Headshot of Miika Mäkitalo

HappyOrNot CEO: "Customer feedback insights must be analysed and layered on top of other metrics"


In an interview with MyCustomer, Miika Mäkitalo, the CEO of HappyOrNot, delves into the backstory of the four distinctive smiley-faced buttons and explores the role of data in staying ahead of the curve.

17th Nov 2023

In this interview, Miika Mäkitalo, the CEO of HappyOrNot, traces the company's journey from its founding in 2009 to its current status as a global leader in customer feedback solutions.

Discussing the origin of the iconic four-button Smiley Terminal™, Mäkitalo highlights the pivotal role of simplicity and innovation in HappyOrNot's success.

HappyOrNot has become a global leader in customer feedback solutions. Can you tell us about the company's journey and how it all began?

It all started back in 2009, when our founder Heikki Väänänen, recognised a gap in the market for frictionless feedback. After visiting a store, Heikki wanted to share some feedback with the management about a negative experience. Unfortunately, his options were not only limited, but time-consuming. It was clear that an alternative to extensive questionnaires and letters of complaint was needed. This is how the HappyOrNot terminal was conceived: four distinctive smiley-faced buttons which anyone can press to convey their satisfaction.

Looking back, the simplicity and unique nature of our four-button Smiley Terminal™ system have been the key drivers behind our journey and have enabled us to reach where we are today.

We’ve continued innovating over the years, which has helped us connect with businesses and have helped them unlock valuable insights about what their customers think in real-time. In turn, this has really allowed us to grow exponentially and internationally. Our first ever terminal was placed in a grocery store in Tampere, Finland, where we still have an office, although today, we have thousands of terminals located in retail locations, airports, stores, and venues around the world.

Another big part of our journey has been product development. We have invested significant resources into developing and enhancing the underlying technology to better serve our business customers. This has also meant developing new solutions that allow different methods of feedback across different customer touchpoints. An example would be our Smiley Digital™ product, which allows businesses to easily embed a digital version of our smiley-face feedback system into web pages, emails, and applications. Our efforts have brought us to a point where we are delivering data and feedback insights that result in significant business advantages, including increased customer satisfaction, enhanced operational efficiency, and improved financial performance.

You offer quick and straightforward solutions, such as the Smiley Terminals, and options for customers to provide more detailed feedback. Can you share insights on when it is most appropriate for businesses to use each of these feedback methods? 

Every business has its unique needs and challenges, and our terminals are designed to suit different domains. In a busy retail store, capturing feedback is all about convenience and therefore, our simple Smiley Terminal is extremely effective. A store or business can quickly increase feedback rates by placing several terminals around their site. Once in position, terminals can immediately report feedback data directly to managers and team leads. This means that low satisfaction scores can be located and identified through automatic alerts, and issues can be resolved faster.

Alternatively, our Smiley Touch™ solutions are often better for scenarios where customers are less time-constrained. Using an interactive screen, businesses can engage with customers by tailoring specific questions which appear on the screen. Adopting this solution really helps businesses understand the ‘why’ behind the feedback, and provides them with valuable context through which they can make actionable operational change and improvements.

Last but not least is the Smiley Digital. Our aim with this solution was to take feedback to the next level and into the digital world, bridging the gap between online and physical interactions. As an online companion to our terminals, the Smiley Digital works as an easy integration capable of monitoring the customer experience across both virtual and in-person touchpoints. By seamlessly connecting these dots, businesses can skilfully optimise their omnichannel efforts.

Our dedicated team helps businesses understand which of our solutions, or a combination of them, is going to be most effective to help them achieve their CX or EX goals.

Your organisation has collected more than 1.5 billion feedback responses. Can you discuss the role of analytics? How do you help clients interpret the feedback data and make changes based on the insights?

In today's competitive retail landscape, data undoubtedly serves as the cornerstone for business success. By integrating our feedback systems, businesses can actively collect customer data in real-time and swiftly analyse these insights. This creates an ongoing and dynamic feedback loop between consumers and management, allowing managers easy, efficient access to customer analytics.

Harnessing customer data is key to understanding what customers need, where and when they need it.

