Customer feedback is an important part of any business relationship. That's why collecting customer feedback should be central to any customer experience (CX) operation.
This guide will define customer feedback, explain why customer feedback is important, identify different types of customer feedback, and outline tips from customer service experts on how to make the most of it.
What is customer feedback?
Customer feedback is any information that customers give a company about their experience, says CX expert Jeff Toister. It includes: insights, opinions, reactions, preferences, and complaints about the company’s products or services.
Why is customer feedback important?
Customer feedback is important because it tells a business what people are thinking, feeling, or experiencing when dealing with the company. The company can then use that information to make better, customer-centric decisions.
The stakes are high. When used well, a strong customer feedback loop can:
- Improve products or services
- Improve internal processes that impact the customer experience
- Help build stronger connections with customers
In this special CX Moment, Leanna Nazzisi, Sr. Manager, Customer Operations & Communications at Birchbox, explains that "asking [customers] what they need, rather than telling them, 'Here's what we can do'" can help to build and maintain a feeling of community and humility.
Of course, customer feedback isn’t always positive. Though negative feedback can hurt, it can hurt more in the long run when the business is unprepared to act on it.
Types of customer feedback
Customer feedback can be qualitative, such as a written online review or information a customer shares with an agent or a sales representative about their experience. It can also be quantitative, such as a customer satisfaction score or a numerical review.
Here are a few examples of the different types of customer feedback:
- Customer service feedback
- Sales or customer success feedback
- Social media posts
- Support ticket spikes
Customer feedback can also be direct, such as a survey answer or conversation with an agent. Or, it can be indirect, such as a comment on social media that wasn’t addressed to the company.
Direct customer feedback
- Customer service feedback. Using a customer satisfaction survey, customers rate the experience they had in a support interaction. The results impact an agent’s customer satisfaction score, a numerical value also known as CSAT.
- Customer surveys are used for many different reasons, including measuring customer satisfaction, market research, or gauging expectations.
- Customer reviews for products may be gathered and displayed with the product on the company’s e-commerce site. Customer reviews of experiences and services may be located on the company’s website or housed on a third-party review site, like Yelp. Reviews on third-party review sites often take customer service and customer experience into account, as these types of reviews are more helpful for evaluating mechanics, nail salons, accountants, and restaurants. The purpose of both types of customer reviews is the same: to help customers or potential customers make an informed decision based on other peoples’ experience.
- Sales or customer success feedback. Existing customers, especially large accounts in business-to-business relationships, often have a dedicated sales or success representative. An account executive or customer success rep can relay feedback to product teams or other internal teams for assistance.
Watch this video about using simple CSAT surveys to get customer feedback:
Indirect customer feedback
- Social media posts about how great (or not great) a product or experience was. Social media blasts can be hard to decipher, so tread cautiously—the customer might just be venting rather than speaking intentionally to the company and expecting a response.
- Comments about the company that are read or heard in a store, event, or in online forums.
- A spike in related customer support issues. A help center or community forum is a great way to help customers self-serve on simple, repeat issues. But if there’s an uptick in searches and pageviews for the same help article or question, this could be a form of indirect customer feedback. If everyone is having an issue about the same thing, there may be something amiss with your website, UI, or discount code for example.
- Returns. Take a common scenario: buying a pair of shoes, realizing they don’t fit, and returning them. Since a smooth returns process is becoming more common, it’s likely you wouldn’t need to speak to anyone in this situation. Still, the fact that the shoes are being returned is an important data point. Some people say why they’re returning something, and others don’t. Similar to a spike in related customer support issues, if many people are reporting that the sizes are off, the online sizing chart could use some work or maybe even the product needs revisiting.
Before you start collecting customer feedback, the first step is to start with your why, Toister says. Why are you asking customers for their feedback? What are you going to do with it? We have all the data in the world at our fingertips, but it means nothing if you don’t know what to do with it.
“Different tools in your toolkit are useful for different reasons,” Toister says. “Feedback is like that”
Some questions to answer:
- Why do you want customer feedback?
- What do you hope to learn from the feedback?
- What do you plan on doing with the feedback once you get it?
