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Customer feedback: They don't listen or we don't complain enough?

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9th Sep 2009
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Whilst customers think firms don't listen to their complaints, businesses are concerned by the lack of feedback they receive. So what are they doing about it?

It's time to hit back at poor customer service by getting up and complaining! That's the view of 90% of consumers who say that they are fed up of organisations they deal with not listening to their feedback.

According to the results of a survey by travel firms Thomson and First Choice, just 3% of people think organisations listen to them enough while 36% are adamant that they are never listened to at all, despite the supposed increase in spending on customer feedback technologies to enable organisations to hear what their customers are saying.

Banks come in for the worst consumer scorn as the organistations least likely to listen to customers, while supermarkets, restaurants, high street shops, hotels, regional media, tour operators and national media come in for some praise.

Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Premier Inn, Amazon, the BBC, Thomson, BA, 02, Lloyds TSB and – somewhat incongruously - the Conservative party were cited as examples of organisations that were thought to be good at listening to their customers.

But maybe the customer is partly to blame by not making enough fuss? For example, in  the travel sector, about six out of ten have written a complaint about a previous travel experience, seven out of ten have completed an organisation’s satisfaction form, but one in ten admit that they gave no feedback to their travel provider. For those providers that have invested in online feedback mechanisms, the findings make for sorry reading. While more than half the survey respondents said they read online forums to research their holiday, only a quarter of people say they’ve actually bothered to complete a review and provide feedback.

“We were very surprised to see how few people think their voices are heard by the companies and organisations that are set up to serve them,” commented Demot Blastland, managing director TUI Travel UK & Ireland, the parent company of Thomson and First Choice. “But if one in ten people aren’t giving any feedback at all, things won’t change as fast as they could. We want to encourage more people to give feedback on their experiences – whether it’s good or bad, a small or a major point."

Customer feedback drives

Blastland insisted that some organisations are trying to improve the situation, citing the example of travel firms including review facilities on their websites. “We know, compared to some industries, our own sector hasn’t had a good reputation for listening and this is something we’re looking to change,” he said. “But we would like to change on the basis of more travellers’ views. We can encourage that with research programmes and embedding independent review sites within our own company websites, but ultimately we want British travellers to be even more vocal about their experiences.”

Thomson already has more than 50,000 customer comments on its website and introduced TripAdvisor in 2007 while First Choice will launch customer reviews on its website in 2010. But a significant problem is consumer scepticism about such reviews. According to the research, one in five customers is sceptical about such reviews. They expect reviews to be written by people who are complaining or they assume that people’s standards are so different that what suits one person doesn’t necessarily suit another. There's also the suspicion that the reviews may be written by those with vested interests.

Other firms are pushing on with their own customer feedback drives. Supermarket chain ASDA has recently highlighted the success of its tellASDA push which sees customers issued with receipts at the tills of its 367 stores telling them how they can make comments about their store visit. Customers have the option of providing feedback via a website or through a freephone number; and are asked a series of questions as well as being able to leave comments of their choice.

Many organisations are looking looking to new social media technologies, such as Twitter and Facebook as a channels for customer feedback, but recent research from voice of the customer (VOC) firm Allegiance suggests that they might be better sticking to more traditional mechanisms for now.

Allegiance found that most VOC managers are using traditional tools to monitor feedback, such as sending a survey after a transaction or monitoring customer emails while a mere 12% are monitoring verbatim comments on blogs and social media. Just over a quarter of surveyed respondents said that that they were very likely or likely to incorporate feedback from social networking technologies. Most VOC practitioners stated that their responsibilities include more mundane activities such as sifting through customer feedback data, verbatim comments, and company-specific measurements and making decisions about what should be done with the data.

A big challenge is convincing their company's management to act on that feedback by demonstrating how it will increase the company's profitability. In this regard, many respondents may be their own worst enemies. Although 68% of respondents said it was important or very important to link customer feedback with revenue or ROI, over half – 51% - admitted that they do not currently practice what they preach.

Nearly one-quarter (24%) said that their companies plan to increase customer feedback budgets in the next few years, but 21% indicated no current plan to increase these budgets, and 54% were unsure. Among those who indicated increases planned, key reasons cited included improving the customer experience, increasing customer retention and sales, and maintaining or realising a competitive advantage.

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