Key to customer feedback is your Website

By John J. Sviokla, CIO |  Software

MOST COMPANIES DON'T REALLY KNOW

what their customers think of them. And the Internet is making the feedback gap worse.

Customers, through websites, often have just as good or better information than your customer service representatives do on product information, order status and financial incentives. Most of the traditional methods for gathering feedback -- such as surveys and focus groups -- have become hopelessly slow now that customers have instant access to services and products over the Web. Companies need to catch customers in the act, while they are ordering on the website, to find out what they think. Capturing this feedback in context, while the customer is engaged, is critically important -- it's like turbo word of mouth.

An industry is gathering around instant feedback over the Web. The industry is an extension of traditional customer response mechanisms. Organizations like the U.S. Consumer Protection Agency, Underwriters Laboratories (the UL seal of approval on appliances) and Consumers Union (publishers of Consumer Reports) have filtered, organized and coalesced customer opinion into megaphones capable of bringing powerful companies to their knees. Take those traditional opinion mechanisms and make them faster, more convenient and always available for customers and you can begin to see the impact this industry will have on your company.

BizRate and PlanetFeedback.com (on whose board I sit) are two examples of companies that offer instant customer feedback on the Web. They make money by selling software and support to companies that want to gather and examine the onslaught of feedback that is available through the Web. BizRate's pop-up windows ask for feedback from consumers as soon as they hit the send key on a BizRate client company's order page: Was it good for you? What would you change? PlanetFeedback has an application customers can download to their PDA with names and addresses of companies, agencies and legislators so that they can air their opinions in that same turbo context.

Think about the possibilities here. You're on an airplane, angry with the rude service of the flight attendant. You whip out your handheld, ask the flight attendant for his name, and right there, using the form and the database that has the name of the company president, you log a letter of complaint with time, details and place. Hit send, and the next time you sync your PDA, the letter goes to Planet Feedback's website where the airline's record is there for everyone to see. You can also snail mail or e-mail it to the company.

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