Customer Feedforward vs. Feedback

Speech bubbles showing the words feedback and feedforwardThe phrase ‘customer feedforward’ may make you feel sick. I admit I feel a little queasy myself. But it’s a subtle yet important distinction from the traditional customer feedback.

What the frack is customer feedforward?

I saw this phrase quoted from Thomas Barta, co-author of The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader. And I forgive him because it’s an important concept.

Asking a customer for feedback requires them to look back on what’s happened and criticise it – usually saying one of a million variations on ‘Fine’ or ‘Actually, I was disappointed at how long I had to wait on hold’. Which is not exactly news and is hopefully dealt with by your customer service manager.

Repositioning your request as seeking input on how you could do things better in the future (feedforward, groan) gives the customer a positive agency and hopefully makes them think more about their answer.

It makes you look good because you’re not just after for a tick in a box and it makes the customer feel good because they’re being heard; they’re a part of positive change that affects them.

What’s wrong with customer feedback?

Nothing. It’s still vital! As businesses, we have to seek reviews but they’re self-serving: they’re for us to use in our marketing. Asking for private suggestions that help you work harder for your customers is a far more powerful message.

Most of us take bad feedback, well, badly. It’s all too easy for customer service teams to hot potato a complaint because it feels negative. Complaints don’t go away but customer service teams can feel good about actively asking customers what they think the business should do next.

How was your experience with us?

My delivery took five of the three-to-five days 🙁

How could we make this experience better in the future?

It would be nice if my delivery came quicker! Maybe add a guaranteed shipping tier or faster shipping for members?

Your customer service team then becomes an already-paid for focus group. Nothing helps a business refine its service like – puke – customer feedforward.

Ways to collect customer feedforward

Mid-service surveys

We’re looking beyond NPS here. We’re talking about one or two very specific questions like ‘What’s one feature you’d love us to develop for our app?’. The answers you get might be wild, repetitive or pure genius. Whichever, they challenge you and keep your business moving forward with what customers actually want.

Often, we do things we THINK our customers want. I guarantee if you took those ideas to a room full of your customers, many of those ideas would be greeted with bemusement.

In marketing, we see headlines like 90% OF MILLENNIALS WON’T BUY FROM YOU UNLESS YOU GIVE MONEY TO SICK MONKEYS. Sometimes you’ve just got to ask a few regular folks if they’d prefer discounts, cashback or a portion of the price they pay donated to sick monkeys.

Purchase confirmation email

You have every right to email a customer with service-related material. Purchase confirmation is one of those situations and so is gathering feedback. Sorry, feedforward.

The email has a good chance of being opened because it’s related to the product but expecting the customer to take time out of the day to type something – hmmm. This placement gives you a great opportunity though: a little discount in exchange for them sharing what they’d like to see in the future.

Important! This isn’t about getting a star-rating you can use in marketing. Incentivising actual reviews is legally a bit dodge, so make sure you only do this for private feedback you’ll use to affect change internally.

Feeding forward feedforward

Gotta pass it on once you’ve got it: develop a mechanism by which the right team hears this valuable critique. Could be a monthly meeting, could be a digital suggestions box – whatever it is, get the gold to the people who can make change happen.

Customer feedforward for the win.