How to make sure customer feedback stays actionable

At digitally-focused companies, what commonly happens is that the volume of customer feedback sources outgrows the processes used to manage incoming feedback. What ends up happening is that feedback piles up across teams in unstructured formats and never gets used. 

This is a big red flag because it increases the likelihood of missing opportunities or failing to identify upcoming issues across your customer base.

In this article, I go into detail about the topic of how to standardize customer feedback across multiple channels so that it becomes actionable for you and everyone at your organization.

Not all feedback is equal

Would you weigh a comment from a stranger about your lifestyle choices the same as from your partner? Probably not – but hey, I’m not here to judge, I’m here to help!

When it comes to your business, you probably have multiple cohorts of customers with different types of feedback so you should be weighing and categorizing appropriately. 

Here’s some different ways of categorizing customers:

  • How long the person has been a customer for
  • The different services they use across your business
  • The amount of revenue that customer type brings to your business
  • The usage patterns of that customer with your products and services
  • Demographics; e.g. location, device types, age – but remember, only use these if they’re really relevant to segments you’re interested in

Get your customers categorized

After your team creates these categories – which is a process in itself – the next step is to get your customers categorized.

A simple way to begin doing this is by setting your onboarding systems up to tag users automatically with categories you’ve chosen or tag them according to specific characteristics. That way, when feedback comes in from that person, the feedback is automatically linked to the correct customer category. This will help with visualizations and analysis later on.

Solicited vs unsolicited feedback

The best feedback is often unsolicited. One of the key reasons for this is that unsolicited feedback is often off your radar. This type of feedback might be what you need to be actually listening to in order to avoid unknown problems bubbling up. It might also help you realize new opportunities that you weren’t seeking before. 

It’s harder to get this type of feedback by asking close-ended questions – the kind often found on surveys. So it’s important to ask open-ended questions to your customer base as well and give them the opportunity at all times to provide you with whatever feedback they want to provide in that moment.

Don’t let feedback become background noise

A common tendency across companies is that they become so immune to recurring bits of feedback to the point where hardly anybody listens. This is usually the type of feedback that can really burn you later on and should be taken seriously.

For example, if you’re hearing consistent feedback each month across an entire year about a specific problem in your product from higher return on investment (ROI) customer groups, you should be listening to that – especially if it’s related to your core product offering. You’d be crazy not to, but organisations are doing this every day. 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of kicking the can down the road, saying that this will be resolved in a redesign next year or in the next wave of improvements. But in reality, this continues to add more tech debt to the pile and never gets resolved because new and shiny opportunities are always popping up for the business to tackle. 

This ends up in what is known as the product graveyard, and once a competitor resolves that type of issue, you suddenly start to lose your advantage in the market and enter catch up mode. Trust me – this is not a fun position to be in!

Collating feedback across sources

Here’s some examples of the different types of feedback sources any digital company can make use of. 

Steps to standardize your feedback

After your team has established some basic ways of collecting customer feedback and categorizing different customer cohorts to give them the right weightings, the next step is to transform this data into a standardized format so it can be acted upon time and again.

Here’s a 5-step process to standardize things for the good of you and your organization.

  1. Group your data into a single source
  2. Start categorizing your customer feedback
  3. Add a deeper level of detail
  4. Refine, refine, refine
  5. Summarize and share

1. Group your data into a single source

The first step is to aggregate all of the feedback you gather across channels into a single source such as a Google Sheet. Most CRM systems let you export to Excel format with each feedback point as a single row alongside the relevant metadata. 

Examples of metadata are things like the timestamp showing when the feedback was provided, the channel, the user’s attributes, etc. 

If you haven’t already, make sure the metadata is being tagged automatically by your CRM system at the source – you can usually set this up in the system’s settings. 

There will likely be holes in the data that need to be plugged – time to get into the detail yourself.

2. Start categorizing your customer feedback

This is where you should manually start combing through the feedback and categorizing it. As an example, you can create a column and title it “Feedback type”. 

Types of feedback could include bugs, feature requests, and usability issues. As your list grows over time, these categories should represent every part of your business, and remember – it’s OK to refine it as the feedback grows.

3. Add a deeper level of detail 

Then you should create a column to go into more detail for each bit of feedback. This is helpful because – if you’re slicing and dicing data at a top-level category such as “bugs” – you want to be able to see more granular information about those bugs. This is where you would add information like “Application is slow to load” or “Reports are failing to download”. 

When you start getting to a point where you have lots of feedback, or if your company has multiple products and/or services, you can create a column that allows you to easily tag feedback to a specific product, service, or feature.

The last column you should create should be a distilled version of the original form of the feedback. This will allow for easier grouping and analysis down the line. When a customer provides feedback, it might be in the form of a couple of sentences. This can usually be described more concisely.

4. Refine, refine, refine

Categorizations and the types of data you capture will evolve as you go through this journey and the volume of feedback increases. It will also evolve as more requests from internal stakeholders pour in. You shouldn’t be afraid to refine these categories as time goes on.

5. Summarize and share

As I said, feedback isn’t useful until it’s communicated effectively. Luckily, by this point, you have the data in a structured format in a single source, and due to the holy power of Excel or Google Sheets, you can start slicing, dicing, and visualizing feedback data. If you don’t know the power of pivot tables, I highly encourage you to learn! 

This is just like analyzing any other business metric – this IS your business after all. 

If Google Sheets or your internal databases don’t do the trick for you, there are lots of alternatives to help you store, link, and visualize data, such as Airtable.

When it comes to sharing it out, here are some effective ways of summarizing feedback for reporting purposes:

  • Feature requests
  • Bugs and known issues
  • Trends in negative and positive feedback
  • Customer sentiments
  • Usage trends

Visualizing and communicating this monthly becomes a powerful source of insight for teams such as product management, customer services, design, and marketing. It also gives you another way of measuring the impact of changes to your products and services.

And finally, don’t forget to manage your feedback routinely

Since nobody wants to stare at an Excel sheet of 1,000 rows and have to fill out 3,000 blank cells, I strongly recommend establishing a routine to import, categorize, and analyze feedback monthly.

Carve time out during the first week of each month, grab a coffee, and conduct your feedback management routine. Doing this monthly should be completely manageable by a single person working in any company getting volumes of feedback in the hundreds per month. It also gives you interesting information to share each month that many different stakeholders will find value in. 

Next up, let’s get you started with conducting your own 8-week discovery initiative.

Questions? Feedback? Get in touch.