Customer feedback

Why your customer feedback isn't actionable - and what to do about it


Collecting customer feedback isn't a problem. The problem is how to extract actionable insights from the data to drive process improvements and change.

29th Jul 2022

Customer experience (CX) is quickly becoming the key brand differentiator for organisations. To be able to compete on CX, organisations must continuously be improving on it. And, to be able to improve the CX, companies must listen to and address customer needs.

Voice of the Customer (VoC) has been defined as the process of capturing customers’ experiences and sentiments on products, services and the brand. A VoC programme is used to gauge how well an organisation is doing with its CX strategy. In fact, VoC enables organisations to deliver better experiences. Thus, organisations must have rich VoC programmes to optimise the CX.

The message of listening to customers has sunk in so much that organisations are happily investing in some type of VoC programme. They want to get customers’ feedback on preferences and experiences, share these insights with corporate stakeholders, and act on these insights so they can improve the experience.

The problem isn’t in collecting feedback. Organisations have a plethora of data at their fingertips. The problem is how to extract actionable insights from the data to drive process improvements and change.

Findings from a recent Aberdeen study have showed that one out of three businesses hasn’t yet developed a systematic and formalised approach to listen to and address customer needs.

This data aligns well with Temkin Group’s State of VoC Programs. While most companies think their VoC efforts are successful, the Temkin study shows that less than 25% of companies consider themselves good at making changes to the business based on the insights.

VoC maturity is still an issue. According to the report, only 14% of companies have reached the two highest levels of maturity (out of six levels) with almost 50% remaining in the bottom two levels.

To have an effective VoC programme, organisations must take a systematic approach to feedback collection and incorporate it directly into their business decisions.

Trouble in paradise

At the onset, organisations shoot themselves in the foot.

First, they make mistakes in data collection that result in data not being as useful as it should be.

Common data collection mistakes include the following:

  1. Sending surveys too often. When you send multiple surveys within a short time period, responses tend to be less detailed and may lean toward the negative as customers become more frustrated and annoyed. Survey fatigue sets in and things go downhill from there.
  2. Asking more than 5-10 questions per survey. Not respecting customers’ time by asking irrelevant and too many questions is only going to add to their frustration level and ensure they will either ignore your surveys or provide negative feedback in the future. Ask yourself whether you really want to hurt a relationship that you took so long to build in this way?
  3. Asking multiple questions within a question. When you ask a question like ‘Was the agent friendly and did they make it easy to resolve your issue?, how do you interpret the feedback you receive from these so-called double-barreled questions? Are they answering the first part or the second part? Limit your question so only one thing is being measured.
  4. Asking leading questions. Asking a question such as “don’t you agree that our advocacy programme is great” influences the response and sways the respondent into the direction you want instead of listening to their actual feedback and learning from it.
  5. Making responses too general. When you provide answers to a question like How frequently do you use XYZ software?, and you provide the following responses: very often, often, rarely, very rarely, etc. these responses will cause inaccuracy in feedback and difficulty in interpreting the results. This is because customers view subjective words like ‘often’ or ‘rarely’ differently. Instead, provide a specific range of values. For example: every day, once per week, once per month, etc.
  6. Requiring answers to all questions. Nothing is more annoying to respondents than taking a survey and being required to answer every question. This will likely generate increased survey abandonment. A few skipped responses is not going to change your results. So think very carefully which questions you want to require a response to.
  7. Not speaking in the customer’s language. When you use jargon, acronyms, and other words that aren’t in your customer’s vocabulary, you risk customers becoming confused and that leaves you with inaccurate feedback.

Second, some valuable data may not be even getting into the data collection chain to act on it at all.

There are reports that between 80-85% of information a business uses are in unstructured form, primarily text.

Businesses must do something with this unstructured data to use it in some purposeful way.

This unsolicited feedback data can come from three places. It can come from outside sources such as social channels, product review sites, or other online communities. Or it can come into the company outside the formal survey process like chat or email strings, or call recordings. It can even be in the form of free text responses in surveys.

This information is not making its way into actionable insights that need to be addressed by companies.


VoC, Systematically

Aberdeen considers a systematic approach to VoC involving three key components: Gather, Analyse and Act.

The first step is to gather relevant, time-sensitive feedback and sentiment across all interaction channels to be able to stay in-tune with customers.

The next step is to turn data into actionable insights by drilling down and analysing VoC through different lenses, including product, service, location, and channel.

The third step is to turn insights into action. Insights derived from VoC data are put into action by employees. As Aberdeen notes, “it’s vital for companies to coach and train staff on their role in influencing customer experience results. This must be coupled with regular performance measurements on how each employee, or business department, influences customer satisfaction results.”

How can companies take a systematic approach to their VoC initiatives?

Five keys to drive VoC success

1. Ensure executive buy-in is in place.

There must be a C-level executive who champions the effort, defines what VoC means to the company, and makes it a priority.

This entails:

  • Establishing and driving the VoC vision.
  • Aligning and influencing the organisation by ensuring all stakeholders (not just customer-facing ones) understand this vision and their role in it, and ensuring that employees take ownership and are accountable for their piece of the VoC effort.
  • Managing VoC metrics and connecting them to the business strategy.

For the C-suite to pay attention, they need to see how VoC data is impacting the bottom line. And to do that, show VoC metrics along with financial and operational metrics.

2. Ensure listening posts are in the proper places.

You can’t be everywhere at the same time. Set up listening posts where it matters.

