The Importance of Immediate Response

“911, we have an emergency…”

artwork of a clock, lightbulb and people.

What are your expectations when you hear that? “The ambulance is on its way.” Or, “The fire truck is dispatched.” Or, “The police will be here soon.” We expect an immediate response in emergencies. 

Do you respond when your customers feel they have an emergency? Customers “talk” to your organization every day. Their feedback can signal a problem or situation where they need help. Some feedback is direct (via a phone call, online form, or survey response); other times it is through their actions (canceling an order, abandoning a shopping cart, etc.). Whether you respond, how you respond, and when you respond are critical.

Customers want to feel heard. They want to believe your organization cares and is committed to providing a good experience. You can meet those expectations and make improvements to enhance future results by responding in a timely and effective manner.

When is an immediate response required, and what needs to happen?

Sometimes the answer is obvious: For a company that services hospital machinery, key equipment that is not up and running can translate into delays in diagnosing and treating patients. Unfortunately, the message may be more subtle: Key words or phrases in a survey response may be a signal, if not a cry, for further assistance. “My laptop still doesn’t work.” “The signage wasn’t clear, and I missed my flight.” “I don’t even know who my account manager is.”

The first step is making the decision to respond when customer feedback suggests the customer may require assistance. Your organization has to make the decision to listen and respond to customer feedback. 

Then, you’ll need a process to take action. In today’s technology-driven world, tools are available to help, starting with closed-loop follow-up (CLFU), which is a systematic process to acknowledge root cause and rectify customer feedback. The closed-loop process is an integral component of best-in-class customer experience (CX) programs. Having a ticketing system allows you to put workflows into place to make sure the loop is closed with customers.

The benefits are both external (strengthening customer relationships in real time) and internal (placing feedback directly in the hands of customer-facing employees and giving them a stake in transforming the customer experience).

Which customers should receive immediate follow-up?

Although the case can be made that all customers are important, it can quickly become unsustainable or even impossible to reach out to everyone who provides feedback. Be intentional. Consider business priorities, engagement preferences of the customer, and your current capabilities to execute. Don’t commit to reaching out to individual customers if you don’t have the resources needed to do the work. Make it work for your organization – there is no one-size-fits-all system.

Here is an example of how one company segments its customer for follow-up when established criteria are met:

  • Top-tier customers receive a personalized, immediate phone call from their account manager
  • Mid-tier customers receive a personalized email message within a few days
  • Lower-tier customers receive a standardized email message within a few days

What might trigger an immediate response?

Here are five examples:

  1. Low score: A “poor” rating of the service experience
  2. A vulnerable customer, identified as being at “high risk” or not likely to continue the relationship
  3. An unresolved issue: The customer indicates their concern has not been fully addressed
  4. Request for follow-up from the customer
  5. Open-ended comment: Be sure to read the comments and use your survey platform to identify those that may require a follow-up

Tip:  Don’t use too many questions as triggers. This can result in a wide range of responses that prevents focus on the most critical topics

How long is too long to respond?

The answer largely depends on the situation. In the earlier example of key medical equipment not working, the response must come within hours – if not sooner. Internally, if an employee provides feedback that his/her laptop still isn’t working, it may take time to troubleshoot or get a new computer. But the employee can’t work until it’s fixed, so a different type of urgency is in place.

For more standard situations, a best practice is for the assigned owner to contact the customer within two to five business days. The timeframe may vary in other circumstances, but the important factor is to have a structure in place that dictates response times and procedures.

Who should “own” the follow-up process?

Even if everyone buys into the idea of follow-up, it won’t just magically happen, which is why establishing a strong governance system for your CLFU program is essential.

While the culture of a strong organization dictates that everyone plays a role in delivering a great customer experience, specific owners need to be identified, understand their role, and be willing to take on the challenge. In addition, it is common for leaders across the various business segments to maintain overall responsibility for customer relationships.

 We have seen three common approaches to assigning who should be tasked with following up. 

  1. Account Owner: For large enterprise accounts, there may be an account manager who has been specified as the owner of the relationship. They are a good candidate to task with ensuring issue resolution – especially for relational surveys.
  2. Centralized CX Triage Team: For situations where there isn’t an assigned owner or where the volume of accounts is high or more transactional in nature, it may be appropriate to identify a team to handle this activity. 
  3. Managers of Front-Line Employees: It is common to have managers own the follow-up process for transactional, event-based surveys such as post-support call or training. They can help ensure the issue is resolved and coach their team members as needed.

A simple three-step process for the “owners” of the follow-up is to review the customer’s feedback, call the customer, and document the outcomes.

Potential pitfalls that must be addressed are owners not having the bandwidth needed to reach out to customers in a timely manner or those owners not buying into the process and deciding a follow-up is not required.

As always, executive buy-in is also vital. Leadership should be aware of the status of CLFU activity, with their attention helping keep the importance of immediate and effective responses top of mind throughout the company.

Going beyond immediate response

The importance of documentation cannot be overstated. It is the role of managers or leaders to use this information to identify root causes and fix systemic issues that are the source of customer dissatisfaction or business inefficiency.

Documentation forms entered into a ticketing system should contain the following:

  • The most critical concerns/issues the customer experienced
  • Additional detail on each of these issues
  • Root causes
  • Actions planned to resolve the issue and help prevent future occurrences
  • Primary outcome of the follow-up discussion and actions

If proper documentation takes place, ongoing analysis can then occur. This can lead to identification of trends, best practices, systemic root causes, improvement initiatives, and return on investment stories that can be used by communications and marketing teams to drive business growth.

Think about all the wasted time, energy, and money if you kept fixing problems, but never ended up solving the root cause and preventing issues from happening in the first place.

If you want to be sure you’re responding appropriately to customer issues, Walker’s experts can set up a follow-up process that answers all these questions and improves your customers’ experiences.

About the Authors
Kitty Radcliff

Kitty Radcliff

As a vice president of advisory services, Kitty serves as the senior client service contact for assigned customer feedback engagements, with an emphasis on industry knowledge, research expertise and creation of valuable insights. Her current portfolio of client relationships includes both international and domestic companies in the high-tech, manufacturing, and financial sectors. Kitty’s largest accounts involve global customer satisfaction/loyalty measurement programs with survey activity occurring via the web in several dozen countries around the globe.
Read more about Kitty

Michelle Abner