- Answers to these deceptively simple questions will point you toward the best and most effective way to gather customer feedback.
Best practices for collecting customer feedback
Now, we'll discuss some of the best practices for collecting customer feedback. Three of the most common ways are by sending customer surveys, building a community forum, and rolling out a Voice of the Customer program.
- Send customer surveys
There are good customer surveys and bad customer surveys.
Good customer surveys are convenient for customers to complete, and they provide important business intelligence for the company. Here’s how to create a good customer feedback survey:
- Clearly define your goal
- Write unbiased questions
- Send surveys in relevant channels
- Keep it short
- Offer rewards
- Provide a variety of questions
- Give your customers options
- Always follow up. “If I hear from one person about an issue, I assume everybody else is affected,” Toister says.
There are bad customer surveys, too. Companies that don’t have a definitive “why” about customer feedback fall into these traps, according to Toister:
- Sending out surveys but not doing anything with them. “Most companies ignore that data routinely. As a customer, it's generally not worth your time to fill out a survey because it's not going to be used for anything,” Toister says.
- Manipulative language. “A majority of surveys out there are deliberately manipulative in their language,” Toister says. “They’re designed to get you to give them a good score, not to get honest feedback about your experience that they can then turn into action.”
- A focus on feelings over facts. “Surveys are really good about feelings,” Toister says. A customer was upset about the wait time because it was really busy in the store or the restaurant, for example. Many companies seek that kind of feedback and get it easily. But they don’t always go a step further to determine what went wrong to lead to those long wait times. In a poorly constructed survey, the customer only repeats their frustration, which is the result of a problem—it isn’t the problem itself.
Toister’s solution: Have more customer conversations. See issues coming ahead of time by having as many conversations with as many customers as possible.
- Build a community forum
A robust community forum is a powerful source of customer feedback, with its combination of support, social networking, and communications. It’s a centralized place for customers to talk among themselves to share tips and tricks, and it’s a great way to get direct and indirect customer feedback. Owned community forums are most common, where the conversation happens directly on the company's website.
A huge market-research team could identify what customers are thinking and feeling, or a dedicated team could take some time every day to dip into the community and find out for themselves. Having this info is the first step; next is using it to drive better practices, products, and experiences for customers.
Dave Dyson, community marketing specialist at Zendesk, always pays attention to what isn’t said within the community. For example, if people are asking questions that aren’t already answered in the help center, they may have simply missed that post. But, those questions may indicate something else is wrong. Maybe:
- The help center is hard to find.
- The article is incomplete or outdated.
- The product documentation is unclear.
- There is a more serious issue with the product that isn’t addressed in the help center.
Like Toister, Dyson also listens to the indirect part of the feedback. Instead of focusing on the question or request, like “Please make your product do x, y, and z,” he digs deeper to understand the problem they are trying to solve. He also looks into what they are doing to work around that problem, and how their work has been impacted as a result of this problem. If a workaround is slowing down response time, for example, that provides more meaningful, actionable insight.
The challenge with any community forum is helping customers feel seen and heard while also being transparent about what is on the product roadmap and why. That’s why the business should agree on what kind of feedback in the community gets a response: x number of upvotes or downvotes? And if so, what kind of response—what warrants escalation to the product team? As discussed, customers feeling unheard or unseen can be even worse than never asking for their feedback in the first place.
- Roll out a Voice of the Customer program
A Voice of the Customer program, or VoC program, is the primary hub of all customer feedback about a business, according to Lisa Hayes, director of the Voice of the Customer program at Zendesk. A VoC program is one way to ensure a streamlined process for managing customer feedback. Feedback can come from all of the sources above and more, including:
- Customer surveys
- CSAT score
- NPS, or net promoter score
- Advocacy teams—as frontline customer service representatives and as daily users of the product themselves
- Advisory boards
- 1:1 conversations with customer-facing teams and individuals
- Sales—client feedback or insight from lost opportunities or deals
- Product pilots and early access programs
VoC teams manage feedback from all these sources by:
- Gathering feedback from different sources
- Identifying themes, and
- Serving up actionable insight for the business that describes customer pain points, how they can be addressed, and the impact on the business of taking those actions. Maybe they think it’ll impact churn, customer retention, customer loyalty-it always goes back to the impact on the business.
