: massive smartphone penetration and usage, an intimate and ‘in the moment’ channel,  the richer data made possible by smartphones’ communication, multimedia and location functions. This all adds up to a new way of engaging and learning from customers. At nativeye we talk about doing research that doesn’t feel like research.

Predicting real need is hard but vital

Prior to coding a single line we put together a clickable prototype and received strong encouragement to proceed. However those nodding heads we had initially were not necessarily our first customers. In fact, some are only starting to buy now, 3 years on. Possibly there was more we could have done to validate need, but there are a whole host of other factors beyond your control that dictate when people are ready to buy.

A clue to validating real current need is to look at whether people are already trying to solve the problem right now. They might be using other products, hiring people or inventing workarounds to try and do the thing that your product does.

Find your tribe

Some people resist just change (including new technology). This is certainly the case in the market research industry. Either because it requires effort to learn new techniques or because people feel threatened by it (which is probably justified if you are an Amazon warehouse picker). David A. Aaker advises innovators to ‘beware the pessimist’ that will attempt to derail innovation projects based solely of their irrational fear of the new (interesting to note that he also mentions to be aware of the over-optimist).

Some people you’re just not going to win over. The best you can hope for is to quickly identify them and move on. For others to try something new the Benefit must > Pain. Pain comes in many forms – the mental effort to work out where your product fits, the risk of an untried approach, bugs in a new product.

However, some people are much more inclined to give something new a whirl – the benefit to them being the potential transformation of their day-to-day. These people are like gold and will be your champions. I think Seth Godin provides the best advice here which is, “find your tribe and grow out from there.”

Learn to explain innovations in terms people currently understand

Of those that do embrace technology, many initially consider it in old frames of reference. Initially nativeye was seen as a mobile survey tool. Common questions included, “How will I get all the survey questions I want on a screen that size?” This made our spirit sink somewhat as we didn’t see nativeye this way – we saw it as a two-way customer channel that captured people’s experience in unprecedented richness and timeliness.

It’s sometimes frustrating when trying to push things forward only to be pulled back into old frames. But if your product is truly transformational and you can get people to try you out, then this should bubble to the surface and they will tell others of their great experience. In the MR world a tool has to deliver on old measures such as ‘response rate’ before people will countenance the new stuff. It’s a reality that you have to navigate this while still not losing track of the larger potential.

Don’t sell features, solve jobs

Clay Christensen talks about innovating by solving the jobs people want to do. Selling in these terms also makes your proposition much more compelling whereas only talking about features leads you to sell yourself short. This is why about 18 months in we started selling “relevance”. This is the bigger benefit that helps bring people on board by speaking language they can understand. As a customer, I don’t know if I want a ‘mobile research platform’ or to ‘open up a channel to my customers’ but I certainly want my brand to stay relevant to its customers.

Ben Claxton is the founder of nativeye, a mobile research platform that helps your business stay relevant.

Contact Ben for ideas on how nativeye can help you

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Was everything ok with your stay sir? Why welcoming all types of customer feedback is so important

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As consumers, we are asked our opinions on a regular basis. On any given day we could be asked if we are happy with the product or service we have received on multiple occasions. I have often wondered if the people enquiring about our happiness (or not) are actually interested in the response. I am regularly asked the ‘was everything ok sir?’ type question, and it is regularly delivered in an almost automated, robotic way. It seems clear to me that should you ask the question, you should genuinely be interested to know what the answer will be – and be prepared for the feedback to be in all shapes and sizes. Some might be very complimentary. Some might be negative. Some feedback might point out issues that may help other customers if rectified.

A recent experience of mine highlighted to me how important it is for organisations to get this right. Last week I stayed in a hotel near Northampton. It is not relevant which hotel I stayed in – I only hope they may one day read this blog and recognise the issues highlighted in it. I was staying in the hotel with a client. I travelled by train, and the client travelled by car. When I arrived at Northampton station, I entered the postcode of the hotel into my smartphone. I had not had a chance to check how close to the station it was located. When I checked on my smartphone, I had a minor panic when I was advised the hotel was 48 miles away!! I approached the taxi rank in trepidation, worrying how I was going to explain the taxi receipt in my expenses submission.