Adopting this approach to real-time data profoundly impacts the entire customer experience. It enables businesses to identify bottlenecks and promptly address any issues, from reducing waiting times to optimising store layouts and fine-tuning staff communication. In other words, harnessing customer data is key to understanding what customers need, where and when they need it. Our contribution, therefore, goes beyond data collection; it's about turning that data into actionable strategies for enhancement, which ultimately elevates the overall retail experience and boosts customer satisfaction.

We work closely with our clients to help them make sense of the wealth of data at their disposal. For instance, we offer a Managed Service, where HappyOrNot specialists extract valuable insights from the feedback collection, and offer training and advice for process optimisation.

Could you explain how HappyOrNot adjusted its operations during the COVID-19 pandemic? What lessons were learned from this?

There’s no doubt that the pandemic really tested us, but as a company, we were also able to make some really positive additions which we knew would help businesses stay connected with their customers. In March 2020, we released the Smiley Link to provide customers with a touchless option through which users could leave feedback by quickly scanning a QR code or entering a URL.

Another major change we made involved developing a predictive customer experience tool. It became clear to us that in order to stay ahead, businesses needed a way to visualise trends in their data. This became the inspiration for a feature we added called Foresights. Using an accumulation of historical feedback data, Foresights enables businesses to automatically receive specific predictions on which sites should perform best and worst on any given day. Considering the constantly evolving needs of consumers during the pandemic, this feature really helps us give businesses a way to stay ahead of the curve.

How do you ensure that the feedback process of your services is user-friendly and inclusive?

We use universally recognisable visual representations - our smiley faces - for customers to express their grade of satisfaction. This approach makes it easy for individuals of different backgrounds and demographics to comprehend and interact with our feedback system. Participating in the feedback process is straightforward completely anonymous, and the collected data is securely stored. Our terminals are also deliberately designed to be extremely intuitive so they can be used by anyone, irrespective of their technological capacity.

We’re also dedicated to providing businesses with easy-to-use software. This means presenting customer feedback data in a user-friendly and customisable dashboard. Our automatic reporting also means that operations leads can receive digestible customer feedback insights directly to their smartphone, tablet, or connected device.

Looking ahead, what innovations or developments can we expect from HappyOrNot in the near future?

By integrating HappyOrNot's terminals into their systems, businesses gain the ability to efficiently process thousands of feedback responses and statistics. However, we realised that access to the data is not enough - it is important that businesses help their management to understand how to interpret data insights and then, at the next level, how to respond to and act upon it. This is why in 2023, we launched the HappyOrNot Academy as a self-learning platform designed to educate leaders and staff on how to effectively measure, track and analyse customer feedback. As such, the service allows businesses to focus on their core operations while educating and unleashing their team's full potential.

We are committed to continuously developing and improving this service and aim to make further announcements in 2024. So, watch this space!

Finally, what advice would you give to organisations looking to enhance CX and leverage feedback effectively?

I think the key is perseverance. This means being committed to gathering genuine feedback and then using it to elevate the business in a practical way. It’s not easy, and we have a huge amount of people at HappyOrNot who are experienced in supporting businesses through this process.

If the quantity and quality of the data you receive isn’t up to scratch, then it will be almost worthless, and worse, it could result in misguided decisions.

Taking a quality approach to data is also an integral component of leveraging feedback. If the quantity and quality of the data you receive isn’t up to scratch, then it will be almost worthless, and worse, it could result in misguided decisions. This is why customer feedback insights must be analysed and layered on top of other metrics (i.e. time, day, location) and reported in a reliable manner. By combining these different data sources, it is possible to uncover and unlock new insights.

Ultimately, if businesses can adopt robust feedback mechanisms, they stand in good stead to eliminate operational blind spots, reduce operational inefficiencies, and enhance their customer satisfaction.

Replies (1)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

By passportphotobackground
27th Nov 2023 13:10

The HappyOrNot CEO underscores the importance of comprehensive analysis, advocating for the integration of customer feedback insights with other metrics. This strategic approach enhances decision-making, providing a nuanced understanding of customer satisfaction. A valuable perspective for organizations aiming to optimize their operations and elevate customer experience.

Thanks (1)