Analyse your customer journey to re-evaluate where key touch points and moments of truth are. These places are where your listening posts should be. In addition, have listening posts at other places where your customers frequent such as specific social channels or online communities.

Also, make sure that you aren’t relying solely on listening posts. Have direct conversations with your customers that are relevant and concise. So while you’re getting the feedback, you’re understanding underlying emotions as well.

It’s also important to capture the employee’s voice as employees have very valuable data to share. The voice of the employee is such an underutilised tool to help drive CX improvement. In addition, you might also find value in feedback from your vendors.

3. Empower customers to provide feedback.

Creating lengthy, irrelevant surveys that are too frequent or untimely will increase survey fatigue and discourage customers from providing honest, accurate feedback.

Rather, aim for relevant, clear and concise surveys that maximise your customers’ time. They will show their appreciation for you respecting their time.

Ensure that your survey aligns with your business objectives so be thoughtful and purposeful in your survey design.

Also, when customers provide feedback and see that the company isn’t implementing their feedback, this deters them from providing future feedback.

Instead, respond to feedback that customers provide. This will encourage customers to leave more feedback.  

Deliver shorter, more relevant surveys at appropriate times. Provide a sense of urgency on when you need the feedback. Give a guarantee on how long the survey will take to complete. Inform customers on how you plan to use the feedback. Also, try using less traditional methods, such as a customer advocacy programme or customer advisory board, for example, to elicit feedback.

4. Tell a complete story with your data.

Only using structured data in your VoC initiatives is like having a one-sided coin. It doesn’t tell the entire story. In fact, it could set you up for a lot of false positives.

Combine structured and unstructured feedback data in your analyses. Use quantitative and qualitative data from many sources to help tell a complete story.

And, don’t silo your VoC data. Integrate it with the rest of the your organisation’s data so your data is telling a complete story and people throughout the organisation have easy and timely access to this data.

5. Develop a plan to close the feedback loop.

This is the biggest challenge of VoC programmes and which eludes most organisations – getting actionable insights from collected feedback back into your business processes.

This requires collecting and analysing customer feedback data, extracting actionable insights, prioritising these insights, disseminating insights to appropriate personnel, implementing these insights into business processes and closing the loop with the customer.

Develop a cross-functional project team of key stakeholders to develop this plan. The focus should be on keeping the VoC vision and goals top of mind and creating a framework to support them.

You will need to detail every activity along with the who’s, what’s, when’s, how’s and why’s of that activity. This includes knowing objectives for every piece of data you collect; when data collection and analysis will happen; the process it will inform, processes and departments affected, which team will use this data; how to extract insights from the data; how to rank insights; how to get insights to key stakeholders; who will be responsible for making business decisions on the insights; who will get insights into processes and when; who will test processes; who will close the loop with the customer and when; etc.

To deliver great customer experiences, companies must have a sound VoC strategy. Taking a systematic approach by integrating these five items will ensure VoC and business outcome success.


Replies (7)

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By Daniel Plowright
17th May 2018 11:01

Great article Sue. This sits well with our own experience. Many businesses don't want to ask (no 'buy-in' to the output), when they do ask... they ask the wrong questions and then they take zero action on the opportunities highlighted. It's frustrating that so many businesses (of all shapes and sizes) are leaving huge amounts of potential revenue from existing customers on the table. When they do it well the results can be impressive, both for them and their customers.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Daniel Plowright:
By Sue Duris
20th May 2018 00:08

Thanks so much for reading Daniel! And right you are!

Thanks (0)
By EJohn Morris
24th May 2018 09:02

Hi Sue, nice article, although there is a bit missing here for me. Employees, especially those who touch the customer are also a data source understanding where the customers thinking is and the current mood based on their interaction.
I'd be interested in your thoughts on that.


Thanks (1)
Replying to EJohn Morris:
By Sue Duris
24th May 2018 14:48

Hi John.

You're correct. Customer-facing employees are a valuable data source for understanding customer thoughts and emotions. There are many sources of data that we must use, then we must drill down for insights, ensure we are prioritizing insights and acting on them and then closing the loop with the customer. This is the only way in which to make CX better. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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By KayMurphy
05th Jun 2018 15:33

Great article, thank you for sharing. We are just starting out with our VoC program. We collect quite a bit of feedback about our website and each month, the high-level trends about online experience, errors are all presented to the team, however, I am finding it difficult to drill down even further to identify actual changes and actions to be taken. Any ideas?

Thanks (1)
Replying to KayMurphy:
By Sue Duris
05th Jun 2018 15:57

Thanks for reading and commenting, Kay!

Without knowing your exact situation, it will be difficult to assess. However, I'd say though that you want to give your customers the opportunity, through feedback, customer interviews, etc. to get into the weeds a bit with you so you have info to go on when you perform root cause analysis.

I'm happy to jump on a call to run through some scenarios with you. Would that be something that would help?

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Agi Marx
By AgiMarx
27th Jun 2018 12:58

Thanks for this article Sue, very informative and I completely agree with your points.

Something that we come across at Thematic (AI-driven customer feedback analysis solution), is that many of our enterprise level clients have access to vast amounts of data but simply do not know what to do with it.

Also, they might be held back by bureaucratic and organizational confines, in that they have to manually analyze the data, which is time-consuming, and allows for biases.

We recently wrote about how to get actionable insights from customer feedback, which I thought was relevant in relation to your post:



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