I was delighted when the taxi driver told me that it was only about 5 miles away, and would take fifteen minutes. I did not think any more of the issue until I arrived at the hotel. My client had been due to arrive at least an hour and half before me. I was very surprised when the lady on reception advised me that she was still on route. She told me that my client had got lost, and had been in telephone contact to try and guide her in! As I finished checking out, my client finally walked through the front door. It transpires that she too had issues with the postcode. In her case, she was directed to a spot roughly four miles away from the hotel. It certainly did appear that there were ‘sat nav’ issues with the post code – more on this later.

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There were a number of other problems encountered during our stay at the hotel. The signage was awful – from the start I did not quite know where to go from reception to get to my room. The staff were pretty hapless too – not quite knowing what to do or how to act in a professional manner. I asked reception when the gym opened in the morning. 6am was the confident response. When I checked the information in my room, it quite clearly said 7am – as did the sign on the door of the changing rooms.

At dinner I was asked if I would like a drink. I asked for sparkling mineral water (I am a cheap date) – the waiter was not sure what I meant. He eventually returned with sparkling mineral water served in a branded beer pint glass – maybe he was trying to tell me something! Whilst all the staff were very nice, the hotel was just not very well run (in my opinion), and it was clear that the little details were not being thought about. The staff were obviously not trained to a very high standard, and many of the issues should have been spotted and acknowledged if someone in authority had experienced what they do as a customer for themselves.

Despite the issues, I actually slept very well. As I approached the reception desk to check out, I braced myself for the inevitable ‘robotic’ question. ‘Was everything ok with your stay sir?’ said the lady behind the desk. It is at this point that I made the all important decision (as will all of us every time we are put in this situation). Will I tell her about the issues I encountered, or will I keep them to myself? I decided on this occasion to do the former – and tell her about two of the issues. I told her that there may be problems with satellite navigation systems picking up the postcode. ‘It has always worked on my sat nav’, came the very curt response. It was clear that this lady was not prepared to receive negative feedback from guests. There was no apology. There was no, ‘I am sorry to hear that sir’. There was no offer to have a look at the sat nav dvice used to confirm what the problem was. This lady instantly dismissed my response to her initial question as ‘the customer is wrong’.

I decided to move on to the issue of signage. Once again, the lady was not willing to listen to a negative response. ‘Oh it is very easy to find your way around in this hotel sir’. Did she not hear what I said? Was she intentionally ignoring my opinion? Why did she ask me if everything was ok if she could not care less about my response? By now, I was infuriated – to the point where I decided not to say anything else. I could not even make eye contact with her. My decision had already been made – I would never cross the threshold of this hotel again. Whilst my issues were actually minor, her attitude and behaviour in listening to my feedback had ensured that I was a customer never to be seen again.

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I know I am not alone in having an experience like this. If you want to know what I think, I will tell you – but do not assume I am just going to tell you the things you want to hear. I came across a great quote when pulling together this blog post from Darren Kahneman:

True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes

To me this says it all. If you genuinely want to know what a customer thinks, than be delighted if that customer takes the time to tell you – good or bad. Even if the customer is wrong, your ability to demonstrate that you take their feedback seriously will have a serious effect on that customers decision to use you again and again. I have since learned that I mistyped the post code of the hotel into my smartphone. I was wrong – if only the receptionist had taken the time to have a look at the issue with me, rather than dismissing me out of hand. Not only would I not be writing this blog post, I might be booking a night in their hotel next week!

‘You could win £500!!’ Should you incentivise customer feedback?

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I have often wondered about the pros and cons of incentivising customer feedback. I am not sure what kind of person this makes me – hopefully one that is forever focussed on all of the things around us that can and will contribute to customer experiences being made better!

Capturing customer feedback is not easy. In fact, some organisations find it very difficult to get customers to tell them what they really think. Some would argue that this is because customers ‘do not care enough’. Some would say that particular organisations do not have a large enough customer base, and as such, opportunity to capture feedback is limited. Customers might point out that they never see what happens with feedback that is provided, so why bother!

