Closing the Loop: Valuing Customer Feedback Beyond Surveys

Introduction

In the dynamic realm of customer experience management, one often overlooked aspect is the importance of closing the loop with customers after they have provided their valuable feedback, especially within the context of surveys. The concept of closing the loop is neither new nor complicated. It’s rooted in basic and effective communication. It refers to the practice of providing feedback or acknowledgment to ensure that a message or communication has been received and understood. It is a fundamental aspect of effective communication that helps in confirming mutual understanding and preventing misunderstandings. This fundamental practice is not only confined to the corporate world and surveys but extends into various facets of interpersonal communication, where acknowledgment plays a crucial role in fostering positive connections. Here are some key aspects of closing the loop in basic communication.

  1. Acknowledgment: Acknowledge receipt of a message, whether it’s verbal, written, or non-verbal. This acknowledgment can be accomplished through verbal cues like saying “Got it,” “I understand,” or nodding in agreement.
  2. Confirmation: Confirming understanding by paraphrasing or summarizing the message shows that you have received and understood the information correctly. For example, saying, “So, if I understand correctly, you’re saying…”
  3. Asking Questions: Asking clarifying questions is a way to ensure that you have grasped the main points. This demonstrates active engagement in the conversation and a commitment to understanding.
  4. Providing Feedback: Offering feedback on the message or information shared can be constructive. This could involve expressing agreement, disagreement, or sharing your perspective on the topic.
  5. Follow-Up Actions: If the communication involves tasks or actions, closing the loop may include discussing next steps, responsibilities, and timelines. This ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding what needs to happen next.
  6. Expressing Appreciation: Expressing gratitude or appreciation for the information received can enhance positive communication. It shows respect for the other person’s input.

In our daily communications with one another, it would be helpful to keep these basic practices in mind. How often have we been asked for something by another person and provided it only to have the communication end at that point within the exchange? Did they receive what I provided? Was it what they expected? Are they happy with the result? With that, one can only guess. Let’s now explore the significance of closing the loop, examining its impact on customer relations, and drawing parallels to personal and business communications.

The Disconnect Within Customer Surveys

Customer surveys serve as a vital tool for organizations to gauge satisfaction, identify areas for improvement, and refine their offerings. However, a prevalent issue arises when customers invest time and effort in sharing their opinions but receive no feedback or acknowledgment in return. This lack of closure leaves customers wondering about the fate of their input and whether it has contributed to any positive changes.

The Ripple Effect

The repercussions of neglecting to close the loop with customers are far-reaching. Beyond the immediate impact on customer satisfaction, it can lead to decreased participation in future surveys and, more critically, erode the trust between customers and businesses. A simple act of acknowledgment can go a long way in reinforcing the customer’s belief that their feedback was not simply collected but genuinely valued.

Real-world Examples

  1. Retail and Product Improvement – Consider a scenario where a retail customer provides feedback about a product’s functionality or suggests an improvement. Without closing the loop, the customer remains oblivious to whether their input influenced any changes. On the contrary, a brand that actively communicates updates or expresses gratitude for the feedback creates a positive loop of engagement.
  2. Service Industry and Satisfaction – In the service industry, a customer might share experiences, both positive and negative, through a survey. Closing the loop by acknowledging their input and outlining the steps taken to address concerns not only shows responsiveness but also enhances the likelihood of retaining the customer.

Closing the Loop Beyond Surveys

Closing the loop is not an exclusive business practice limited to survey responses; it holds equal weight in various interpersonal communication scenarios, personal as previously noted and professional as well. Consider the following examples.

Personal Communication

In personal relationships, the principle of acknowledgment applies seamlessly. When someone shares their thoughts, feelings, or experiences, a response—whether through words or actions—demonstrates respect and appreciation. Failure to close the loop in personal communication may lead to misunderstandings, feelings of neglect, and strained relationships.

Professional Communication

In the business world, the importance of closing the loop is magnified. Whether it’s a job application, a proposal, or a collaborative effort, acknowledging receipt and providing updates instills confidence in stakeholders. It fosters a culture of transparency and professionalism, enhancing the overall communication experience.

Acknowledgment as a Two-way Street

Closing the loop is not a one-sided endeavor. It is a two-way street where both parties benefit. Organizations gain insight and trust, while customers or individuals feel valued and engaged. This reciprocity forms the foundation of successful and sustainable relationships, be they customer-business or interpersonal.

Illustrating the Impact

To visualize the impact of closing the loop, the graph below shows a correlation between the overall customer satisfaction score (OSAT) over time and the average number of days taken to close the loop on customer feedback. The metric used to express the number of days that it took to close the loop with customers was called Days Alerts Outstanding or DAO. This was a metric I developed to better resonate with an organization that was particularly financially oriented. Days sales outstanding (DSO) is a measure of the average number of days that it takes for a company to collect payment after a sale has been made. The lower the DSO, the faster payments are collected. The higher the DSO, the longer it takes the company to see its money. The DAO metric paralleled the DSO metric to a great degree and the organization became more likely to see and appreciate the connection of a customer experience metric to a highly regarded financial operational metric. Over time, as the graph below illustrates, improving the DAO proved to be an effective component of increasing overall customer satisfaction.

Conclusion

The simple act of closing the loop with customers, whether in the context of surveys or broader interpersonal communication, is a powerful tool for building and sustaining positive relationships. Acknowledgment is the bridge that connects feedback to action, transforming it from mere data into a catalyst for improvement. By recognizing the value of customer input and extending this principle to personal and professional communication, we can create a more interconnected and gratifying experience for all parties involved.

As we also might imagine that the trend toward applying artificial intelligence (AI) to automate the process of closing the loop will help us accelerate the process, a word of caution is in order. AI is likely to do many more things for us as the future unfolds and replaces humans in many tasks. However, one thing it will never be able to do is create intimate interpersonal connections. To thrive in the age of AI, one needs to become exceptionally good at connecting with others on a personal level using the basic practices summarized within this article.

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Karl Sharicz – Founder, CEO – HorizonCX | January 2024

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