In today’s world of surveys and Net Promoter Systems, the terms “closing the loop” or “closed-loop process” have become common in many organizations. There are roles responsible for closed-loop programs and closing the loop with customers. There can be an extraordinary number of “loops to close” in this high-tech, high-touch, satisfaction-driven world we live in.
In B2B and B2C businesses alike, the volume depends on the breadth of services, products, and relationships these brands offer. But in today’s survey-focused world, when businesses and leaders refer to “closing the loop” they usually narrow the scope to the process which kicks off after a survey response is received. This type of closed-loop process is also referred to as “Case Management” as many times a “case” or tracking ticket is created to make sure outstanding issues are assigned and resolved.
THE TYPICAL FLOW
The Seven A’s of Closing the Loop on Survey Responses
- Reach out to the survey respondents and thank them for participating in the survey program and providing valuable feedback
- Thank the respondent for their business and being a valued customer
- If expectations were not met, apologize; express concern and a sincere interest to improve
- Learn the details of their experience and document them
- Listen to their suggestions, preferences, and needs; resolve any outstanding problems right then and there if they can be addressed immediately
- Collaborate and agree on an action plan and follow-up timeline if the problem cannot be resolved during the call
- Deliver on that action plan and timeline
TIMELINESS IS CRITICAL
The first step of the process, Acknowledge, needs to occur within 24-48 hours from when the respondent submitted the feedback. The reasons this response time from the business is so important are:
- Respect and Appreciation: The customer took time out of their busy day and shifted more important priorities to provide this valuable information. The business needs to show how much they value the feedback and the customer’s time by responding with urgency.
- Top of Mind: During that 24 to 48-hour timeframe, the details of the survey response and their reasons are still top of mind and they are more likely to engage in a closed-loop conversation so the business can learn more. This conversation is a prime opportunity for the business to forge/maintain a relationship and show they care. Once 72 hours have passed, many survey respondents have moved on and are less likely to engage in conversation.
When organizations set out to accomplish the closed-loop process for survey responses, there is a lot of energy and excitement around it. Everyone is ready to get started and improve the “customer experience”. Some organizations think this process will automatically improve Net Promoter Scores, too, so everyone is expected to get it done. What usually happens, though, is the staff becomes overwhelmed with the volume or the time it takes to execute the process, and then the closed-loop process begins to interfere with their day-to-day job responsibilities. There is a conflict in priorities. The reach-out goals slip, fewer conversations are held, less insight is collected, and people just run out of steam and become disenchanted with the process. Customers feel like their feedback is going into the abyss of bits and bytes and then they start to disengage with the survey program.
Brands that place adequate focus, resources, and accountability on those first four steps have a much better chance of engaging their customers, learning more about their experience, and building relationships.
ONGOING TRAINING IS VERY IMPORTANT
As the process matures and expands, and new team members begin to be responsible for the process, formalized training on the process and the “why” becomes critical. Without it, people start to do their own thing. For example, perhaps they might not really understand the Advocate, Agree and Activate steps. In these steps, the word “advocate” is a verb meaning to support the customer, take their side, or plead their case. Instead of listening and learning, the closed-loop owners might begin to explain the business policies and procedures or to defend the business. If action plans and timelines are not developed collaboratively and agreed upon, the customer will begin to feel powerless and not heard. And more importantly, if the action plan and timeline are not executed with precision, the customer will begin to lose faith and trust in the company and its ability and desire to meet their needs and expectations.
TAKING ACTION IS THE KEY TO CLOSED-LOOP SUCCESS
Brands need to make sure the closed-loop process doesn’t become a checklist of things to do. For example, meeting the 24–48-hour reach-out goal but not executing on the action plan can be devastating to the customer and the whole process can backfire on the company. Here’s a story to illustrate what can happen when the process becomes king and acting becomes de-prioritized.
Let’s say you visited a hotel for a short stay on a business trip. After you checked out you received a survey asking about your stay. You answered the survey during your flight home and gave them a decent satisfaction score, and shared improvement comments that the towels were becoming threadbare and there was a strange smell in the room when you first entered it. The hotel staff were “johnny on the spot” and called you personally within 24 hours. They apologized, expressed appreciation for choosing them and they promised to improve the items you mentioned. All seemed well.
