What Father’s Day Mugs Can Tell Us About Customer Feedback

In the form of a tea mug, I received the accolade of ‘World’s Best Dad’ on Sunday. It was humbling to receive this award over all the other Fathers in the world, and it did also get me thinking… “What kind of business model can these mug manufacturers have, that they can produce a one-off run for the world’s best Dad? It didn’t even have a year on it.

Moreover, I like to think my kids are smart (maybe not ‘The Smartest Kids in the World’) but how did they pull off an operation of this magnitude? How many children across the world did they have to poll to gain a representative sample, and what about the data collection? – There are still whole communities on our planet that don’t have access to SurveyMonkey.

My tea had got cold by the time the kids finally came clean about their flawed methodology. My moment of glory was short-lived, but I couldn’t hold it against them; I’ve worked in research and customer feedback for over 20 years, and many, many, (maybe even ‘most’) businesses interpret their customer feedback in exactly the same way.

Sometimes we only hear what we want to hear:

  • Obtaining biased feedback from unimpartial sources – For example invested customers, prospects, suppliers (…anyone who may have something to gain from keeping a good relationship with you).
  • Placing too much weight on just the positive news – usually when post-justifying a strategy or course of action we were going to take anyway.
  • Discrediting or de-valuing the negative – Too many times I have heard businesses saying that their customers have misunderstood the message, or “don’t get it”.
  • Being complacent with the stats – If 9 out of 10 of your customers rate you as ‘Excellent’, then the rest are having a neutral or bad experience. The damage that this 10% can do to your reputation is often far greater than the chances of the 90% becoming outspoken brand evangelists on your behalf.
  • Mistaking stats for real life – Statistics are just proxies. At the end of the day it’s people that count, and what they say, and do, in real life.

So what can you do to keep your feet on the ground with customer feedback?

  1. For a start, remember that the feedback is not about you. It’s about your customers, and their experience of you. This means it doesn’t matter what you meant, or that they don’t get it; it’s their perception that counts.
  2. Also keep in mind that the feedback is only a representation. It’s not reality, and so will always have some inevitable element of bias or myopia, hence…
  3. Don’t live in a statistical bubble: Make a point of speaking directly with a range of ‘real-life’ customers and just chatting through their experience of having dealt with you. See if what you’re hearing supports the stats and the systemised feedback you are receiving, and then, vitally…
  4. Ask what you could do better: Specifically, what you could have done to have made the transaction or the relationship easier for them. (One for another time, but this is why I personally am more of a fan of CES than NPS, because, for me, it lends itself far more readily to follow-on action).
  5. Then do something about it! Remember why you’re seeking the feedback in the first place. It’s not about making yourself feel better, or telling others how good you are (although that is a good use too); it’s about growing, and improving, and generating reputation and marque and hence new prospects and more loyal, satisfied, customers.

This kind of honest, direct, feedback will give you far more insight and direction than some abstract customer satisfaction score, and also leave your customers feeling valued and listened-to… (unlike my children – they had gone to bed by the time I’d worked all this through. Maybe next year…)

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