I recently attempted to book a flight online. I got halfway through the process when it felt like I was getting the wrong information. So I rang up the airline, and, sure enough, I was given a different set of flight details. So I booked my flight over the phone. I didn’t go back to the Web site to fill out any feedback form because, to be quite honest, I couldn’t be bothered. It had wasted enough of my time already.
“The customer is now a participant in the production process,” Alvin Toffler told Business 2.0 magazine in September 2000.
“What’s happening is a shift toward consumption in which the lines have blurred between producer and consumer or customer. The customer provides information as to what they want. Without that information, producers create a product that they can’t sell and no one wants… The relationship with the customer to the producer is radically changed and enhanced by the Internet.”
The Gap Between Theory and Practice
That is the theory of the interactive Internet. My feeling is that the practice is very different. That is not to say that I don’t agree with Alvin Toffler’s thinking. More feedback from the consumer will enhance the products being developed. However, the Internet really offers only a limited type of feedback.
If I’m a manager in a store and I constantly see large queues at the cash register, that’s feedback. If I’m a salesperson and I see a confused-looking customer holding up a product, that’s feedback. If I hear from my floor staff that customers are constantly asking where the changing rooms are, that’s feedback. If I see an angry customer, that’s feedback. If I see lots of customers coming into the store but only a few who are buying, that’s feedback.
It has been a hallmark of truly customer-focused organizations that all staff get out on the floor or get out on the road for at least some period during the year, so as to get a firsthand feel for the customer.
Getting Feedback on the Web
How do you get a firsthand feel for the customer who visits a Web site? In my opinion, this is a key question that Web designers and managers need to address if we want to have Web sites that truly work for the customer. How do we positively engage with customers and get their valued feedback?
Achieving that certainly requires more than just a Feedback link. You see, the Web, for all its interactive hype, is a very sterile environment. You need to work hard to get your customer to interact. “What’s in it for me?” he will justifiably ask. “Why should I bother filling out this form?” she’ll wonder.
The first step in achieving feedback is to make people aware that you value their feedback. Here’s what you need to do:
- Actively reach out to customers.
- Ask customers questions when they complete a process.
- Offer prizes or extra services for fully completed feedback forms.
- Host well-moderated discussion boards or mailing lists.
- Offer rewards for those who participate in focus groups.
- Get back to people quickly, thank them, and answer any queries raised in their feedback.