The Digital Transformation of Feedback: How You Interact With Customers Has Changed Forever

Feedback is at the heart of success for brands. Without feedback, businesses have no clue if they’re doing the right or wrong thing — until their customers leave. But for years, feedback was stagnant: suggestion boxes, interviews, focus groups, and other antiquated methods prevented businesses from really getting to know their audiences.

In recent years, feedback has undergone a digital transformation, and it’s done wonders for numerous industries. But what caused all of this disruption and change in the first place?

What’s causing all this feedback disruption?

A number of rapid advancements have paved the way for disruption and advancement, which have fast-tracked feedback improvements.

RAPID CHANGES IN TECHNOLOGY

Technological advancements have set the stage for numerous advancements in business, like drastic changes to communication, the ability to work remotely from anywhere, and the wider availability of mobile apps. These same technological advancements have also allowed feedback methods to change.

  • Wider availability of fast, reliable internet: 93.5% of the U.S. now has access to broadband, and many regions have access to even faster internet. Surveys were able to find an online audience even during the internet’s earlier days. Now, faster internet makes it easy to upload and receive video feedback.
  • Smartphone use has climbed: All around the world, smartphones are now in the hands of nearly four billion people. And smartphone cameras have gotten better, too. Basically, more people than ever have high-quality cameras in their pockets. This makes video feedback more possible than ever before.
  • There’s a whole lotta data out there: Between 2017 and 2019, we created 90% of all the data in the world. And that number is only growing as people create more and more data with each year. A significant chunk of that data is feedback. For proof, look at the popularity of reviews on platforms like Yelp, My Business reviews on Google, and Facebook.

In the last decade or two, we’ve gone from talking on phones to texting to making video calls, all thanks to technology. Tech has done the same for feedback, allowing us to go from basic online surveys to mobile reviews to video feedback. Pretty awesome, right?

SHORTCOMINGS WITH TRADITIONAL FEEDBACK

When we invented the rotary phone, there wasn’t necessarily anything wrong with it. It did what it was meant to do: make calls. But that doesn’t mean the rotary phone can even begin to compare with a modern smartphone.

Similarly, traditional feedback had its place at the time, and still kind of does. But when compared to modern feedback tools, traditional feedback leaves a lot to be desired.

  • Surveys don’t tell the whole story: Surveys, whether online, in email, or snail mail, yield a lot of data. But this quantitative research doesn’t give you any context or human emotion. Survey questions can also be misleading and result in inaccurate answers and skewed data.
  • Traditional feedback can take forever: Focus groups and in-depth interviews can yield great qualitative information, but also take forever. In the age of widespread high-speed internet, things need to move quickly and be more convenient. Even simply asking for reviews can boost review rates by 76%.

Quantitative data has its place: understanding general behavior and opinions. But if you want to dig deeper and get to the heart of your audience’s feelings about your product or brand, you need to go a step further with more modern, qualitative methods — like video feedback.

THE STAGE IS SET FOR DISRUPTION

Sometimes the stars align, and the time is right for change. Or in this case, technology and societal shifts have created the right environment for change. In short: It’s the perfect time for feedback disruption.

  • Technology has caught up to our needs: The internet is universally faster than ever before, people are carrying mini-computers with high-tech cameras in their pockets, and there’s a boatload of data created every day. All three of these ingredients are a recipe for feedback disruption and evolution.
  • People are engaging with brands like never before: Before social media and the internet, brands largely spoke to their audiences, not the other way around. Now, people have open lines of communication with the brands they follow. In fact, it’s become an expectation that brands offer support through social media — 63% of people feel brands should offer support through their social media pages.

It’s clear that audiences are ready, and the time is ripe for more video feedback. People want to engage with brands more, and companies now have the technology to make this engagement possible. But while this feedback revolution is possible, is it actually happening?

Feedback flashback: Responses across industries

As we mentioned, technology has brought about some pretty radical changes to our lives and businesses. It should come as no surprise then, that the changes to feedback have varied.

Feedback as a whole is experiencing a period of growth and change. But if you look closer, you’ll see that feedback is changing in different ways within every industry. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at several industries and how feedback used to be handled and how it’s managed now.

MEDIA

The barrier between media — television, film, radio, etc. — goes well beyond the screen or speakers that carry the media itself. Feedback used to be notoriously difficult for media to collect.

In the past, feedback for media was largely random, with the onus being on professional critics. For example, film critics were one of the only ways filmmakers knew how they were doing in the early 1900s. Test screenings weren’t a thing until the 1920s, and even film critics weren’t popular until around that time as well. This left many film and TV studios completely in the dark. (Save a few friends and family members that likely saw early productions.)

Now, media receives feedback in a number of ways: test screenings, focus groups, online review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes, and random surveys. Many films and shows even have their social media pages, which open the door to more public feedback from audiences.

In the past, feedback was generally public, as it was published in newspapers and magazines in the form of reviews and criticism. Now feedback can go directly to those it’s intended for: focus groups allow execs to get feedback, and test screenings give writers and directors feedback. Numerous versions of trailers can even be tested with in-person groups or online, with video feedback used to collect the test audience’s opinions. Public forums and social media pages also leave feedback from the masses in the open, where anyone can view it.

RETAIL & CONSUMER GOODS

Back in the day, retail and consumer goods-related feedback was an arduous, random, involved process to collect. Between focus groups, suggestion boxes, and mail-in feedback, retail outlets had no “easy” route for customers to leave feedback. Each of these feedback routes was time-consuming for both parties. This made feedback an inconvenience for consumers and left retail businesses without feedback for lengthy periods of time.

