Dealing effectively with customer feedback

Colin Bates, managing director of Worcestershire based Customer Champions, has more than 30 years of marketing experience. His research and experience suggests that although the vast majority (95 per cent) of companies do collect feedback, their inability to communicate it in a meaningful manner internally means that only 10 per cent actually implement changes successfully. Worse still, only a few – just five per cent – communicate back to customers 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 organisation for that matter – it’s important to seek the views of customers.

Measuring customer satisfaction feedback

To many new to this field, the natural question is: ‘How do I measure customer feedback?’ Bates, however, thinks the question should be turned on its head – instead, he asks: ‘Why ask for customer feedback? Is it to just measure satisfaction?’ If so, it’s just one of the useful markers. He argues that if a practice uses just satisfaction ratings alone, they risk losing patients once they find better value for money elsewhere or they find a practice that they prefer to buy from.

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

He lists them as:

  • Identifying where your customers see your strengths so that you can focus on these from a marketing perspective;
  • It identifies where your customers see your weaknesses so that you can assess them and determine if action is required;
  • It enables you to retain current customers who are much cheaper to service compared to the cost of gaining new customers;
  • It allows you to have a clear view on how your customers see your offering within the marketplace;
  • You can identify which types of customers are at risk of leaving, and which competitor is potentially best positioned to receive them (the opposite is also true); and
  • It benchmarks from a customer perspective the extent to which you are successfully delivering, your market positioning and branding, and therefore how effective you are against competitors.

Bates outlines several elements to gathering feedback. “Firstly, the process needs to cover the key interactions between you as a supplier and your customer, and to do this you must use language and terminology that is meaningful to the customer.” He expands on this and says the process must reflect things that are important to your customers – fundamentals that you get wrong may lead them to go elsewhere.

“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 customer and advantageous to you as a business.”

And to do all of this Bates suggests, understandably, seeking professional help on writing and executing an effective feedback programmes: “Too many organisations think simply using an online tool such as Survey Monkey will be enough. There is a skill to writing questionnaires, interviewing customers, and analysing data in an unbiased way.”

The risks of not actioning the feedback

Seeking feedback will be a futile exercise if it’s not going to be followed up, and Bates considers there to be two primary risks to a practice of not actioning the feedback sought.

By asking customers for feedback practices raise an expectation that they are not only listening, but are going to act upon the comments received and improve their experience. Bates says, “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 won’t take the same approach; Bates suggests, “If your customers see them acting in a customer focused way by acting upon their feedback, they will have a competitive advantage over you.” It’s likely that your most profitable customers that will leave.

Prioritising and actioning feedback

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


For most businesses, Pareto’s rule that 80 per cent of profit comes from 20 per cent of customers holds true. This is why Bates says consideration should be given to whether specific groups of customers should be targeted within the research. Of course, this assumes that the practice holds customer data which allows targeting.

“Practices,” asserts Bates, “should also consider which customers it would prioritise in terms of achieving its overall strategy.” For example, it may be that a practice offers more choice for appointment times to private patients, whereas those seen under the NHS may be served at other times.

Segmentation will help focus actions on particularly important customers, 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 Bates says that there are four options:

  1. You identify those aspects of the practice that have received the lowest scores on average;
  2. You examine the spread of the scores as there may be an acceptable average that is created by two groups of customers, one extremely happy, and the other less so;
  3. You ask customers 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; or
  4. You develop statistical models to identify the key drivers of your overall measure.


Whichever approach taken, Bates says it is important not to look just at the headline figures but also look to understand the issues behind them. He says that using open ended questions and some simple root/cause analysis tools when analysing the data can help.

Sharing feedback with the team

It’s important to recognise that many of the team will have direct contact with customers and will have views on what the practice should do to improve the customer experience. A good starting point is, according to Bates, a group discussion with colleagues on what they think customers care about, what customers 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; helps target the areas to query with customers; and improves ownership of the final results by the team.

Bates adds that it’s critical to share both the good and bad news from the feedback: “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’s also key to create the role of a ‘customer 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 there is no commitment the programme will fail. Lastly, another aspect to consider is the lifetime value of a customer once they have been attracted and retained. Get this right and the feedback process will score a home run.

Sources of information

Root cause analysis tools 

Research on customer feedback

Online customer feedback tools

The Institute of Customer Service (free guidance and membership services)

Customer-led articles