Those of us charged with turning feedback into action are often faced with the dilemma of which feedback to use as the marching orders for our action planning – Qualitative or Quantitative? Not surprisingly, the answer is BOTH; but each in its own time and place.
More than once, I’ve heard senior executives in my client organizations say how much they rely on qualitative feedback (verbatim comments from surveys and customer emails) for insights about what they need to fix. While I applaud them for taking customer feedback seriously, I caution them to make sure they have quantitative data (survey ratings, key driver models, internal KPIs, financial metrics, etc.) to support whatever action they might be planning to take in response to that qualitative feedback. If the data isn’t there to support that action, it might make sense to back up a step or two and consider other possibilities.
As a best practice, quantitative data should be used first to identify and prioritize opportunities for action with some awareness of how such improvements will favorably impact the business in areas such as customer retention and increased share of wallet. Then, after those focus areas are identified, qualitative data should be mined to get insights from the customers who have something to say specifically about the quantitatively-identified opportunity.
With a well-tuned feedback management system, focus areas can be identified at an enterprise-wide level, within specific operational areas or by key market segments. Action teams can then use root cause analysis techniques to identify specific aspects of the issue that are barriers to customer growth and retention. Reading and interpreting the verbatim comments from customers who share a particular set of characteristics and have identified a common concern will often yield golden “nuggets” of insight that can then be refined into a detailed plan for action that will not only resolve that issue for those customers, but will improve the customer experience for a much larger swath of the customer population.
But wait! For every rule there must be an exception (or two), and that’s true here, too.
Exception #1: If there is no quantitative measurement system already in place, the qualitative data can be helpful (as a first step) in calling attention to aspects of the business that may need closer scrutiny.
Exception #2: When the total number of observations is too small to develop a robust model and apply proven quantitative analysis techniques, then you’re really in a situation where every bit of feedback provided by a customer (whether it be a rating score or a verbatim comment) should be treated as qualitative input for the person or team responsible for managing the relationship with that customer. At that point, it becomes a universe of 1, and that customer’s perception IS the reality that needs to be addressed.
Senior Vice President