man yelling on public street in London
Customer experience sounds nice in theory, but it's the mundane, day-to-day activities of a company which deliver on the promise PHOTO: abi ismail

Anyone dealing with the airline industry knows the woes of travelers done wrong. Cancelled flights. Overbooked routes. Dragging paying customers off an aircraft. 

It’s mind boggling how clearly customers state their feelings about a brand yet that company still does nothing to address the situation. And while airlines have borne the brunt of criticism lately, every company is susceptible to their “United” day if they fail to listen to customers and act on what they hear.

Our challenge, then, is to make sure we’re actively seeking out and welcoming customer feedback, have the systems in place to incorporate it, and empower employees to make change happen.

Understanding the Feedback Loop

A feedback loop is a system that helps companies gather information about their products, services and performance from people outside of their company. Businesses add this to their own internal insights and together, deliver an improved experience to people. 

The “improved experience” goes beyond the experience of a product or service that a company sells and extends into all of the interactions a person has with a brand, whether they are a new customer, a long-time buyer, a lead, a former customer or someone who declined to do business.

The Glitz vs. the Grit of Customer Experience

Brands love to make a show of talking about the customer journey, knowing what matters when and to whom. It’s the fun stuff to talk about and the cliché lines to drop in meetings and in front of bosses. 

This is the sexy, glitzy part of customer experience. 

But the same companies are terrible at seeing the things through that actually make a difference. That takes grit.

It doesn’t matter what top line metric a company uses, the crucial part is that businesses have a system they follow with consistency — that takes grit. The companies that realize tremendous gains to the experiences they deliver, their internal culture and the bottom line do so because they understand consistency in the mundane, day-to-day grind is what makes everything work.

What feedback loop approach works best depends on the company, their structure and their culture. The ways in which companies design feedback loops makes a difference in whether or not responses actually get incorporated. Every business has to find their protocol. 

3 Feedback Loop Approaches

Following are three that can apply to any company of any size.

Role-Based Feedback

Good customer journeys include everyone who’s involved in a touch point — customers, the people who influence them and those they influence. To start a feedback loop, add another layer to the journey — who, on our brand’s side, holds responsibility for each step and what constitutes a handoff to the next group.

For example, the first three steps of the customer journey may involve marketing, corporate communications, and the research and development group. Then it’s handed to marketing, product marketing and sales. These are the teams that need to provide feedback at each step so everyone along the customer journey understands the bigger impact of their work.

Direct Outreach

People can explain away numbers, but anecdotes tell the emotional story. Have cross-functional teams sit in on interviews to hear feedback firsthand. Include their questions to ensure customers dig into areas that matter to your team. If possible, have some of the executive team join in. It can be jaw-dropping for someone in the C-suite to hear from a customer that the program they relentlessly pushed for creates a negative experience.

I worked with a cement company that made a video of customers talking about how hard it was to work with the brand. They gave specific examples that shocked the C-suite. This 10-minute video changed the company’s entire approach to customer experience, and how they sought out and used customer feedback.

Social Listening

No marketer can oversee every experience across the company. We have to empower employees to deliver the right experience. Listening to what people say about us when we’re not in the room is the perfect way to know how well employees deliver on the experience. And social media is the best tool to use.

Some companies use software to track conversations on specific topics. Others use channels for direct outreach. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky understood the power and immediacy of social media for feedback on Twitter when he asked people what the company could do to improve in 2017. The thousands of comments and Chesky’s direct feedback made it clear the company cared about what mattered to customers.

We’re All Experience Creators

Employees across a company don’t think they’re the ones responsible for customer experience — that’s marketing or sales' job. But ultimately, it’s employees who deliver the experience

Rather than picking and choosing which experiences “represent” our brand, we need to invest in a disciplined system that encourages feedback, and then empowers employees to do something with it.