Feedback: dealing with it effectively

Published on: 4 Sep 2023

Bates feedback Image: Jérôme Rommé / Adobe Stock

Image: © Jérôme Rommé / Adobe Stock

Marketing expert Colin Bates offers research and experience suggesting that, although the vast majority (95%) of businesses collect feedback, the inability to communicate it in a meaningful manner internally means that only 10% actually implement changes successfully.

 

Worse still, only a few – just 5% – communicate back to clients that they have listened while outlining what improvements they have implemented or plan to implement.

Clearly, in today’s transparent world where social media and the web can make or break a practice – or any business and organisation for that matter – it’s important to seek the views of clients.

Measuring client satisfaction feedback

To many new to this field, the natural question is: how do I measure feedback? Mr Bates, however, thinks the question should be turned on its head – instead, he asked: why ask for feedback? Is it to just measure satisfaction? If so, it’s just one of the useful markers.

He argues that if an organisation uses just satisfaction ratings alone, they risk losing clients once they find better value for money elsewhere or they find a shop that they prefer to buy from.

He said: “But whatever the measure of feedback that is used, there are a number of primary reasons to undertake it.”

He listed them as the following.

  • identifying where your clients see your strengths, so you can focus on these from a marketing perspective
  • identifying where your clients see your weaknesses, so you can assess them and determine if action is required
  • enabling you to retain current clients who are much cheaper to service compared to the cost of gaining new ones
  • allowing you to have a clear view on how your clients see your offering within the marketplace
  • identifying which types of clients are at risk of leaving, and which competitor is potentially best positioned to receive them (the opposite is also true)
  • benchmarking from a client perspective, the extent to which you are successfully delivering, your market positioning and branding, and therefore, how effective you are against competitors.

Mr Bates has outlined several elements to gathering feedback. He said: “Firstly, the process needs to cover the key interactions between you as a supplier and your client, and to do this you must use language and terminology that is meaningful to the client.”

He expanded on this and said the process must reflect things that are important to your clients: fundamentals that if you get wrong may lead them to go elsewhere.

He added: “Next, you need to capture a clear message – if you don’t understand the answer, then perhaps the question was wrong. In essence, you need to be able to action a response that is both of benefit to your client and advantageous to you as a business.”

And to do all of this, Mr Bates suggested, understandably, seeking professional help on writing and executing an effective feedback programme.

He said: “Too many organisations think simply using an online tool such as SurveyMonkey will be enough. There is a skill to writing questionnaires, interviewing clients, and analysing data in an unbiased way.”

The risks of not actioning the feedback

Seeking feedback will be a futile exercise if it is not going to be followed up, and Mr Bates considers two primary risks existing to a business of not actioning the feedback sought.

By asking clients for feedback, practices raise an expectation that they are not only listening, but are going to act on the comments received and improve their experience.

Mr Bates pointed out: “You could argue that it is almost better never to have raised those expectations if you weren’t planning to act upon the feedback.”

The other risk factor to note is that competitors will not take the same approach, and if your clients see them acting in a client-focused way by acting on their feedback, they will have a competitive advantage over you. It is likely that your most profitable clients will leave.

Prioritising and actioning feedback

So, how should you process feedback? The answer lies in three words: segmentation and data analysis.

Segmentation

For most businesses, Pareto’s rule that 80% of profit comes from 20% of clients holds true. Therefore, Mr Bates said consideration should be given to whether specific groups of clients should be targeted within the research. Of course, this assumes that the practice holds data that allows targeting.

He said: “Businesses should also consider which clients [they] would prioritise in terms of achieving [their] overall strategy.”

For example, it may be that one offers more choice for late night consultations to those who are happy to pay more. Segmentation will help focus actions on particularly important clients, or give you the opportunity to consider whether you should weight the data in some other way.

Data analysis

Feedback data needs analysing, and here Mr Bates explained that the following four options exist.

  • you identify those aspects of the business that have received the lowest scores on average
  • you examine the spread of the scores, as an acceptable average created by two groups of clients may exist: one extremely happy, and the other less so
  • you ask clients to indicate how important something is to them, but risk respondents struggling to differentiate between a number of aspects to say what is really important
  • you develop statistical models to identify the key drivers of your overall measure

Whichever approach taken, Mr Bates said it was important not to look just at the headline figures, but also look to understand the issues behind them.

He added that using open-ended questions and some simple root cause analysis tools when analysing the data can help.

Sharing feedback with the team

It is important to recognise that many of the team will have direct contact with clients and will have views on what the practice should do to improve the client experience.

According to Mr Bates, a good starting point is a group discussion with colleagues on what they think clients care about, what they think of the practice, and any ideas staff have on what could be improved, and how.

Taking this approach helps with team support, as members are being asked for their views from the beginning of the process; it also helps target the areas to query with clients, and improves ownership of the final results by the team.

Mr Bates felt it was critical to share both the good and bad news from the feedback

He added: “There is often an inclination to avoid one or the other, and this will give a false impression to your colleagues and may deter them from acting upon the results. News given fully will guide them when developing in effective action plans.”

As part of the process, it is also key to create the role of a “client champion”, someone who will provide a focal point for the programme and help ensure that this is seen as an ongoing journey, rather than a short-term project.

To finish

Remember: none of this will work without the active support and involvement of a senior member of the management team. If no commitment is made, the programme will fail.

Lastly, another aspect to consider is the lifetime value of a client once they have been attracted and retained. Get this right and the feedback process will score a home run.