At the beginning of this year, I wrote a blog post about the retailer Boden. They had used Facebook as a means of capturing feedback about their brand. It was a very economical, quick and effective way of doing it. However, 8 months later, and we as Boden customers have no idea what they did with the feedback – this is despite me contacting Boden directly to ask (they did not respond). You can read the full blog post here –

Boden’s actions, or inaction in this case, will ensure that a proportion of customers who gave feedback in January may not do so again. This will only make it harder for them to continuously capture feedback going forward. It is this word ‘continuously’ that is vital here. Capturing feedback from customers MUST be a regular, continuous process. You cannot capture feedback today and never ask again. Unfortunately, customers are tricky things – what they want today, may be completely different in six months time. It is critical to CONTINUOUSLY understand customers needs over time.

If you do not capture feedback effectively, it will become more and more difficult to keep the process continuous. This interesting blog post from Econsultancy, states 20 ways to capture feedback The methods all point towards ways that can be used to encourage customers to feedback, thus helping you to maintain a continuous flow. Method number 9 is ‘incentivise me’ – it is this method I want to focus on.

One way of trying to ‘keep’ or ‘get’ customers ‘engaged’ with providing feedback is to incentivise them to give it. Many organisations do this. I recently took Jack, my 5-year-old son for a hot chocolate in Café Nero. On every table was a card. ‘Tell us how we did and you might just win free coffee for a month or an iPad’. Whilst Jack was tucking in, I pondered this. Will it really work? It certainly did not with me – I had no intention of being ‘coerced’ into giving them feedback when I did not really have any feedback to give. That was my instant reaction – I do not actually have anything to say, so why would I, other than trying to win something?

I suppose what I am trying to say is that I believe that incentivising feedback can (and I stress the word can) have the effect of artificially enhancing customer feedback. It is very likely that customers will give you feedback, just to be entered into a prize draw – not necessarily because they have anything to say. It is likely that feedback will be either positive or neutral than negative.

Capturing customer feedback serves a very important purpose. It acts as the external mirror to the organisation. It provides you with the reality of what customers think of your products, service and end to end customer journey. It enables you to understand WHERE in the customer journey you are failing to meet customer expectation. As a result, it provides you with the priorities for improvement (from a customer perspective). If you do not structure your customer feedback programme correctly, or use methods that have the potential to skew the results, you run the risk of failing to identify the correct priorities for improvement.

Last week, we had a family trip to Pizza Express. The service was actually first class, and I was very impressed. At the end of the meal, I was handed a card (which you can see below). I have not seen this in Pizza Express before. Like Café Nero, Pizza Express have decided to start incentivising customer feedback – in this case, you get a free portion of garlic bread or dough balls, just for giving the feedback! They will also enter you in to a free prize draw. I actually think the garlic bread and dough balls ‘giveaway’ is a smart move – a low value item that may not just get you feedback but that could also get you to return. However, I think it is unnecessary to add-on the £500 gift card as well.

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So how else could brands like Pizza Express capture feedback, without having to use incentives? The most important thing for any business is to get real feedback that allows you to take the appropriate action. Providing customers with simple, quick and instant methods to encourage customers to say what they think when they are thinking it is important. Maybe giving customers a tablet computer with a short survey to complete at the same time as receiving your bill could be a neat way for Pizza Express to do it. They are likely to get very high participation, create a little bit of theatre, and keep everyone busy whilst the bill is being paid. There would be no need for incentivising anyone. Additionally, they would be getting feedback at the point the experience is completely fresh in the mind – this is when it is most accurate and real.

So the next time you are asked to complete a survey to receive an incentive, have a think about exactly why you are taking the action you are. Are you doing it to get a prize, or because you actually have valuable feedback to give? Are you not doing it because you do not want to be ‘bribed’? Incentivising feedback can work, but be very careful how you do it, or the feedback you get will not give you the real representation of your customer journey that you need.

As always, your thoughts on comments on this blog post are very welcome.