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How Elon Musk is driving up standards of feedback-to-action

10th Jan 2017
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Who says senior leaders are so detached from their customers they’re unable to understand their needs?       

With side projects such as firing commuters through a giant tube at supersonic speeds and building the first rocket to send human beings to Mars, Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk is undoubtedly a busy man.

But when the following Tweet was brought to his attention last month, Musk set his team into action with immediate effect:


For those less au fait with Tesla-speak, Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Loic Le Meur was drawing attention to an issue in which owners of electric-powered Tesla vehicles were using charging ports as an excuse to park their cars, ‘free of charge’, in premium Valley parking spots.

Musk stayed true to his word, and six days later, the company announced it was going to charge $0.40 for every minute a fully-powered Tesla stood at its parking stations (after a grace period of five minutes).       

A straightforward update, perhaps, but one delivered in reaction to some important feedback from a customer that could so easily have gone amiss.  

The feedback loop

Musk’s response and subsequent action shows how vital it can be to have a CEO on the pulse. Critically, it also highlights how important it is to have the right monitoring methods across every on and off-line channel your customers reside.

This capability has often been tagged with the moniker ‘closing the feedback loop’, and according to Catherine Constant, marketing director for Keatext, is an area still undervalued in the majority of businesses.     

“Closing the feedback loop means acknowledging your customers, and letting them know that their feedback was heard. Sadly, a very small fraction of companies do not take the time to do this.

“According to Whitney Wood, managing partner at the Phelon Group, although ‘following up is directly correlated with customer loyalty, less than 1 in 5 customers believe that the majority of companies actually listen to their feedback’. That’s pretty unsettling.”

Constant’s advice to businesses aiming to make feedback more actionable is to take a test case, and in a similar manner to Elon Musk, ensure any action you take is made known with the customers who raised the issue. 

“To create and maintain a healthy relationship with your customers, they must be able to see the real impact their feedback is having on your business and ultimately, their continued experience. For example, if you decide to implement new features based on several product requests from a group of customers, send them a personalised update through their preferred channel of communication. Be sure to describe how their suggestions and ideas have contributed to creating a better customer experience.

“Surveys are a great way to gain actionable feedback from both potential and current customers. By improving the process to capture, analyse and utilise survey feedback you are creating open and effective lines of communication with your customers, and identifying new opportunities to improve your products and services. Most importantly of all, you’re sending a powerful message to your customers that their feedback is important to your business.”

Voice of the Customer

Whilst Musk’s recent example is high-profile, it’s by no means unique. As author and consultant, Michael Hinshaw recently explained on MyCustomer, this astute attention to detail is often what separates customer experience leaders from laggards, such as Zappos, Apple, QVC and Amazon:

  • Zappos: “When it comes to creating great experiences, Zappos says that the number one tool any company can use is listening. Backing this up with action, they “respond to every single customer inquiry, whether it's via phone, email, live chat, Twitter, Facebook, Zappos blog, etc.” In fact, many of their experience improvements are inspired by customer feedback.”
  • Apple: “Listening to customers is more than lip service at Apple. CEO Tim Cook reads - and sometimes responds to - up to a hundred customer emails every day. And despite the myth, Steve Jobs really DID listen to customers. Maybe people don’t know what they want until you show them.  But if you show them and pay attention to what they say and do? Bingo.”
  • QVC: “A top CX leader (number two in one national study, behind USAA), QVC encourages customers to share via product feedback, ratings, community forums, and on-air testimonials. They’re regularly listening to and thanking customers by promoting Customer Picks, and responding to all kinds of on-air questions. It’s real-time, transparent Voice of the Customer (VoC).”
  • Amazon: “All departments at Amazon are completely data-driven - based on the success and failures of the customer experience. And like Apple’s Tim Cook, CEO Jeff Bezos is a hands-on advocate for VoC, driving it from the top. To which, he’s known for forwarding emails from unsatisfied customers to members of his team and demanding a fix within hours.”

One main barrier for businesses is the sheer number of channels they now have to monitor for feedback, especially online. It’s a process that requires support across multiple departments, says Claire Sporton, VP, customer experience management, Confirmit; as well as an effective Voice of the Customer (VoC) programme, as Hinshaw alluded to in all of his above examples.

“It’s vital to put the insights into the hands of the people who can use it. This means providing as many people as possible in the organisation with a window into the feedback generated through the VoC programme.

“Think of it as dozens – or indeed hundreds – of mini control centres driven by a central hub. Each employee is responsible for using that insight to impact the customer experience in their area of control, in their own way but aligned to a shared vision and ethos. When an action needs to be taken that’s beyond their remit, the control centre should enable them to escalate issues to the right person.”

As is highlighted in Hinshaw’s multiple examples, data management is often the key to successfully drawing out genuinely useful feedback that is actionable, and Voice of the Customer programmes usually live and die by the data management capabilities of a business.

However, in order to connect employees across a business with the feedback data they may be independently collecting, a more profound understanding is required.

Closing the feedback loop means acknowledging your customers, and letting them know that their feedback was heard. Sadly, a very small fraction of companies do not take the time to do this.

“Is it always the case that the growing data mountain is being analysed accurately?” asks Phil Durand, Confirmit’s director of customer experience. “Is the truth being uncovered and communicated to the right people in the most digestible format so that they are empowered to make a difference and take action?

"There is clearly a need for customer data to be integrated with CRM, operational and financial data and presented to the executive team in a dashboard that can be ‘sliced and diced’ in meaningful ways. And incorporating customer metrics as strategic KPIs alongside sales and profit targets obviously brings CX into the heart of the business.

"Would CX programmes be more successful if VoC specialists were more able to translate and communicate the story to a wider audience? Could we make a bigger effort to tell better stories that can be shared with the widest possible audience – the entire company – and not just a select few – the CX team?

"Storytelling as part of a proactive VoC programme requires a real understanding of purpose (the desire to become market leader, for example), the characters (the company, employees, customers, competitors) and the plot (what has changed, where are the bottlenecks, how can things be improved and what has already made a difference). Assembled in such a way, a VoC programme can be presented as a story that people will listen to, identify with – and more importantly – act upon."

Having this central narrative running through Tesla is undoubtedly what allowed Elon Musk to pick up on Loic Le Meur’s tweet and be able to encourage his team to act on it, back in December. However the crucial point may also be that with this framework in place, everyone across the business can be empowered to use feedback to take action, too.  

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