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Gary Cattermole

The Survey Initiative


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Employee feedback: your secret weapon for business success


I’ve always been perplexed that companies are willing to invest millions on the result of a customer satisfaction survey, but so often ignore data in a staff survey – it doesn’t make sense.

I understand why consumer-facing businesses pump millions into developing their brands and customer loyalty, but I also have to question who really knows the organisation best?

Are customers’ or employees’ opinions best placed to make an organisation more successful?

Organisations need to stop working in silos and collectively pull together across the board to fully integrate their business research.

Don’t get me wrong, we all need to seek customer opinion and react to the data. My concern is that employees know an organisation inside out.

If there’s a problem with the product, or a retail outlet for example, surely their staff are the first to know?

In an ideal world the staff survey and the consumer feedback survey will be analysed in tandem to view key trends.

Employees can take part in focus groups and discussions to get to the heart of the matter and give essential ‘on the floor’ feedback that the board just cannot see, or are sometimes liable to make the wrong assumptions based on the consumer data.

Together, customer and employee data make a formidable partnership.

A focus on the wrong areas

A recent global survey by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Business School stated that the most important measurement to affect marketing spend is customer satisfaction. This metric contributes to 53% of all marketing mix decisions.

Following customer satisfaction, metrics for awareness (45%) and return on investment (43%) are the next most important.

Companies were also measuring target volume, likeability and net profit – but where was employee voice?

As I say, I’m all for hearing the views and opinions of customers – it’s vital, as without insightful research businesses would make many bad decisions.

My concern is the level of reaction customer feedback creates, on sometimes rather tenuous statistics.

An expected industry response rate for customer feedback is around 15%. Admittedly, some organisations can reach completion rates of >40% and others may only achieve 4-8%.

On the back of this, however, organisations are prepared to spend a large proportion of their turnover in transforming their strategy.

Interestingly, if any staff survey provider gave a client results from a 40% or below response rate they would be laughed out of the building and the data would be deemed invalid due to the sample size.  

Organisations try to ‘delight’ customers

Another problem is that organisations take a rather dated view to customer retention and analyse customer satisfaction rates, believing that if they ‘delight’ customers by going above and beyond they will be loyal.

Research published in the Harvard Business Review, however, shows that customers remain loyal to organisations that ‘reduce their effort’ – the work a customer needs to do to get their problem solved.

By transforming customer surveys to look at their ease of purchase and processes (such as customers repeatedly having to contact a company, having to repeat information, switch from one service channel to another, not gleaning necessary data from website, etc), organisations can save money on their sales and marketing campaigns.

A necessary component to affecting change here is the employee.

Who is the first person to know about a customer’s frustration? The answer is simple: an employee.

Within organisations we need to ensure customer research is embedded with feedback from employees, ‘working at the coal face’.

Organisations need to stop working in silos and collectively pull together across the board to fully integrate their business research.

A highly engaged employee will do all they can to support a customer.

A sales analysis on how the customer was treated and whether the employee followed stated protocol, however, will not change the situation, apart from acting to disengage the employee and maintain the status quo, which is, in equal measure, frustrating the customer too.

How do we resolve this challenge?

It’s not brain surgery – like with many great ideas, we need to embrace a collaborative approach.

Gathering customer feedback is of course necessary, but we do need to remember the sample size, and recognise the fact that many customers will only bother to fill out a form when they’ve received particularly good or bad service, rather skewing the results.

Within organisations we need to ensure customer research is embedded with feedback from employees, ‘working at the coal face’, who often know about issues with new systems or products far earlier than any board member.

Companies with a very flat structure are far better suited to affecting change at the top and can be more agile to deliver greater customer service and improved productivity and profitability for an organisation.

HR directors once again need to fight for their rightful place in the boardroom, and actively demonstrate that employees really are a company’s best asset, by offering real insight into customer service delivery.

All organisations are keen to gain excellent return on investment and this is an ideal chance for HRs to evidence the affect employees can make on improving business performance.

Interested in this topic? Read How to create a healthy feedback culture.

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Gary Cattermole


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