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War For Feedback

Founder of and CEO of Success Drivers
// Pioneering Causal AI for Insights since 2001 //
Author, Speaker, Father of two, a huge Metallica fan.

Author: Frank Buckler, Ph.D.
Published on: October 14, 2021 * 6 min read

Participation in the customer survey and touchpoint feedbacks has been rapidly declining for years. Not only the amount of feedback is suffering but also the quality. What’s the cause of this trend? How can we fight it? And who will win the war of feedback?

Every time I book a hotel, flight, or rental car, every time I buy a ticket for a game, every time I buy a product at some website – virtually anytime I do a business interaction, I get an ask for feedback.

It’s common sense that I don’t have time to answer all of them. Even worse, I am developing over time the habit of not even noticing those requests.

The driving trends behind this obvious picture is twofold

TREND 1 – DIGITALISATION: With digital survey tools from Qualtrics, Hotjar, to Survey Monkey, it’s a matter of a few mouse clicks and an investment of a view bugs to collect feedback and analyze it somehow.

TREND 2 – ROLE OF INSIGHTS: The first “big data” hype dates now over 20 years back. Since then, the amount of data has doubled every two years. But all this is mainly transactional data collecting along with the business processes.

What is not scaling that fast is customer feedback.

Based on this better data, many problems along the business process get optimized e.g. leveraging AI.

The miracle remaining stays the customer. What drives his behaviors and decisions? How does he perceive his experience?

Businesses release that each company typically has a major bottleneck: to better understand than everyone else the customer.

It seems that this is already common sense. The enlightenment that only better customer insights can only deliver this is trending now and in the future.

A BCG study from 2016 has asked CEO’s what the key areas for improvements are. The clear uncontested #1 was “customer insights”.

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Early Movers Will Win The War

Humans are not just customers, and if they are, they are customers of hundreds of products. If customer insights remain the ultimate bottleneck, it’s clear that managing the access becomes mission-critical.

There are three frontiers you need to operate:

Enough feedback: Acquiring enough feedback from customers is the most intuitive frontier

Quality feedback: Its not enough to gather any feedback. You need to make sure that the quality is good enough to draw useful decisions from that. If you want to cut survey length, find the type of question that captures the most useful information.

Use feedback better: When feedback becomes scarce, you really need to make the most out of it. This field is the greatest sin and area for improvement of our time.

Too often, we survey customers and do virtually nothing with it. It’s not just wasteful but unethical as your customer trusted that the time they invested would be used for good.

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The S.U.P.E.R. Framework

Here is my list of 20 tools and tactics you may want to work thru to win the war for feedback.

They center around five strategies. First, improve, focus or alter the source of feedback (S. like Source). Second, better utilized the data you collect (U. like Use). Third, provide value to your customer so they have an incentive to give feedback (P. for Provide Value). Fourth, improve the execution of every step of the process. Improvements do not sum but multiply up (E. for Execution). Fifth, use multiple or the proper channels to reach out (R. for Reach)


  1. Manage a customer panel: By gathering customers willing to give feedback, you can make sure you will get enough feedback when you need it. Indeed, there is a drawback in representativity that you need to trade-off. Managing own customer panels got today much simpler and less expensive than in the past with software solutions such as Survey Ninja

  2. Public Ratings: Depending on the category, there is often plenty of customer feedback already online available. There is Amazon for consumer products, Google Maps for local businesses like Car Dealers, Tripadvisor for Restaurants, G2 for Software, or Google Play for Apps. Ratings have severe shortcomings when it comes to representativity. But when you are not interested in descriptives but in what drivers the rating, this data can still be gold.


  1. Calibrate low sample scores with ML: CX data is gathered to compute a CX/VOC score. Too often, the sample size is so small that the score is not reported. Score Calibration takes past samples and trains a Machine Learning Model to predict the expected score. It uses two ideas:
    1. Certain information (e.g. the sum of weights of the sample) can indicate how representative the sample is
    2. If you measure CX across regions or segments, the score of other splits can serve as a predictor.
    Overall, Machine Learning can typically calibrate scores and reduce the required sample size by half. On top of this, computing, confidence bands can help socializing those results.

  2. Collect only as much as needed: For some segments, you may have plenty, and for others, not enough. It is wise to become spares with send-outs for those segments where you get more feedback than needed. Because any survey request is paid by the good-will of your clients, use it only when needed. You may need it in the future.

  3. Utilize feedback better: Why do you collect customer feedback? …to compute a score only? No, you also want to know how to improve it. Making the most out of the qualitative feedback is a must. Its also an obligation to your customer to read, understand and act on their feedback. First, you should utilize tech that categorizes verbatimes like a human. Second, you need to run Driver-AI to understand how relevant those categories are to explain the total rating. This article gives all the details about the methodology.

  4. Fixing inner loop: The inner loop is the process of referring the customer verbatim feedback to the frontline colleagues. This process needs to be designed with care. The reason for this is that the most often mentioned topics are seldom the most important ones. When you refer to feedback to someone in order to read it, he will learn the wrong things. This is because people believe the most often mentioned topics are -therefore- the most important ones. This article has all details.


  1. Valuable Feedback: There are three main motivations to take part in a survey. First is to make an impact and to improve the service with feedback. Second is to feel heard. Third is to help the provider. Respondents need to feel that their feedback is heard. Ideally they want to see that the provider took action or that the feedback is truly helpful. In B2B context, where the vendor plays an essential role for the customer, response rates are often high. If you consistently give feedback on what has been done with the feedback, some companies achieve responses rates of higher than 80%. Even when this is an astronomic number for your context, providing feedback to those who gave feedback is one way to nurture the good-will of your customers.

