By Scott Zimmerman
The days of collecting customer feedback through an annual survey are over. Today, retailers are utilizing online and mobile tools that not only serve as “real-time” feedback mechanisms, but also act as bustling hubs of customer conversations and activity online.
From online surveys to written comment forms and customer focus groups, companies have employed a range of techniques to listen to their customers. But while collecting customer feedback can create a competitive advantage, it's how you act on feedback that really makes the difference.
Every day, companies solicit feedback from customers, yet only a few actually take action or let the customer know their voice was heard. If you handle it right, the dialogue between you and your customers can become the lifeline of your business.
Many retailers are turning to engagement communications to begin that dialogue.
Engagement communications blends advances in technology, such as voice mail, text messaging, e-mail and social media, with a human touch. Together they create points of engagement with a customer rather than just a simple connection. Making a connection might inform but it doesn’t necessarily motivate consumers to take action. Create engagement points and the path is opened up for activation -- in this case, giving customers a channel to provide the feedback you need to improve not only their purchase experience, but your bottom line.
Engagement communications involve tailored and personalized campaign-based outreach to determine the kinds of information customers want to receive. Because the messages are sent in a format the customers prefer, they encourage two-way dialogue which keeps customers emotionally connected and willing to provide their honest feedback.
For example, knowing that a certain segment of his customers have school-aged children, a retailer could utilize Engagement Communications technology to send an e-mail message offering special discounts on clothing and school supplies in their store or on their website.
Similarly, a retailer can use their purchase history data to build targeted engagement communications campaigns. Text messages can be delivered to shoppers to promote the arrival of a new shipment of electronics, or a friendly message to notify a shopper that an item in an advertised special was no longer available in order to save her a trip into the store. The messages engage customers in meaningful ways because they are relevant and timely, and the two-way nature of the messages allows customers to provide immediate feedback in real-time. With this real-time view, companies can truly get to know and proactively care for their customers, ultimately fulfilling their brand promises.
Customer feedback programs are most effective when the entire company listens and responds to the voice of the customer. Getting useful customer feedback requires a culture in which your employees are always looking and listening, and, at the right time, are empowered to act. Employees are most valuable to customers when they have the knowledge and resources to address customer concerns. And customers are more likely to give feedback to someone they believe is empowered to act.
Another key to gaining useful input is knowing when to solicit feedback. Don’t expect a customer to complete a survey the minute they walk in your door or log on to your homepage. Rather, allow them to make a purchase, and then use that as an opportunity to follow-up with an e-mail or online poll about how you could improve their shopping experience. Most customers don’t need an incentive to share their ideas and experiences with you. They simply want to know they have been heard and that you value their business.
Once you gather customer feedback, it's important to use that information to continue to improve on things that are working, and address specific challenges. The action you take gives power to the customer feedback process.
When you have made a change that is customer-driven and meaningful, you can utilize online communications to close the loop with the customers who were part of the feedback process. But when you are correcting a problem, it’s best to get back to that customer with a personal, detailed response. This step is critical, because customers will be encouraged to give input if they know they are being heard and know they may be driving change.
The challenge is that most companies have traditionally been wired from the ground up to operate in a world of company-controlled communication, and they’re simply not equipped to engage in real-time conversations. But, with people sharing more and more of their lives today through online technologies, the rules of customer communication and feedback are changing. It is critical to not just listen, but to understand what’s being said and then to act accordingly. The work is not in the listening, but in the implementation and follow-up.
As a result, companies are rewiring their operations to be more customer-centered, more relationship-oriented, and more transparent by weaving online communication tools into customer service processes. This will improve communication from beginning to end — from initial conversation to ongoing collaboration in the customer relationship.
It just makes good sense. Customer feedback can spur everything from short-term promotional campaigns to business transformation. By knowing what customers want and by using the right communications tools to keep them engaged, retailers can capture the customer feedback they need to deliver solutions that have a positive impact on both the customer experience and their bottom line.
Scott Zimmerman, president of TeleVox Software, is a regularly published thought leader on Engagement Communications. He leads all aspects of TeleVox operations including client operations, sales, information services, product development and marketing.
By Scott Zimmerman