Editor’s note: Paul Barnes is the managing director at feedback management firm Questback, London.
A genuine understanding of customers, potential customers and employees is vital to making informed business decisions and achieving business objectives. While companies are investing resources into researching and collecting feedback from these key groups, most are not integrating this information to drive real business advantages.
Coordinating and integrating your entire ecosystem’s feelings about your company and its products and services delivers holistic insight that can help support more informed decisions. It goes beyond silos of market, customer and employee research to give a more rounded picture.
We recently conducted a survey1 of U.K. business executives responsible for customer experience and employee engagement. The study found that just 5 percent fully integrate customer and employee feedback. Thirty-one percent partly integrate and 26 percent plan to integrate within 18 months. Of those that do link the two areas, over half (58 percent) of those questioned said it provided insight into activities that relate directly to business objectives and strategy, putting integration at the heart of corporate priorities.
Here is a list of some of the specific practical benefits of unifying customer and employee feedback, followed by some key steps to integrate your information:
1. Get to the root causes of business challenges faster. Combining customer and employee research allows you to look at the same business issue from two different perspectives to generate a well- rounded understanding before making decisions.
For example, customer research might reveal long waiting times for service when visiting a store or branch. Feedback from employees might uncover that the underlying problem is that staff schedules are not being managed effectively or perhaps find a system issue at point-of-sale. Customer research identifies the symptoms while employee research points to the causes. Without the two working together it would take longer to uncover the root cause and to resolve the problem.
2. Unearth trends that might otherwise go unnoticed. Separate research and feedback systems for customers and employees typically only flag the biggest themes. Bringing all of your research into a single combined system makes it easier to spot long-tail trends that might not register when looked at in isolation.
For example, if 1 percent of customers flag an issue with the packaging of a product, then it might not rate as a major problem. But if employees are also discussing that they are correcting packaging issues manually – within an employee feedback community – you will be more likely to pay attention.
3. Hear the voice of the non-responder. Another reason for combining customer feedback with employee feedback is to hear the voice of the non-responder. These are people who decline to answer surveys, either because they choose not to participate or because they have hit a point of survey fatigue. But employees are talking to customers all the time – in contact centers, branches or via online chat – so by combining employee surveys with customer surveys you get a better picture of customers’ views including the thoughts of people who don’t participate in research.
4. Track how employee engagement impacts the customer experience. In organizations that separately track employee and customer feedback, it is possible to measure customer satisfaction with individual interactions. While this can provide an assessment of the customer experience, it doesn’t link it to the employee who delivered the service and their own satisfaction levels. By being able to see that Customer A gave high feedback after being served by Employee B, who gave a very positive score in his last employee engagement survey, you can demonstrate the impact of motivated staff.
Identifying this link lets the good work of individual employees be recognized and the right processes and training put in place to spread good practice to other staff members.
5. Uncover deeper insights about competitors. Many of your employees will be on the frontline of your operations and usually have a close understanding of what your competitors are doing and what customers are saying about them. Combining employee feedback around competitors with your wider market research, what consumers and customers think of your brand and its products and services can enable a better understanding and uncover new ideas and opportunities.
There is a growing awareness in some organizations that it is beneficial to tie together their customer and employee feedback. Eighty-three percent of the companies in the survey who link feedback from employees and customers saw benefits in an improved customer experience, while 75 percent felt it led to more motivated and engaged employees. Over half (51 percent) said it allowed them to link positive customer experiences to specific, engaged employees.
Here are four important steps to begin integrating feedback from the two areas for teams looking to get started:
1. Create a cross-departmental team. The insight derived from combining customer, market research and employee data is useful across the organization and requires the skills and understanding of multiple departments. The businesses we surveyed understand this point, with the vast majority adopting a cross-departmental approach to managing the combined program. This avoids silo-based working and spreads the benefits of integration. Leading organizations are becoming more advanced in collecting, analyzing and sharing feedback and insight data.
2. Review your research for areas that can be coordinated. Review your existing and future customer and employee research plans. What data sources can be easily integrated now? Can you coordinate research schedules so that feedback data from customers and employees can be generated at the same time for more meaningful integration? Decide the specific research areas for which integrated insights would add value – for example, the effect of employee engagement on customer service or customer satisfaction levels – and explore whether survey questions need to be rephrased to support better insights when unified.
3. Decide on the role of technology. In our survey, when we asked how businesses were achieving integration, the vast majority said they relied on manual processes, whether manually exporting data (51 percent) or comparing printed reports (37 percent). Manual methods might meet your needs in the short term but they do have significant overheads in terms of cost and there is the potential of inaccuracies creeping into reports. They also work against generating real-time insight, which is increasingly vital given the rising consumer demands and 24/7 operations. Investigate to see if you would benefit from technology that integrates data and automates processing, freeing up time to focus on strategy and insight.
4. Ensure the integrated data is easily accessible. Collecting and unifying your data is an achievement but the real benefit only comes when a business can make use of the insights it generates. Find ways to make integrated data easily available to those that need it, in real-time. Create dashboard-style reports to give managers access to insight. For those who want to probe more deeply, create self-service templates that make it easy for them to query the data directly.
For forward-looking organizations that recognize the business value of doing it, forging a close link between employee and customer feedback is now simpler than it has ever been.
¹108 responses were received, from medium/large-sized companies across multiple industries. Seventy-three percent of respondents had a turnover of more than £11m, with 88 percent employing over 50 staff. Twenty-six percent of those surveyed were part of customer experience or marketing departments, with 19 percent within HR and 31 percent part of central insight teams.