Though product feedback is a major portion of the customer feedback, it is not the only type of feedback customers provide. Since “listening posts” are typically activated throughout the customer journey, feedback might be about whether they would recommend Zendesk or how they would rate their support experience.
There are a billion different ways a business is getting feedback, but Hayes emphasizes a key point about customer feedback workflow: “We don’t need to own it. We just need to help capture, collate it, and provide the analysis around it.”
Tips for VoC success
- Integrate the VoC team into the entire CX operation. Good intentions aren’t usually good enough. Connecting VoC with product, sales, or go-to-market teams helps drive awareness, and therefore better processes, more commitment, and greater accountability.
- Invest in a customer feedback tool. A successful VoC program doesn’t rely on spreadsheets and manual data entry alone. Research the best tools for customer feedback management.
- Don't flag every single feature request to a product manager—but do have a plan for managing them. The best solution to a customer’s problem isn’t always a product or feature update. While a “workaround” might seem like a copout, a partner solution may, in fact, be the best solution.
- Manage expectations. Be clear with customers and internal stakeholders about what will be communicated, to whom and when.
Regardless of how you get customer feedback, empower everyone in your organization to act on it.
“A lot of the people we speak to on the front lines are not given the tools or the encouragement to share that data. If you call customer service and say, ‘I'm really upset about this issue,’ they're trained to help you maybe feel a little bit better, maybe help you fix the issue, but they might not have a good mechanism to share that with anybody who will do anything with it.”Jeff Toister, Customer Experience Expert
How to use customer feedback?
Now that you’re collecting customer feedback, what to do with it? Bill Gates once said that “your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning,” and the truth is that customer feedback, good or bad, is only valuable if it’s used.
Here are a few ways to ensure that customer feedback is having a meaningful impact on your business:
- Share customer feedback widely
Customer feedback can be incredibly powerful, but only if it reaches the people on your team that need it, namely: product, customer support, marketing, and sales. When sharing feedback from customers, whether it’s in real time or at regular intervals, make sure that any insights are circulated widely and don’t just get siloed at the highest levels.
- Listen and act
Now that you’ve created an open dialogue with your customers, it’s important to let them know that you’re listening. Some customer feedback may warrant an immediate response, say if something isn’t working properly or there’s a product defect. Other feedback can help you identify areas for improvement to products or services, spot emerging customer needs or opportunities for innovation, and ultimately feed into longer-term business roadmaps.
- Make it right, prevent customer churn
Customers provide valuable insight into what’s working...and what isn’t. Reaching out to customers that haven’t had a good experience gives you the opportunity to better understand their frustrations and make things right. What’s more, looking at negative reviews at scale can help you identify and fix larger problem areas that might be impacting customer retention.
- Identify and nurture champions
It doesn’t have to be all about fixing problems. Collecting customer feedback can help you find your niche among the industries or people where you have the best fit. Most importantly, it can also help you find your happiest customers and (potential) future advocates. Find ways to go the extra mile for these customers and see if they’d be willing to recommend you to their friends or colleagues.
- Celebrate success
Similarly, customer feedback can highlight what your team is doing well or where you’re going the extra mile for customers. Make sure that any positive feedback reaches the person responsible, be it the support agent that handled the ticket or the engineer that built a specific site feature, and share it widely. Not only does this help team members feel appreciated, but it can go a long way in motivating them and others to continually look for ways to improve.
Customer feedback is customer data
All customer feedback is customer data. When used well, it can mend relationships and make existing ones even stronger. Take the returned shoes as an example. One-off issues will always happen. But if an inaccurate sizing chart or improperly sized shoe is to blame, it could touch off numerous problems:
- Customers are inconvenienced and annoyed
- Customers share their negative experience with others on social media or via a star-based review on the ecommerce website.
- If gone unchecked, the brand now has a reputation for selling off sizes—and for allowing the problem to continue despite multiple forms of customer feedback. In this worst-case scenario, not paying attention to feedback adds insult to injury.
Know why you want customer feedback, build a process around getting it, share customer feedback widely, then act on it to champion your customers at every step of their journey.