Even until recently feedback has been difficult for retail and consumer goods companies. Many companies sell their products through another channel, like a retail partner. Beyond reading product reviews on a retailer’s site or reaching out to the retailer directly, many product manufacturers had no easy route to find out how people liked their products. That is, until recently.

Today, modern establishments can tap their email list for surveys, request reviews on products via email or even their mobile app, collect video feedback using a service like Voxpopme, and yes, still hold focus groups. This feedback mix is generally more convenient for customers, allowing them to submit feedback promptly and on their own time. This also opens a direct line of communication between product manufacturers and their audience, something that was previously missing. This is a huge step, as it allows for manufacturers to better serve their audiences.

In the past, feedback collected via a suggestion box, focus group, mail, or interview would have gone directly to the head of the store or even corporate. Digital disruption has increased visibility and made it possible for people of all levels to view and interpret feedback. For example, an employee can easily go online and read reviews of their store on Yelp. This visibility increases the pressure on retail outlets to improve and deliver a better experience.

SAAS

Before disruption, Software as a service (SaaS) companies had it fairly rough when it came to feedback. Unlike retail establishments, SaaS companies didn’t always have physical locations for customers to visit. This left them at the mercy of customers who were willing to voluntarily submit feedback via email, or possibly via an 800 number.

Now, SaaS companies have a few feedback avenues to choose from. Sure, SaaS companies can use email surveys and request product reviews. But these companies have a unique advantage to lean on: their software. Unlike a store, the SaaS audience can be pinged for feedback while actively using the software they’re being asked to review.

For example, SaaS companies can integrate video feedback into their software and make it easy for users to submit feedback right then and there. In action, this could be a simple popup or drop down at the top of the tool that asks if the user would like to provide feedback on their experience. Oftentimes this doesn’t even take the user away from the tool, making it convenient and fast to complete.

Outside of online reviews, most feedback SaaS companies collect is still likely going to the same people as before: IT, department heads, or those in charge of product development. But, like the others on this list, there are also public arenas for feedback, like social media pages or dedicated review aggregators like G2. Again, this allows for a certain amount of feedback to be visible to everyone.

RESTAURANTS

Restaurants have been a surprising leader in the feedback revolution — from wooden suggestion boxes to receipt questionnaires to Yelp.

In the past, restaurants received most feedback through suggestion boxes or via suggestion cards placed on tables. This would be processed by management and likely seen by nobody else. (Unless an employee took a peek in the suggestion box.)

Today, technology has made it possible for restaurants to direct customers to online surveys via receipts, collect feedback on their branded websites, and collect general feedback on sites like Yelp. Much like the feedback evolution seen in the aforementioned industries, these new feedback methods empower audiences to provide feedback at their convenience.

Just like the days before the digital revolution, feedback still generally goes to management and top-level decision makers. But anyone can look at online reviews, which like retail, applies pressure to actually change and better serve customers.

Feedback hasn’t evolved in a straight line. For some industries, feedback is largely public, while others still have some degree of privacy and only allow certain stakeholders to see feedback. But, two things are constant: an increasing push for visibility, and an increased amount of control for those taking feedback. Now, let’s determine how you can ensure your own company’s feedback processes aren’t lagging behind.

How to ensure your feedback keeps up with the pace of change

So, feedback has gone digital. This is likely of little surprise; even watches were going digital as early as the ’70s. What might be surprising is the success all of the aforementioned industries have had with digital feedback. It’s essential, for your brand and your audience, that you keep up with the digital revolution. Fortunately, there are a few things you can start doing now to ensure you’re keeping up.

LEARN FROM YOUR INDUSTRY PEERS

Imitation isn’t just the best form of flattery — it’s also a sign that companies are paying attention to industry trends.

Step back and see what competitors in your industry are doing with feedback. Check their sites for feedback forms, requests for video feedback, and so on. Examine their social media pages to see how frequently people are reviewing their business, if the company is replying, how they’re replying, etc.

Learning from your industry peers to see what they’re doing well is essential to feedback success. It’s even important to see what they’re doing poorly. Did you see a company reply on social media with a cringe-worthy tweet that destroyed their reputation? Take note!

COLLABORATE WITH INTERNAL TEAMS

If you’re in product, marketing, sales, and so on, your customer experience (CX) and research teams might have tools you haven’t considered for shaping your products, brands, and experiences. Similarly, if you’re part of an insight team, it’s possible one region is using a feedback tool you’d benefit from but just don’t know about.

The above scenarios point to the importance of general cross-team collaboration. Look for opportunities for collaboration on future projects and involve other teams. The end result is often a better final product and a ton of knowledge sharing.

This is also a great way to collect internal feedback, face-to-face, as you’ll find yourself working with people you normally don’t work with.

ASK SUPPLIERS

Want to pick up a new tool or skill? Technology vendors will be happy to share capabilities and ideas with you even if you’re only in an educational or foundational stage of digitizing your feedback. Vendors can offer a wealth of specialized knowledge, so reach out if you want to explore or learn something new.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, but with the above points, you can ensure you’re aware of what’s happening in your industry. This will allow you to plan and begin adopting any new tools necessary to make your own feedback revolution happen.

No going back with digital feedback

The digital transformation of feedback has taken many forms, and spans every industry. While the feedback methods may vary from industry to industry, there are the common elements of visibility and control. People have never been more empowered, and that’s a great thing for audiences and brands alike. (Companies can’t make their products and services into diamonds without a little positive pressure.)

People finally have their voices heard, and brands can finally deliver an experience that matches or even exceeds expectations. Simply put: there’s no going back to the days of pre-digital feedback. And that’s a good thing.

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