  2. Report: One incentive you could give before the interview is the promise to come back and report what you did with all the responses. Another trick to attract respondents is to frame a survey as a self-assessment (e.g. XYZ maturity assessment) and then send an automated report after completion. Customers will then take part because to benchmark themselves and get some judgment. Measuring CX will be just a side effect.

  3. Incentives: If needed -of cause- you can think of additional incentives to participate. When choosing, always think about things that do not relate to the loyalty as a customer. If you promise $10 you will attract people who need some money or are notoriously frugal. Is this a strong bias for your sample? No? Then this is the way to go.

  4. Psychologic value: The brain runs on fun. Everything boring or cumbersome has a hard time. Think twice about how you can make your survey entertaining. Anyways, show your appreciation and gratefulness. Using an active listening technology can even achieve that customers feel better heard and understood. At CX.AI, we developed a survey plugin that actively probes after text feedback. Although (or because) it is frank about being a bot, respondents open up. Like a robot cuddle toy where people know it’s a robot, they still develop relationships with them.


  1. Optimize Email Delivery Rate: Most survey invites today are still send out via email. Everyone who has spent time optimizing email outreach to prospective customers knows that there is a whole science behind this. Achieving that enough of your emails will hit the inbox of your audience is not straight forward. Your email account needs to be set up right, the time and the format is relevant, and there are certain words and characters as well as the numbers of links and pictures will make your email die in spam or other filters. In short: not just blindly use a tool and send out; hire deliverability experts to fix this.

  2. Optimize Email Open Rates: Once our email hit the inbox does not mean it will be opened. Main drivers are the subject line but also the sender name and the first line on the text body. Subject lines should be concise (1-5 words) and spark interest. A tool like NEUROFLASH can help you optimize your subject line using AI.

  3. Personalize: Any Email without greeting me with my name must be spam or phishing. That’s a table stake. Anything else that you know about your customer can be used that the email feels more custom and therefore get noticed.

  4. Be Most Efficient: If you want to measure the likelihood to recommend in a survey, why not put the rating question right in the email? Clicking onto it leads to a website where more questions may be asked. Use the most intuitive and efficient way of feedback: ask open-ended questions and let customer use their own words to describe it: either per text, audio or video feedback.

  5. Active Listening: If it gets harder to convince customers to give feedback, it becomes even more critical to get the maximal amount of information, Active Listening is a real-time technology that can understand the topics raised by a respondent and then ask a more focused probing question. It is called active listening as it feels for the respondent that someone is listening (= trying to understand) and is interested in his view (=because he asks deeper questions). The consequence is much richer feedback that has been shown to increase predictive power by 50 to 100%.

  6. Shorter surveys: Every now and then, a stakeholder comes and wants to add a question. Fast forward some years, and you end up with a lengthy questionnaire that just tortures customers.  To me, a CX survey should have a rating and an open-end (text, audio, or video), ideally an active listening probe and making sure the context of the respondent is known (segment, product history, key demographics)

  7. Mindful surveying: Every request for feedback takes a toll on customer good-will. That’s why just ask as many, and as frequently you are sure you can act on and draw actions from it. For instance, a sophisticated structure is to have a yearly (or low level continuing) general survey, but then doing spot-light studies to understand specific areas in much more detail. E.g. if the general survey revealed that ‘uncomplicated complaint handling’ is a key, then a spotlight should explore what actually ‘uncomplicated complaint handling’ could mean in real life.


  1. Multiple channels: Most feedback is requested over email. Another 30 of companies still use the phone. But there are even more channels available like texting, social DMs. The best reach you achieve by trying it all together as each customer prefers different channels. Yes, each channel has its bias, but there are ways to debias the measure. If you want to win the war for feedback, you need to tackle this.

  2. Use frontline: A great way to achieve more feedback is to let the frontline ask for it. They do not need to collect the feedback but ask for their willingness to provide it. Who says no to a ask for 1-minute feedback?

  3. Predictive surveying: Using customer master data and eventually transactional data you can somehow predict how likely someone will follow a survey feedback invitation. Typically you can eliminate send-outs by 70% or more and still get the same sample size. Yes, they might be biased. But this bias again can be controlled by modeling. If you want no longer to spam your customers with survey invite request (from which 99% will not be followed), then this is worse exploring.

Winning the war for feedback requires investing in ‘Starwars’ tech, not in spears and catapults.  The S.U.P.E.R. framework gives you five areas to work on and dominate the ‘battlefield’ for human feedback:

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On the Latest Indepth Thought-Leadership Articles From Frank Buckler

Your Ultimate Masterplan

First, expand the source of feedback. Blending different sources of feedback will be the new normal. Debiasing measures have become a new science.

Second, better utilized the data you already have. As feedback becomes more valuable, it is crucial to utilize data better. I see HUGE potential here.

Third, provide value to your customer, so they have an incentive to give feedback. The way you plan your CX program tells a lot about how customer-centric you are.

Fourth, improve the execution of every step of the process – from email send-out to survey design. Improvements do not sum but multiply up.

Fifth, use the right or multiple channels to reach out and invest in predictive outreach.

If you want to dive into more cutting-edge CX thinking, the “CX Analytics Masters” Course is for you. It’s free for enterprise insights professionals. If you are looking to discuss some of the advanced technics mentioned above, with an expert, reach out at

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