The Feedback Is In: It’s Time for a Sustainable Business Strategy
Feedback. When I hear that word, I’m reminded of the Mad Men episodes in which ad firm Sterling Cooper would assemble a group of people representing a market segment or desired buyer type, and observe from beyond glass the participants’ reactions to a product or campaign idea. The goal of a focus group was, and still is today, to solicit and elicit feedback — some kind of immediate, tangible, and actionable data. As a tool, focus groups proved an easy way to obtain input or validate assumptions, but it has traditionally served as little more than a barometer for marketing efforts — a limited, snapshot in time. Useful, yes. Interesting, certainly. Statistically reliable, not really. Feedback is great, but the way we use feedback in the Experience Era needs to change if we plan to keep up with customer expectations.
A company that comes to mind when I think about using data, insights, and feedback well is Liberty Global — the world’s largest international TV and broadband company. The company’s optimization practice demonstrates the shift I see among digitally-mature, insights-driven companies to make testing commonplace, and build feedback loops for continuous optimization and improvement.
Liberty Global was analyzing its digital customer experience and discovered that there was a very specific point where customers would evidently get frustrated with the website, and pick up the phone to get in touch with a human being. Like many companies in the telecommunications industry, the team at Liberty Global knew that those phone calls were far more expensive to the company than providing a great self-service web experience. As a result of optimization efforts to improve and encourage self-service, the volume going through the call center dropped and cost-savings were realized. Problem solved.
Feedback promotes optimization.
The Liberty Global example I’ve shared so far is indeed a success story — a great win by all counts. But it’s also the traditional way of thinking of and using feedback, which looks at feedback and the data it provides in terms of one-and-done. It’s about using insights to uncover problems and opportunities, fix them, then move on to the next task. It works, but that approach may mean overlooking ongoing and continuous improvement. The beauty of Liberty Global’s story, however, is that they didn’t stop there.
Instead, they stayed in the data, watched the trends following the website change, and realized there was a segment of the customer population that really should be calling in. Analysis indicated that both parties might be better served by what turned out to be a profitable one-to-one telephone interaction with this segment. It turned out that the skilled and knowledgeable personnel in the call center were good at talking to customers about the benefits of other products, and helped to generate additional revenue through upsell opportunities to this segment. The problem with the website had been real, and it needed to be optimized, but hidden in the data was additional feedback about how to increase revenue.
Feedback means more than one-way communication.
Unlike Liberty Global, for many companies, feedback flows in only one direction. Customers give feedback and companies do nothing more than collect the data. This isn’t a feedback loop. It’s the traditional definition of reporting. In this process, brand marketers review data to tease out insights and other opportunities, but rarely go the distance to close the loop and, thereby, make real and positive changes based on feedback data. And, as a result, these companies miss out on valuable opportunities to continue raising the bar in regards to the customer experiences they offer. For this, they must act on the insights surfaced.
Creating the virtuous feedback loop.
As we move forward into the Experience Era, closing the feedback loop will be increasingly important to meeting customer expectations and providing amazing experiences. But, this requires the ability to generate real-time insights that are actionable at scale, while still relevant. Leading experience brands solve this conundrum through technology. These brands take five steps to close the feedback loop and generate actionable insights.
Before I get into the process, however, let me point out something important. Creating these feedback loops isn’t overly complex in theory — in a nutshell, it’s just the scientific method — but in practice it can seem a bit overwhelming, so remember that we’re talking about the near future of experience business, not really the present. The necessary technologies — think machine learning, artificial intelligence, and even the Internet of Things (IoT) as a data source — are only just emerging, so almost no one is completely closing that feedback loop yet. The upside is that companies that start developing this capability now can be the first movers and, therefore, get ahead of the pack with even small steps forward.
- Identify the types of feedback available to your company.
Every industry has access to different feedback mechanisms and data. Obvious sources to look for are your marketing and behavioral analytics, Voice of the Customer, reviews, net promoter scores, usage data, and website and in-app surveys. But you can also read between the lines, like Liberty Global did, via a customer-centric, instead of a channel-centric, customer view. By identifying and taking into account different types of usage feedback, they learned that their website was broken.
- Merge analytics engines and consolidate data platforms.
If you’re like most organizations, gathering all those different types of feedback will involve different data sources within the business — website usage, email campaigns, mobile, call center, and more. This requires bringing together different functions to share the data — to pool it into a common analytics platform in order to start seeing how the data from one area relates to data from another. For Liberty Global, this included combining website-usage data with call-center data, and thereby gaining insight into the customer experience.
- Create 360-degree customer views.
Technically, the second step will get you some actionable insights, but don’t stop there. Take that as encouragement to go the distance. As you consolidate your data, do so into 360-degree customer profiles. For Liberty Global, this holistic view of customers was how they determined that some website customers were better as call-center customers. The more data sources companies combine on each customer, the better insights they gather by understanding the customer, not the channel.
- Automate to create real-time feedback.
Humans are infinitely creative and intelligent, but it takes us time to tease out trends. In today’s market, time is a luxury we often don’t have. Computers aren’t as versatile and creative as we are, but they are inarguably faster at some tasks, namely analysis. By utilizing advanced analytics technologies, like artificial intelligence, to perform analysis, you can generate insights in real time rather than days, tightening the turnaround, making way for the ability to nail top-tier customer experiences.
- Use real-time feedback to make real-time changes, closing the loop.
By the time we discover trends on our own, it’s often too late to act on them with timely relevance. Artificial intelligence solves this. But, while technology allows us to glean insights quickly, we still have to follow through. As we’ve discussed, the only real way to make a feedback loop is to close it with action. By closing the loop, you can inject continuous improvement into your company, processes, and brand experience.
Technology helps with this by continuously and automatically monitoring your data streams for new trends as you act on the ones you’ve already uncovered. For example, machine learning and one-click personalization capabilities allow brands to surface insights and then act on them in real-time to offer personalized customer experiences that delight, all while gathering the data to act on the next consumer trend, want, or need.
Feedback is more important than ever.
Creating a feedback loop requires patience and determination to develop and employ the necessary strategies and technologies, but the payoff is obvious in examples like Liberty Global. By gathering feedback data, consolidating it, and creating 360-degree profiles, companies position themselves to gain important insights. By then acting on those insights to close the feedback loop — instead of just reporting on data trends — companies continually learn and improve their customer experience. Those brands that do so will be poised to lead their industries in the Experience Era.
Just remember, start small. I would suggest that companies start by looking for the most obvious opportunities where they can complete a feedback loop. Start there and then show how powerful that can be to your leadership. You win by starting small and having some successes, and then growing your program from there.