You visit the hotel again in six months for another short business trip. As you enter the room you immediately notice that one of the trash cans is full and then you see the same threadbare towels. You report both to the front desk and they empty the trash can and bring in new towels, but when you use the towels, you see that that replacement towels are not much better than the originals. At the end of your stay, you receive another survey, but this time your satisfaction level is much lower, and you include some rather pointed commentary. They didn’t act on the items you mentioned after your first stay. But, once again, they call you in 24 hours to apologize and thank you for staying with them. They used empathetic words and assured you the next time will be better.
Six months later you visit again. This time you go straight to the towels. Yep! No change. And now you notice the trash can, a smell in the room, stains on the carpet, etc. You have become hypersensitive to everything now. After all, you’ve completed two surveys and participated in two conversations where they closed the loop with you and promised to correct the things that prevent you from having an awesome experience. Will you complete the next survey? If you do, what will you say? Will you come back to this hotel if you don’t have to?
This hotel story is a good example of what happens with many surveys that you and I submit. We spend our valuable time filling out a survey, we provide valuable experience feedback, we participate in closed-loop conversations which give us hope for a better experience, and then we become disappointed when the improvements are not delivered. As a result, relationships dissolve or do not form, satisfaction is not achieved, and loyalty is not realized. It’s easy for businesses to blame the survey process and the closed-loop process, but the real problem is that no one acted. And even worse, the action was promised but never attempted.
Why wasn’t action taken? New towels would be an easy action to take. The truth is that it is not always easy to act, especially in large companies and franchises. This may have been an easy fix for a small boutique hotel. For a large hotel chain, towels are probably purchased and replaced based on a schedule or based on the availability of budgeted funds. The main culprit here, though, is probably a lack of coordination of information between the closed-loop owners and the business managers and owners. The closed-loop owners should have let the business owners know of the commitment they made to improve the experience (better towels). Or better yet, they should not have committed to it if they couldn’t or wouldn’t deliver it. If the business could not meet the commitments, then the customer should have been provided a status before their next stay. And how cool would it have been for the hotel to have just purchased one set of towels for this guest as soon as they noticed he had booked the hotel again? One small expense would have made a big difference for this guest and would have gone a long way to secure loyalty and create some positive word of mouth.
THE VALUE OF A CLOSED-LOOP CULTURE
Think about it: closing the loop is not just about survey responses. Surveys are just one of many areas where businesses have “loops to close” with their customers. Some examples of closed-loop opportunities are:
- Service Tickets – are tickets closed out when the company fixes them, or is there a conversation to ensure the problem is resolved to their satisfaction?
- Requests for Product Defect Fixes – when defects are reported, are customers thanked for providing the information? Is an action plan defined? Are impacted customers notified when the fix is available?
- Requests for Enhancements or Customization – when enhancements are requested, is there a conversation to learn more? Is an action plan developed and communicated?
- Requests to Fix Billing/Invoicing Issues – is the bill just “fixed” or is there a conversation explaining how it was fixed and what to do if it ever happens again? Do you proof the next few invoices before they go out to ensure quality?
- Escalations – when issues are addressed by the business, is there a conversation with the customer to ensure satisfaction and a resolution path forward to prevent the problem from occurring again?
- Implementation Issues List – when the issues are addressed, is the customer aware? Do they get time to validate it before it’s closed out?
- Project Completion – is the project just “delivered” or is there a conversation to ensure everything was delivered to the satisfaction of the customer? Is an action plan created to correct any gaps?
Companies who bring in closed-loop feedback from all areas and oversee it as part of the customer experience function realize significantly higher retention, loyalty, engagement satisfaction, and Net Promoter Scores. The employees of these companies are also more engaged, empowered, and fulfilled in their roles and therefore have less turnover and burnout.
Do you want to learn more about Closed-Loop Systems and how to build a Closed-Loop Culture? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments below.