Monday, 11 February 2013

The right questions at the wrong time make customers cross

The radiator in my home office isn't working.  (Which means it's perishing cold in here.)  So I rang British Gas Homecare to book an appointment for an engineer to come and have a look at it.

Monday is my favoured day, but they couldn't book me in for Monday 18th because the engineers are fully booked.  "You could always ring up nearer the time and see if anyone has cancelled," said the friendly guy in the call centre.

Mmm, black mark.  I want YOU to offer to call ME if a slot comes free on Monday 18th.  As a customer I want YOU to go the extra mile.  I don't want to have to.

I booked the appointment for Monday 25th.

Then he started trying to sell me gas and electricity through British Gas as well.

Another black mark.  I want to book an engineer for my cold office, not be sold at.  I fairly quickly choked him off with the (true) comment that we're looking to move house and so a change of energy provider is not on the horizon.

And then he went on to ask me to go through an automated phone survey at the end of the call.

Now I know collecting feedback from customers is crucially important.  Heavens above, I just wrote about it.  But I'm not convinced that it's a good time to ask when you know a customer is feeling a bit cheesed off.  There's the risk that you will make them feel even more cheesed off.

I'm not blaming the poor guy in the call centre.  He's probably been told by his bosses that he HAS to try and upsell to every customer he talks to and that he HAS to put everyone through the survey.

But if I were in the boss's shoes I'd allow staff to use their own initiative and ask for the upsale and the feedback only when they think it's what the customer actually wants.  Otherwise the customers are going to go away feeling cross rather than feeling happy, and that's never good news.

Show me an honest review!

Customer feedback is one of the most crucial tools in any business's box.  After all, if your customers don't tell it like it is, how do you know if your product or service is actually making them happy?  And genuine testimonials from existing customers are a very powerful tool to encourage new customers through your front door.

The key word there is "genuine".

The Guardian published a very insightful article recently about the problem of fake customer feedback.  Businesses have been found paying third parties to leave bogus top-quality reviews - and it's often all too easy for a competitor to leave a fake negative review on an open site.

Take TripAdvisor for example.  Hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfasts can collect feedback from genuine customers there - but it's an open-access site, which means it's perfectly possible to leave a bad review for somewhere you've never even stayed.  That means it's far too easy for competitors to anonymously take pot-shots and try to bring the competition down.

So, as a business owner, how do you ensure that you're collecting only honest feedback from genuine customers?

That's one beauty of the Feefo model, which collects feedback by only e-mailing customers who have actually bought from a particular business, and then that feedback, good and bad, is shared with the supplier.  Even that isn't completely secure because a researcher - or a competitor - could still buy a cheap product and leave a fake review, but it's a good start.