This is the last of a three-part series about the challenges of harnessing unstructured feedback across every level of the enterprise. In previous posts, we explored how to maximize unstructured feedback and why agents don’t share feedback that they receive from customers. In this article, we’ll focus on what happens to the feedback that makes it to management.
It can be incredibly hard for leaders to organize and act on unstructured feedback effectively. Lower and mid-level managers are prone to suffering from the same challenges agents face, but there are additional challenges unique to their leadership role. Without the right processes and technology in place to capture and structure the random comments we hear from customers (via our front-line employees), it’s not possible to act on this information effectively even if we’re well aware of it.
There’s no shortage of opportunities to learn from front-line employees, and most of us are already engaged daily. Whether we’re exchanging ideas face-to-face in meetings, trading emails, or looking over case notes, there are plenty of opportunities. Unfortunately, with all that contact, it’s easy for insights to slip through the cracks.
If agents are doing their best to share everything customers are saying, they’ll generate a mountain of data in no time flat. If you have a lot of direct reports, you’ll be drowning in information before you know what to do with it. Without a structure, it can be extremely overwhelming, and you might miss out on valuable lessons due to their sheer volume.
Some organizations try to track this information customers relay to us in tickets or case notes, but those systems are best equipped to organize structured information that we were expecting. They don’t always work well for aggregating and tabulating unstructured feedback that doesn’t fit the mold. We make promises to ourselves that we’ll go back and mine those notes for gold later, but it’s labor-intensive, time-consuming, and we don’t always know what to look for.
Even when we know that friction exists, its cause, and maybe even a solution, that doesn’t mean we have the resources to act on all of it simultaneously. It would be most helpful to have a way to judge the impact of different pain-points, prioritize remedies, and evaluate the return on our efforts. Regrettably, this is too big of a task for to-do lists and email chains. They work well for awareness, but not for calculation.
When you have so much data coming at you from all different angles, it can be difficult to see the forest through the trees and take a high level, strategic approach. With all the feedback in different mediums and formats, even when you do spot trends, it’s hard to put an exact number on them. For the reasons discussed in part one, issues may be underreported, making the path to improvement even harder. When you can’t quantify the momentum behind the topic, you can’t expect to target your limited resources effectively.
Lower and middle managers, who are closest to the feedback captured on the front-line, also have their own bosses to please. They each have their own sets of expectations and priorities. Everyone wants to look good for their boss; we want to seem focused, strategic, and aligned with the organization’s mission.
Running around putting out fires without a roadmap or concrete data to back it up isn’t going to convince outsiders we’ve got everything under control. Jumping from one small issue to another without an apparent theme could make it appear that these managers are disorganized or easily distracted from bigger goals. “I’m listening to customers,” is well and good, but it’s not quite a formal plan for progress.
Just as agents have trouble planning how and when to share information with their supervisor, leadership may find it challenging to pick an appropriate time and place to share all the surprising lessons they’re learning from the feedback they collect. They might even share agents’ concerns about nagging or being the messenger who is shot.
By developing a formal process around unstructured feedback, one that is scheduled, routine, and has a set agenda, it becomes easier to have discussions about what we learn from customers. By setting the expectation that these things will be discussed regularly, others on the leadership team can prepare to receive the information.
I didn’t study this scientifically, but I’ll go out on a limb by saying that executives almost unanimously agree that customers are important. Many would even say that listening to customers is important. They might even go as far as to share this opinion with their employees, periodically reminding them to focus effort in this area. The bad news is, this often turns out to be lip service.
Customer lip service from the top usually isn’t deliberate. Executives have good intentions, but there’s not always a real process or initiative to throw their weight behind. Saying “listen to customers” without a framework for customer listening is like saying “be profitable” without a business plan. For leaders to meaningfully support our efforts to listen to customers, there has to be a program in which they can invest. Because senior management don’t have customer-facing roles, it’s not easy for them to model the behavior they desire or get directly involved.
In closing, “do good stuff” and “make customers happy!” Also, subscribe to the LANtelligence CX Blog by entering your email on the top-right of this page, so you can be the first to know when the next article is published.