Modern companies have to think and communicate with customers, guests and diners, etc. in new ways to stay competitive in the contemporary, fast moving world. Equally, the introduction of social media and mobile devices, has led to a world that is constantly connected. Businesses need to capitalize on the Voice of the Customer or they risk losing their competitive advantage. Traditionally, companies have listened to the Voice of the Customer using comment cards, specially designed surveys, and more recently emails. However, these tactics are no longer sufficient – or in some cases even viable, as consumers expect more interactive methods, and are often more likely to post their opinions on Facebook or Twitter than make a direct compliment or concern. Organizations need stronger ways to collect, analyze, and take action on patron feedback. Importantly, beyond ensuring that the identified people and procedures are in place, businesses need to exploit the correct technology - feedback has to be mobile and internet accessible.

The list below gives an overview of the 10 best Voice of the Customer practices that can be used to ensure the feedback program puts a business ahead of the competition.

1. Embrace customer feedback

Your company needs to embrace feedback and see it as a positive way to make the business successful. Businesses need to make sure they collect feedback that is both useful and actionable. It should help a company stay in tune with the customer’s current wants and needs. Information needs to cover not only complaints, concerns and complements but also suggestions and ideas for improvement. That way the Voice of the Customer can influence the direction and therefore the success of your business.

2. Make gathering feedback routine and responsive

It is no longer enough to amass customer feedback on a monthly or yearly cycle, supplemented by complement cards, all feedback needs to be collected and responded to quickly. A business can no longer afford to wait for the aggregated results of feedback; they need it automatically and regularly, if they are to keep up with changes and trends. They need to use the results predictively and stay ahead of the game, responding quickly to movement in customer’s wants and needs. This means feedback needs to be collected and responded to daily.

3. Understand what your feedback says

If a business wants to become more customer-centric, or maintain good relationships with customers, in an age where customer expectations can change almost instantaneously, they need to grasp what customers, visitors, or diners are telling them. Customer feedback cards make it difficult to find patterns in the data. Other collection methods make it problematic to identify any seasonal or time related data (i.e. variances in feedback at different times in the day). By recognizing the influences that are affecting data, companies can adjust quickly – and be more predictive on what is expected. For instance, a hotel knows that more children will be visiting at vacation time, and can adapt their services appropriately. But what types of customers are visiting in the winter? What expectations do they have? How can a hotel encourage people to visit and, return year on year? If you can find the patterns and understand what they are telling you, it becomes simple to adapt to expectations.

4. Have an Action on Feedback Process in place

Make sure all the appropriate people know how they need to deal with and respond to feedback. The best way is for designated staff members to receive alerts or notifications that feedback has been received. However, they need to be clear on what action is to be taken following on from this. Do they have to respond in 24 hours? Do they send a response that is a rebuttal, a simple acknowledgement, or detail the actions that will be taken. What happens if feedback is given anonymously? How is this feedback to be managed? The Action on Feedback Process should cover all these details, and make sure the designated person knows what to do, whether it is a complaint, compliment, suggestion or idea.

5. Make it mobile

Customer’s expectations now include the ability to leave feedback by ‘social media’ mechanisms. This means finding a way for feedback gathering to mimic how Facebook, Twitter and review sites work. It needs to be accessible from any mobile device, as well as computers and laptops. Unless a company offers a solution that enables feedback to be collected in ‘mobile’ manner, they run the risk of all complements and complaints going via social networks. This may or may not increase business, but are certainly impossible for a company to monitor or respond to. You could use the businesses’ own Twitter or Facebook page as a feedback mechanism – but you need to think carefully about whether you want customer feedback there, or if you would rather use it to publish the results of that data?

6. Spread the word

If you have a feedback system in place, that gathers data and produces the result quickly, you can then promote the results of positive feedback, or the actions that have been taken. If a restaurant receives 95% for the quality of a meal, or the service diners received, they need to publish those results. Customers will check websites and Social Media before visiting a store, hotel or restaurant – and equally they will read review sites. Using these mechanisms a business can encourage footfall by practically demonstrating the positive qualities of their business.

7. Every Customer Matters

A good feedback system makes every customer matter. You are likely to improve service levels if feedback is shared with staff, and not just those working on the ‘shop floor’. Sharing feedback with all staff from cleaners to finance helps involve all staff with the business – so they understand that their contribution makes a real difference in service to the customer. For example, if invoices are not paid on time, suppliers may refuse future orders, in turn this means the goods that customers want are not in stock, or items on the menu are unavailable. By making Every Customer Matters the mantra of the company you can ensure you meet customer expectations every time.

8. Get it right first time

VOC programs should be used to design training for frontline employees, highlighting errors that cause complaints and spreading working methods that receive positive feedback. Feedback also provides examples of what works and what does not, so employees can clearly see why things need to change, and the results of improving standards. Importantly, it also provides a mechanism for staff to come up with their own ideas and solutions about how things can be improved.

9. Celebrate Success

Just as a company should promote its success externally, it needs to share it internally. This helps keep morale high, and everyone focused on achieving customer expectations.

10. Ensure benefits are realized

If you are really listening to the Voice of the Customer, it is not just feedback and service levels that are increased; it is the overall profitability of the company. You should see more footfall, increased spending, more guests or diners. This means linking your feedback to metrics about your business. Have the changes you made had a positive or negative impact on profits? Are you seeing more repeat business? If you don’t measure the outcomes, how will you know when you’re getting it right or wrong?

How can Suggestar help?

The Suggestar system makes listening to the customer an easy and automatic process. It stimulates customer trust and loyalty, and helps create a business that is ‘top of the mind’ because of its excellent service.

Because Suggestar encourages engagement and interaction with customers, it aids in building an exciting brand that aligns customer communication with higher customer values. It drives the customer engagement that is so vital, by making feedback mobile and immediate. With Suggestar, it is easy to collect, manage, analyze and act on consumer feedback promptly. It helps you leverage the best practices in this document with a combination of immediate feedback alerts, which allow for timely responses to feedback, and comprehensive reports that help you turn feedback into real action. By using Suggest you can truly hear the Voice of the Customer and become a brand that exceeds expectations.

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