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I have written and spoken many times over the last few months about the current state of customer feedback mechanisms. Whilst a number of new, innovative ways of capturing customer feedback do exist, the majority of organisations around the world continue to seek customer opinion through traditional survey techniques.

It is indisputable that listening to the perceptions of your customer is vital for any aspiring customer centric company – yet are companies really set up to actually listen? Last week I had the pleasure of talking to an incredibly passionate Customer Experience Professional called Julia Forsyth. Julia is a proud Scot who now resides in New Zealand. I was keen to talk to Julia as she has what I consider to be one of the most fabulous job titles I have ever encountered – Chief Enthusiasm Officer – how brilliant is that?!

Julia’s enthusiasm for enabling companies to listen to customers is so compelling, that I asked her if she would be interested in writing about it – I am delighted to say that she agreed! I urge you to spend ten minutes of your time ‘reading’ her thoughts on how important it is to connect to your customers through conversation…

Creating fantastic customer experiences is widely recognized as a competitive advantage in today’s market. A company’s fortunes will rise or fall off the back of good or bad customer experiences that are often amplified on social media.

Here is a case in point.

American Airlines, with their tag line “going for great” has been anything but great for one particular customer. He took to reddit with a video explaining his frustrations.

Terrible customer experiences like this come about when c-level executives are a million miles away from understanding what the actual customer experience is. Charts and graphs will tell them whether customers are generally satisfied, with outliers – customers who are very unhappy or very happy – providing the extremes of customer feedback, but hearing directly from one passenger about his experience crystalizes the flaws in this airlines processes and procedures.

Connecting decision makers who are often not in customer-facing roles is critical if your organization aspires to be truly customer-centric and wants to avoid creating moments of misery for customers.

But what does being connected to your customers look like? Pretty much every company of a certain size these days has a feedback programme in place. They are collecting a constant stream of scores and comments from happy customers…disappointed customers…ambivalent customers, but having a constant stream is problematic if it’s full of noise and you have to wade through a lot of “blah” to get to the insight and actionable feedback.

Importantly, many surveys are in themselves a terrible customer experience. If you are asking 5 or more rating questions, are customers really engaged with the survey after question 4 or are they just pushing numbers without much thought in order to get to the end? And if that is the case – how much value should you really place on these scores in terms of allowing them to define your goals and strategic direction?

If you really want to connect with your customers it’s much better to do so through conversation. And it’s hard to have a conversation via email or text surveys, and not practical or affordable to have face-to-face conversations with customers at scale. Written feedback, restricted to text-boxes or in ultra short-form, can often squeeze the emotion out of an interaction. With the rise of instant messaging and text messaging, people are in the habit of constant abbreviation. Emojis and gifs are often inserted to compensate for the absence of nuance and meaning that is conveyed via spoken language.


The power of voice is underestimated. Companies talk about listening to the voice of the customer when they are really just reading customer comments. Why? Because saying you are reading customer comments doesn’t sound nearly so impactful! And that’s because it isn’t!!

Consider these two statements:

A: “We read customer comments”

B: “We listen to our customers”

Which one makes the company sound as though they really care? Which one would give you confidence, as a customer, that your feedback is having an impact?

B, right?

Which is why, when companies do A they describe it as B!

When you read a customer comment that is related to a low score your first response is often defensive; to try to excuse or explain away the complaint. The very act of listening to customers’ voices when they explain a low score is one of collaboration and cooperation, it is an act of understanding – it is empathy-building. By listening to customers we are naturally motivated to solve for the customer. Listening to customers’ voices makes the customer real and brings the feedback to life in a way that reading comments does not and cannot do.

My company, BigEars, is all about helping organisations listen to customers via audio feedback, because I am a passionate believer in the power of voice!

big ears traditional

big ears new

However regardless of the methodology you use to collect feedback there are a few key factors that you should consider. I absolutely believe that every customer survey can be a good customer experience. I believe surveys should be seen as an important touchpoint on the customer journey in their own right. So even if you are just using a web survey for feedback there are a few rules you should follow to ensure it leaves your customers feeling that you respect and value their time and that you appreciate their feedback and will use it to make an impact on your organisation!

Here are the golden rules I use when implementing a BigEars survey for the organisations I work with.

  1. Keep it short

You might have lots of KPIs riding on your customer experience, but your customers don’t work for you. They are giving up their precious free time to help you improve your business, you don’t want to make them regret that. Ask a few good and interesting questions. Think about what it is you want to learn and build your survey around that. Don’t give customers a long list of rating questions. It’s boring, and by question 4 your customers are just entering numbers without giving much thought to the question they’ve been asked.

  1. Use branching and logic

There really is no excuse for not doing this but it is amazing how many companies don’t!  Even the free versions of most web surveys offer this feature. After a rating question, branch to an appropriate follow up question. If a customer has given a low score – branch to a question that acknowledges their disappointment before asking for a comment to find out why. If they give a high score – thank them, tell them you are pleased to hear that, and ask them to explain what it was that delighted them. But for goodness sake, don’t ask a customer who has already given you a perfect score what you can do to make them more likely to recommend you!

The other advantage of branching is that you can in effect ask different questions of different customer groups. So you can take people along a specific survey-path depending on how they answer a demographic question, or an NPS question. This means you can ask 4 or 5 questions which are targeted and relevant to specific customer groups instead of asking 25 less relevant questions to everyone.

  1. Use appropriate language

Language is so important in a customer survey. The language you use internally to measure staff performance is not necessarily appropriate to your customers. Use language that is unambiguous, meaningful and concise. Use simple sentence structure. You don’t want your customer to have to work hard to understand what it is you are asking them! Think about your target audience and your brand, and make sure you use language that fits. It goes without saying that you should always ensure your grammar and spelling are accurate, yet still I see plenty of surveys that get this wrong.

  1. Ask open-ended questions

It seems so obvious. Open-ended questions are the “why” and that is where the insight resides. And yet so many surveys I have completed recently have denied me this opportunity. Although the survey is therefore shorter, ironically it makes me feel less valued as a customer. The company don’t care enough about my opinion to give me a chance to share it, nor are they really interested in hearing from me. Ratings without an explanation behind them are meaningless and will not enable the customer to tell you what they think! Without explanations, you will be forced to make assumptions about reasons behind those scores – and that’s never a good idea!

  1. Close the loop

If customers take time to tell you what they think, be sure to close the loop. Thank them and publish the results  – along with the changes you’ve made to your business as a result of listening to your customers. Customers are far more likely to engage with a future survey if they believe their insights will have an impact.  Customers generally want to help you. Look on their feedback as a gift. Don’t stash it away in a drawer somewhere…thank them and be sure to use it to make a difference. That’s what you owe them for taking the time to complete your survey!

Julia Forsyth

Julia is Chief Enthusiasm Officer and co-founder of BigEars.

Too often customer feedback is overlooked, buried in documents and viewed by only a few people in an organisation. We want to change that. BigEars’ mission is to deliver rich, insightful audio feedback that is easy to share, and impossible to ignore.
Do get in touch to talk further about customer experience, feedback programmes and becoming customer centric!