Internet Opens Customer Feedback Loop

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One of the best ways of finding out what customers want is simply asking them. Yet some folks manage to overlook this step, or to make it more difficult and costly than it has to be.


Some companies are injecting new life into an old tool, the customer survey, by putting surveys online. Hilton Hotels and Marriott, for example, have found electronic surveys to be quicker, cheaper and more accurate than paper comment cards. Hilton says it is saving $1 million a year after switching from comment cards to e-mail surveys.


While online surveys can be an effective CRM tool, Gartner says the key to success is actually following through by using customer insights to improve business processes -- a step that many companies ignore.


According to this CRM Buyer article, the firm found in a 2001 survey that of the 95 percent of the European companies that collected customer feedback, just 50 percent informed staff of their findings, 30 percent used the insights to make decisions, and just 10 percent used information to make process improvements.


Taking their cue from social networking sites, some companies put even more control in the hands of customers by inviting them to submit online feedback and product reviews. Research firm MarketingSherpa says that 43 percent of e-commerce sites now offer such features, nearly double the number that did so just a year ago.


Many of them are reaping big business benefits, as detailed in this CIO Today article.


Can this kind of open communication mend already damaged customer relationships? It's too early to tell whether it can help Dell, which had become a favorite whipping boy of irate customers who aired their many complaints against the company on Internet forums.


Dell recently introduced IdeaStorm, a site for collecting customer feedback and letting users vote for the best ideas to improve products and services.


While this a promising development, opines ZDNet blogger Steve O'Hear, Dell may be struggling with even bigger issues. Evidence: An early suggestion on the site came from a Dell employee, who suggested the PC maker should create an IdeaStorm for internal communications.