Navigating the complex realm of customer feedback is paramount for businesses aiming to thrive. It's not merely about gathering data, but about truly understanding, valuing, and acting upon the voice of your customers. 

In an era where consumer preferences evolve rapidly, effective feedback loops are the linchpin of product and brand strategy. I'm Mary Costa, CMO and co-founder of Better & Better, an early-stage venture-backed startup. My journey has been centered around harnessing customer insights to propel our brand forward, ensuring we not only meet, but exceed our customers' expectations.

In this article, I’ll take you through how and why you need to set up feedback loops for the voice of the customer across your entire organization.

Prefer to listen? Check out Mary's appearance on the CMO Convo podcast 👇

The role of marketing in the customer feedback loop

In many organizations, regardless of size, the CMO and the broader marketing team often possess a goldmine: data. We're talking about direct customer data, insights from third-party sources, feedback from campaigns, user behavior patterns from our websites, and even insights on how retailers view and want to market our products. In essence, much of this data translates to the voice of the customer.

Owning the voice of the customer

Whether explicitly tasked with it or not, the CMO inherently becomes the steward of this crucial data. We're often best positioned to amalgamate these myriad data points because of our unique role. 

Marketing isn’t siloed. We collaborate cross-functionally, with product teams, sales divisions, and other C-suite leaders. This multifaceted collaboration makes marketing a truly dynamic and captivating function. Given this rich data ownership, the CMO becomes the ideal candidate to champion the customer's voice throughout the organization.

Empowerment through data ownership

Having ownership of such data offers unparalleled empowerment. In a corporate landscape where everyone brings their assumptions and priorities to the table, having concrete customer data serves as an anchor. It empowers us to validate or challenge these assumptions with actual insights, such as customer reactions to product features, messaging nuances, or pricing strategies.

Imagine stepping into a new role or being promoted within an organization. Having access to substantial customer feedback and data within those initial 90 days provides a panoramic view of the customer journey, their experiences, and expectations. 

Sharing these insights with peers and stakeholders doesn't just enhance decision-making. It allows one to confidently own their role, backed by the most potent weapon in the modern business world: informed data.

Decoding the many layers of customer data in marketing

In the complex landscape of marketing, various sources of customer data stand out, offering rich insights that shape our strategy, decision-making, and ultimately, our connection with the consumer.

Multifaceted data collection

  • Social media insights: Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn aren't just places where we advertise; they are windows into customer sentiment. By analyzing how consumers react to our ads and engage with our content, we gain a real-time pulse on what resonates.
  • Direct conversations: Especially prevalent in the startup world, direct interactions can't be understated. Whether it's a phone call or a face-to-face chat, hearing firsthand from customers offers raw, unfiltered feedback.
  • Surveys and direct feedback channels: Instruments like customer surveys, support tickets, product reviews, and comments on our blog posts provide structured and sometimes unexpected insights. They give voice to the customer in a format that we can quantitatively and qualitatively analyze.
  • Objective data points: Beyond sentiments and opinions, the objective data like shopping patterns, purchase behaviors, and metrics related to repeat purchases offer a numerical perspective on consumer preferences.

However, simply amassing data isn't the goal. It's crucial to define an objective behind each data point we gather. Without a clear purpose or questions that we aim to answer, data collection becomes a redundant exercise. 

For instance, at Better & Better, our primary quest is to understand product expectations. This means prioritizing reviews, analyzing customer support interactions, and tracking purchase behaviors, especially given our subscription-based model.

While data offers an overview, there's an art to interpreting it, especially with products as personal yet overlooked as toothpaste. Despite its daily use and intimate nature – after all, it's something people put in their mouths – many don't give it much thought. Traditionally, the act of selecting a toothpaste has been almost reflexive, based on taste preference.

At Better & Better, our challenge is to shift this narrative. We aim to make consumers more conscious of their choices, to delve deeper into why they choose our product. This means tapping into the unique blend of ingredients, the compelling story behind our brand, and the messaging that sets us apart. Extracting these insights isn't always straightforward. 

Yet, by analyzing how customers navigate our site, the content they engage with, and their purchasing patterns, we're gradually piecing together this puzzle, ensuring our product and message are truly in sync with our customers' needs and desires.

The right way to gather and analyse customer feedback

In the intricate world of customer feedback, ensuring objectivity is of the utmost importance. As marketers, our role is to walk a fine line between seeking honest, valuable insights from our customers and inadvertently injecting our biases into the feedback process.

Avoiding the pitfall of bias

It's only human to have preconceived notions or expectations about what our customers might feel or say about our products. This is especially true for those of us in leadership roles where we're deeply intertwined with the brand's vision. However, the real challenge lies in setting these aside and embracing an unbiased approach.

There's an abundance of tools available to help structure customer feedback mechanisms, ensuring that the questions are open-ended and genuinely encourage honest responses. For instance, rather than asking leading questions like "Is this toothpaste too minty?" which is a subjective inquiry, we need to focus on more neutral questions. It's essential to remember that each customer's "too minty" is different, and such a question might not provide actionable insights.

Reframing the price perspective

Consider the tricky domain of product pricing. When asked directly, consumers might often opine that a price point is too high. This instinctive inclination to negotiate or seek a deal is a natural human response. 

But as marketers, our real goal should be to understand the perceived value of the product. For instance, when a customer evaluates a price against the product's features and benefits, do they see it as excellent value, satisfactory, or merely average?

The evolution of feedback

For early-stage companies, initiating feedback mechanisms right from the outset is pivotal. Before the brand even develops its messaging, gaining unadulterated insights from potential customers can set a strong foundation. As the brand grows and its messaging evolves, understanding how this influences customer perceptions becomes vital. 

