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First of all, Happy New Year! We hope you’re welcoming 2017 with a blast, and we wish you all the happiness and success in the year to come.

Here at ReviewTrackers, we are on a mission to help companies effectively manage customer feedback, as well as use it as a tool for transforming the customer experience.

But what, exactly, does customer feedback mean? How do we define it in the context of today’s increasingly digital world? And why does customer feedback management play such a crucial role in helping push businesses forward?

Understanding Customer Feedback

Let’s start with a traditional business definition: customer feedback is any information that comes directly from a company’s customers — information that conveys their thoughts, feelings, sentiment, satisfaction levels, or opinion about a brand, product, service, or experience.

Technology has expanded the ways in which customer feedback is generated and procured. Now, customers can share their feedback with a company using various channels and platforms, such as:

  • Customer feedback surveys
  • Comment cards
  • E-mails and phone calls
  • Online reviews and ratings
  • Social media comments
  • Focus group discussions
  • Individual customer interviews or customer roundtables
  • Usability tests

Using information from customer feedback, companies can gain valuable insights that are essential to improving their brand, products, services, and overall customer experience.

Businesses that are able to monitor and manage customer feedback also often have a more complete understanding of their customers, and can more easily measure customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Customer Feedback Cheat Sheet

Solicited vs. Unsolicited Customer Feedback

It’s useful to classify customer feedback based on how it is generated or collected.

Solicited customer feedback is feedback that a company has actively asked for or tried to obtain.

For example, customer feedback surveys, comment cards, Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys, customer interviews, and focus groups typically produce or generate solicited feedback.

Unsolicited customer feedback, meanwhile, is feedback shared by customers without having been prompted or asked to by the business.

Social media and online review sites have given rise to massive amounts of unsolicited feedback. With more and more consumers choosing to ignore lengthy surveys in favor of quick posts on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and TripAdvisor, unsolicited feedback has become an increasingly valuable source of information for companies looking to understand how their customers really think and feel.

Key differences between solicited and unsolicited feedback mean that you must be able to strike the right balance and successfully manage both.

For example, while handing out surveys can be a great way for your organization to obtain baseline information about customers, you can also benefit from managing feedback that comes from people who have decided to share their thoughts and experiences without being asked to.

Solicited verified reviews vs. unprompted reviews: A recent study that aimed to explore the impact of online reviews — one of the most popular forms of customer feedback today — even found differences between unprompted (unsolicited) reviews and solicited verified reviews.

The study, conducted by Northwestern University’s Spiegel Digital and Database Research Center, found that verified reviews produced higher ratings than unprompted reviews, while the average length of unprompted reviews was 376 characters, compared to only 203 characters for verified reviews.

Structured Data vs. Unstructured Data

Another useful way to understand customer feedback is by assessing the kind of data it provides.

Structured data from customer feedback is clearly defined and easy to report on.

Examples of structured data types that you can procure from customer feedback include: customer name, age, location, income bracket, star rating, survey score, and NPS score and label, among others.

Notice that these types of data can be collected, analyzed, and organized using a data collection platform, a feedback management tool, a spreadsheet application, or traditional statistical tools and methodologies.  

Unstructured data from customer feedback, meanwhile, is more difficult to define, analyze, and report on.

According to IBM, as much as 80 percent of all data today — including enterprise-relevant information — is unstructured.

Examples of unstructured data from customer feedback include: free-form text found in online reviews, social media posts, “additional comments” in survey responses, forum posts, call center transcripts, customer support inquiries, live chats, and video reviews.

Why is unstructured customer feedback data harder to define and analyze? It has something to do with how it takes on a form akin to human conversation — characterized by misspellings or grammatical mistakes, or lack of punctuations, or the presence of multiple unrelated ideas, or sentiment that’s hard to pin down.

While managing and analyzing unstructured data from customer feedback has become a growing challenge for many companies, natural language processing applications and analytical methods like text analytics and sentiment analysis can help make unstructured data more manageable and easier to understand.

This is why an increasing number of companies are leveraging these various methods and techniques: in order to dig deeper into the customer experience, find patterns and trends, and uncover information and insights about customer sentiment, tone, emotion, and motivation.

6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Customer Feedback

The most successful companies listen to and act on feedback in order to understand customers better and deliver improved customer experiences. Here are some things to keep in mind as your organization looks to do the same.

Make the commitment. Embrace customer feedback and foster an organizational culture in which everyone from the C-suite to the frontline is empowered (and equipped) to listen to the voice of the customer.

Work with a technology partner. Spending bulk of your time just collecting data is not the most efficient way to manage customer feedback — especially if you’re running a company with tens, hundreds, or thousands of business locations.

To make sure you are really hearing your customers, work with a technology partner or customer feedback management provider who will help you meet your business goals and extract meaningful insight from data.

Stay engaged and responsive. When you hire a third-party provider or invest in a software platform, there’s a temptation to let your tools do all the work. But this shouldn’t exempt you from continuing to engage with customers who have shared their feedback.

Read the comments. Respond to reviews. Resolve issues. Technological capability is great, but it won’t close the loop on your behalf.

Reach out to customers if you’re not getting enough unsolicited feedback. Have a customer feedback survey or review request program in place to encourage your customers to be more vocal. Reaching out to customers and soliciting feedback using a timely approach also helps you determine whether or not you’re delivering experiences that meet or surpass customer expectations.

Integrate unstructured data into your customer feedback management strategy. Some companies focus exclusively on capturing structured data, but unstructured data from customer feedback often holds rich information that you simply cannot ignore. Instead of just seeing your average star rating or your customer satisfaction scores, you get to hear the story and experience of your customer — through their own words.

Focus on insights. Don’t make data collection your goal. More information, after all, doesn’t necessarily equate to smarter business decisions. Focus on how you can gather actionable insights from customer feedback, as well as how you can address challenges based on the information available.

Customer Feedback Cheat Sheet

Start 2017 right. Now is the time for you to make the commitment to managing customer feedback. It’s one of your company’s greatest sources of learning, and can help you deliver experiences that inspire customers to keep coming back for more.

Migs Bassig

Migs is the Content Manager for ReviewTrackers. He’s a creative writer who has helped numerous companies communicate more effectively online, and he loves sharing his local marketing knowledge to help brands and business succeed.

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