yelling into a decrepit phone
Customers who feel ignored won't remain customers for long. Make sure you have a process in place to not only listen to, but act on your customer's feedback PHOTO: Isengardt

Many years ago I ran the support organization for a small software company. We had a whiteboard on the wall opposite the area of the office where my team sat. Everyone walking to the break room could see it. It showed the number of customer calls or emails we had each week, how many support tickets were still open, and how many we had resolved. 

Above it sat another sign that said, “We are not a black hole.”

Don’t Ignore Customers

While the figures we reported to the CEO were accurate, it was the simpler informal sign that became our mantra. We didn’t want our customers to feel as though their requests for service were disappearing into a black hole.

Let’s face it: No one likes being ignored, but more often than not ignoring people is the standard operating procedure of many support organizations. Even if it isn’t intentional, that’s often the way it appears to the customer.

It used to be easy to monitor and listen to your customers: They either called, emailed or even wrote actual letters (remember those?) when they had problems. There was really no excuse for being a “black hole” and not responding to them. Today, providing support is much a more complex undertaking. There are an overwhelming number of channels that customers can use to communicate with you, and while you may be able to monitor most of them, it is almost impossible to capture them all — especially when customers come up with new, unofficial channels to make themselves heard, like the gentleman who was so unhappy with a company that he painted his complaints on the side of a van.

In my experience, there are four ways that companies tend to respond to the voice of the customer:

  1. Ignore it.
  2. Capture it, and then do nothing.
  3. Acknowledge there is a problem, but don’t take any action.
  4. Acknowledge the problem and provide a solution.

The type of response tends to be a reflection of when and where within the organization the customer data is received and handled. A few months ago, I wrote about how customer input should be treated as a single unified data set.

Empathy First, Followed by Action

So how do you go about using that data set to deliver on what the customer needs? The first rule of thumb goes back to not being a black hole: Acknowledge that the customer has a problem. Do that, and you’ll be way ahead of most companies. However, while empathy is all well and good, customers prefer action to empathy.

So how do you provide the fix?

Give your customer-facing teams access to intelligent content. Content is an expression of everything a company does, and it needs to be valued as an asset across a company. To solve customer problems and provide positive actionable feedback, you need to be able to tap into that pool of content in efficient ways that allow the right pieces of knowledge to be pulled together to provide personalized responses. That content can be coming from knowledge bases, technical documentation, support articles, operating schedules, customer profiles or machine-learning chatbots. Match that content with current marketing campaigns and offers, and you can pull together positive customer experiences that help solve problems, further engage the customer and then continue to build the customer’s brand engagement.

It once again comes down to taking a holistic strategic view, this time in regard to your content. Look not only at what it was created for, but also at where else it can be used, and where it can provide answers to customers’ questions. The content needs to be structured, modeled and understood from a semantic customer viewpoint, and it has to have the right common taxonomies and metadata applied. That is not a quick or easy task, but it is one that increases efficiency, leverages your content assets, and allows you to respond to the voice of the customer in the best possible way.