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Conversations that scale

As a customer advocate I believe one of our communication challenges is creating scalable customer conversations. We often rely on survey feedback to inform decisions throughout the organization, but we miss the opportunity to leverage this vehicle as a launch pad for deeper conversations. 

This illustration shows the various ways that companies and customers communicate with each other. Relationship surveys typically target a group of customers or multiple customer groups, but the nature of surveys is primarily one way, from the group(s) to the brand.

How can we approach the survey process as the start of a two-way conversation? Starting at the top of the diagram and working clock-wise, I’ve listed a couple approaches that I’ve seen.

1 – Closed loop process – This is at the top of the diagram. This comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the general concept is simple. Someone follows-up with the customer either via telephone or e-mail to discuss their survey feedback. The most common obstacles with this approach tend to be: which customers do we follow up with, who follows up with the customer, and how do we hold people accountable for follow-up.

2 – Account planning – Moving to the right, after all of the survey feedback is collected, a report or "sales playbook" is produced for each customer account. Typically a cross functional team will meet to discuss the customer feedback and other customer-related metrics, conduct root cause analysis on key issues, and develop an account plan. Afterwards, representatives from the account team meet with the customer to discuss and collaborate on the plan.

3. Business unit planning would fall in the same area of the diagram as account planning since it targets a specific customer group, typically by geography or product type. One way to turn survey feedback into a conversation with this group is by bringing the findings into an online community for continued discussion. Another approach is to take the feedback to the customer advisory board and discuss it with them. At a minimum the brand should provide some type of follow-up communication to the collective group sharing what they learned and their plans for improvement.

4. Conversing with multiple customer groups can be valuable if one customer group has a similar problem as another, or perhaps one customer group is leveraging the product in ways that could benefit another customer group. In these instances, bringing the two groups together to share their experiences could be valuable. Companies have executed this approach through their customer advisory boards and customer conferences. In these instances, the brand typically facilitates the conversation.

5. Tools to sparking conversations with the market can include advertising, sharing feedback in the annual shareholders report, and leveraging social media applications like Twitter and Facebook to facilitate the conversation.

When we ask customers for their time to take a survey, we owe it to them to share what we learned and how we plan to use their feedback. There are a variety of approaches for getting back to customers.

What have you tried and how did it work for you?

Note: This blog was originally posted in Customer Connection on 3/23/2009.

About the Author

Leslie Pagel

Leslie Pagel

As vice president of customer experience, Leslie is responsible for incorporating the voice of Walker’s customers into the solutions development process. To do this, Leslie spends the majority of her time interacting with Walker account teams, clients, and prospective clients to understand their business challenges. She coordinates several listening posts that are used to drive strong client relationships and enhance our consulting and technology capabilities.

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