The fact that consumers are increasingly expecting good, if not great, interactions with their favorite brands is nearly universally accepted at this point. And while there’s strong agreement on that point, most companies diverge sharply from their customers on a critical and related point: whether the feedback customers give about their experiences is primarily negative or positive.
Before we address the most recent study of CX Trends, though, I’d like to provide context by looking at the big epiphany from our previous year’s study, where the overwhelming learning was consumers want a more reciprocal, give-and-take relationship with brands.
In fact, when we dug into the unstructured data to understand this issue more deeply, we found that the different ways consumers used the word “value” was very telling:
- 51.6 percent of the time they expressed a want to get value from the brand
- 48.4 percent of the time they used it to communicate the desire to be or feel valued for being a contributing customer
It was a similar story when using the word “help”:
- 46.7 percent of the time consumers expressed a want to get help
- 53.3 percent of the time wanting to provide help to the brand
When asked to note all contributing factors in their decision to leave feedback, four out of five selected “I enjoy offering my feedback and making a difference,” with more 40 percent of consumers listing this as their primary reason.
Brands that recognize this shift in what customers want—going from transaction-based to relationship-based interactions—are ahead of the game. It’s not to say they are now relating to their consumers in the same way they would a significant other or a family member, but they are creating an environment of mutual respect, of value and investment, and of ensuring expectations are met with their consumers.
Feedback Is a Positive Force
In this year’s study, we went a level deeper, exploring the overall sentiment of consumer responses. It’s vital to know that when trying to understand someone’s perception, it is critical to use the correct word, as the word choice can prime the response. In this instance, in addition to asking about satisfaction and experience, we specifically chose the word “feedback.”
Interestingly, when asked if they gave more positive or negative feedback, 63 percent of consumers indicated their feedback tends to be positive, while 37 percent indicated it was negative.
In general, consumers appear to view giving feedback in these terms: “I’m offering useful information that is helping the brand.”
And while this finding could be dismissed as one-sided, the study confirms customers’ assertion, with 498 out of the 500 brands that were included in the study receiving more positive feedback than negative.
Who Gets the Most Positive Press? Who’s Out of Touch?
Which sectors came out on top? Consumers report giving the highest percentage of positive feedback to the following sectors: Apparel, at 87 percent; Full Service Restaurants, at 81 percent; Pharmacy, at 81 percent; and Home & Supply, at 81 percent.
Brands, on the other hand, do not have such a rosy view. In fact, some industries were grossly out of step with both customer perception and reality.
Those brands with the largest perception gaps, reporting they received much more negative feedback than the consumers were actually reporting, were Pharmacy, with a gap of 31 percentage points (brand predicted 50 percent positive feedback received, while 81 percent of consumers reported positive); Automotive, with a gap of 23 percentage points (brand predicted 50 percent positive feedback received, while 73 percent of consumers reported positive); Discount, with a gap of 21 percentage points (brand predicted 50 percent positive feedback received, while 71 percent of consumer reported positive); and Grocery, with a gap of 11 percentage points (brand predicted 67 percent positive feedback received, while 78 percent of consumers reported positive).
The brands whose perceptions were relatively close to those of their customers include Home & Supply, with a difference of only 1 percentage point; Multi-Department Stores, with a difference of only 3 percentage points; Gas Stations with a difference of only 4 percentage points; and Online Retail, with a difference of only 5 percentage points. Being in alignment with one’s customer creates the ideal scenario, where you are better able to predict thinking, desires, and responses, which leads to being able to better deliver on brand-related promises.
Allies Not Adversaries
There is an obvious danger in brands being grossly disconnected from their customers, especially when it comes to listening. If leaders believe that customer feedback is primarily negative, that attitude will seep into the culture and across the ranks. This bunker mentality turns customers into adversaries.
Imagine the impact this has on how decisions are made across organizations. Imagine how this affects the way frontline staff present themselves. And when feedback is viewed first and foremost as criticism, that’s how it will be received (whether it was intended to be or not), making it impossible to glean the full range of wisdom customers share. Instead of building relationships and improving your business, this dissonance invariably leads to a system of react-and-repair.
Another finding from this year’s trend study gave us even more pause. For the 37 percent of consumers who indicated their feedback was negative, we asked, “Did the company respond?” 72 percent of consumers said the company did not respond in any way. (A response may be a myriad of things, including: phone call, email, text, letter, etc.) With a 72 percent non-response rate, it is no wonder another major finding in the study is that consumers crave more transparency.
In fact, they ranked transparency, defined as “keeping customers informed on how their feedback is used,” as the second most important item, with brands putting it in fourth place.
When a customer requests a change or shares an experience and, in return, receives silence, the perceived message from the brand is “I do not want your feedback,” “I do not value your feedback,” “I do not value your time,” which is very damaging to the relationship.
By asking questions/requesting feedback, brands are setting the expectation that these are the items they value; these are the items they aspire to have favorable experiences towards; these are the items they are willing to take action on and improve. So when no actions are taken, customers are doubly disappointed.
Brands that are top of class value feedback as a gift and ensure the same attitude permeates every level of their business. They listen deeply to understand the full range of insights their customers offer up and, as a result, find a myriad of ways to improve both their customers’ experiences and their bottom lines. And those that take the extra step of continuing the conversation to let customers know their feedback is appreciated and how it is being put into action create high-value relationships that benefit both sides of the customer-brand equation over the long term.