Furthermore, as time progresses and customers have had extended interactions with the product, gathering their long-term feedback helps in refining and optimizing the product and its messaging.

Lastly, recognizing a customer's position in the loyalty funnel is critical. Understanding whether they are brand new to your product or long-term users can offer context to their feedback, enabling us to tailor our brand strategies effectively.

Maintaining a clear, unbiased lens in our feedback-gathering processes not only ensures we receive authentic insights but also empowers our brand to evolve and resonate genuinely with our target audience.

Maintaining a balance in customer-centric conversations

The intersection between data and the human elements in a company can often be a tightrope. Whether you’re working with data experts who crave every intricate detail or with strategic leaders who simply want the summarized actionable insights, the challenge lies in ensuring the customer's voice always takes center stage.

Advocating for the customer

As the CMO, I see my role as the ambassador for our customers. But representing them within the internal frameworks of an organization is not always a straightforward task. There's a distinct art to this. On one hand, you're the storyteller, translating the data into a narrative that makes sense for different stakeholders. On the other, you're an advocate, pushing for changes, innovations, or decisions that align with the customer's needs and desires.

Harmonizing internal relationships

When friction arises, as it often does in dynamic companies, the challenge is not just about "winning" the argument with data. It's about fostering an environment of mutual respect and understanding. 

In such scenarios, I've found that customization is key. Understanding the motivations, priorities, and perspectives of other departments can help tailor the presentation of data, making it more resonant and actionable.

For instance, with the Product team, it's about aligning on shared objectives. Both the marketing and product departments want a successful product that delights customers. It's merely a matter of ensuring that the voice of the customer is an integral part of the roadmap, even if it sometimes calls for course correction.

Transparency and flexibility in data sharing

Data, at its core, is a tool – a means to an end. The end goal is always a better product, a delighted customer, and a thriving business. Hence, I believe in radical transparency when it comes to sharing the voice of the customer data.

However, I also recognize the nuances of internal communication. A one-size-fits-all approach rarely works. While some teammates might be invigorated by diving deep into raw data, others might find distilled insights more valuable. Being adaptable in data presentation is, therefore, crucial.

The challenge and the reward of being a CMO is the duality of the role – you're a data-driven strategist and a storyteller, a fierce advocate, and a harmonizing force, ensuring that the customer remains the heart of every decision.

Sharing positive feedback internally

Celebrating positive feedback is an affirmation that the company is on the right track. While constructive feedback aids in refining and optimizing, positive feedback validates the value proposition, the product-market fit, and the efforts of the entire team. It's a testament to our product, our values, and our brand positioning.

In fact, positive feedback can be one of the most potent tools for organic growth. Happy customers can become brand ambassadors. When they speak positively about our product, whether through word of mouth, online reviews, or on social media platforms, it's one of the most authentic forms of marketing we could ask for.

Beyond the external benefits, sharing positive feedback within the organization plays a pivotal role too. In my experience, showcasing customer success stories, sharing uplifting reviews, or even highlighting instances where our product made a tangible difference can boost team morale and motivation. It reminds everyone why we do what we do and reignites passion, especially during the challenging phases.

From a strategic standpoint, understanding what our customers love about our product can guide our marketing narratives, our product development, and our overall brand strategy. If we know, for instance, that customers particularly appreciate a specific feature or the sustainable aspect of our product, that becomes a powerful messaging point for our campaigns.

While addressing concerns and criticisms is crucial, we must never underestimate the power of the positive. Celebrating the happy voices of our customers provides a balanced perspective, reinforces our strengths, and ultimately, keeps the heart and soul of the company alive. In the dynamic world of startups, where the terrain can often feel uphill, these moments of joy and validation make all the difference.

Your micro-level brand purpose
Gastón Tourn, CMO of Appear Here, joined us again to talk about keeping your messaging and storytelling focused on human beings and how your brand impacts them. He calls this your “micro-level brand purpose” and you can read all about what we discussed below.

6 golden rules of a customer feedback loop

As CMOs seeking to be the voice of the customer, implementing an effective, high-impact customer feedback loop requires following some key rules:

  1. Define your goal and questions upfront

The first and most critical step is clearly defining the goal of your feedback loop before collecting any data. Ask yourself - what decisions do I aim to inform? What problems need to be solved? Then determine the specific questions you need answered to achieve your goal. Without a clear purpose, gathering customer data is meaningless.

  1. Identify your sources and prioritize

Next, catalog your potential sources of customer data both within and outside your department. These may include surveys, support tickets, focus groups, third-party research, sales team insights, and more. Then prioritize the sources based on relevance to your goals and importance for informing key decisions. Decide where to focus your efforts.

  1. Establish a timeline

Set a clear timeline for gathering the customer feedback tied to your goals, rather than leaving it open-ended. You’ll want to constantly collect data over time, but limit the duration for targeted objectives to prevent “analysis paralysis.” Move quickly from gathering insights to applying them.

  1. Synthesize, analyze, and disseminate

Once the data is compiled, thoroughly synthesize and analyze it to identify key themes, trends, and insights. Then disseminate throughout the organization, not just to executives. Share raw data with analysts and simplify findings for other teams. Use visualizations like charts appropriately. Something for everyone.

  1. Revisit your goals and apply learnings

With fresh customer perspectives, revisit your original goals. Determine what changes may be required to strategies, roadmaps, and plans based on the feedback. Then develop an action plan for applying the insights to achieve your goals.

  1. Connect insights to business fundamentals

Finally, identify how the customer learnings should connect to fundamental business activities like product development, pricing, positioning, retention, and more. Let the customer voice guide and optimize how you do business.

For startups, rigorously following these rules creates a customer feedback loop that accelerates growth. Customer data should profoundly inform everything from costs to profitability. A great feedback loop unlocks the power of the customer voice.