Latest Episode - How to Close the Loop on Customer Feedback (and Why It’s So Important)

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How to Close the Loop on Customer Feedback (and Why It’s So Important)

Raj Sivasubramanian
September 23, 2022

Customers give you feedback—and then what? To get ahead, Airbnb’s Raj Sivasubramanian believes you need to close the loop on customer feedback. In this episode, Raj shares why so many companies fail to close the loop, how closing the loop can mean different things, and shares a video feedback program he spearheaded at Airbnb to help bring more empathy to customer feedback.

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“Airbnb’s Raj Sivasubramanian on How to Close the Loop on Customer Feedback (and Why It’s So Important)”

Welcome to the All About the Customer podcast brought to you by Influitive, where we talk with customer-obsessed people to uncover how you can be more customer focused. I’m your host, Dan Kalmar. Today, I’m joined by Raj Sivasubramanian, voice of customer program manager at Airbnb. Raj is a seasoned customer experience leader and CCXP with a diverse set of experiences as both a CX practitioner and a consultant. At Airbnb, Raj has focused on developing new approaches to capture and socialize the voice of the customer and to build processes that enable teams to act on customer feedback.

Our conversation today centered around closing the loop on customer feedback. Raj is a huge champion for the voice of customer. But it’s not simply enough to gather these data points. Collecting this information without action is meaningless. In our conversation, Raj talks about why so many companies fail to close a loop with their customers, how closing the loop might not mean what you think it does. And he dives into a video feedback program he spearheaded at Airbnb to help bring more empathy to customer feedback.

Dan Kalmar:
Raj, thanks so much for being here. Welcome to the All About the Customer podcast.

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Hey, thanks, Dan. I’m really looking forward to being here, and thanks for having me on.

Dan Kalmar:
So I want to talk about why you’re so passionate about voice of the customer. It seems like you’ve really built a lot of your career around this. At eBay and Verint and at Airbnb, your job title literally has voice of customer in it. So why is voice of the customer something you’re so passionate about?

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Yeah. I think it goes back even further than my current career. I’ve always been just passionate about customers, about customer experience, and it probably goes back to even my first job in college, I started doing sales. I don’t know how familiar you are with Cutco knives, but those-

Dan Kalmar:
Yes, I have a Cutco knife at home.

Raj Sivasubramanian:
That probably dates me a little bit. But I sold Cutco knives one summer, basically, summer after my freshman year at college. And I just needed something to do, and I didn’t know what I was getting into. And I had never done anything like it before. And my parents were like, why are you selling knives around the neighborhood, right? But it was just a great experience for me. One, it taught me a lot of important life skills. But it also got me interested in understanding the customer. It got me some sales background.

So then after college, I did a number of sales roles. But really, that job got me into sales. But then being in sales made me realize the importance of delivering a good customer experience. Whether you’re selling knives or selling even industrial equipment, whatever it is, it’s important to listen to your customers and make sure you provide a good customer experience. And it also made me realize that customers are really what pay people salaries in any company, it’s the customer. If they’re not happy, if customers leave, you’re going to go out of business.

So that was instilled in me from the early days of being in sales. And then I went to business school, switching to consulting, and then at that point, the customer experience was- the customer space has really taken off. NPS was becoming a common metric. And I just thought it was really cool. Then finally, the customer experience and voice of the customer, there wasn’t a metric out there that people could use to understand the customer experience. So I looked back on my past experience being in customer-facing roles in sales, but then realized now with the business experience that I’ve gained and the analytics experience that I also had, I could put those things together and the voice of customer is a way to take that customer mindset with data to actually go drive change in organizations.

Dan Kalmar:
Selling knives door to door, I feel like is the cliché salesperson job on like a sitcom.

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Yeah.

Dan Kalmar:
But selling that stuff, anything door to door I feel like is a good way to see, you’re talking to customers face to face, you’re not picking up a phone, you’re seeing the reaction.

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Exactly. And they were good knives. I mean, I have my own set that’s over 20 years old that I had as my starter set. I use it now. My wife uses it. We cook with them. They’re great knives as well.

Dan Kalmar:
I was going to say, we got one as a gift from our mortgage broker, strangely enough, and it was just a weird gift. And it’s actually a really good steak knife. I promise this episode isn’t brought to you by Cutco knives. But they’re actually like- the one that I have is a pretty good steak knife.

Raj Sivasubramanian:
It’s important. It’s important to deliver a good customer experience, whether you’re selling knives or selling anything else.

Dan Kalmar:
A lot of what we’re going to talk about today is closing the loop around customer feedback. So I’d love if you could just define what closing the loop is when it comes to customer feedback and talk about why it’s so important.

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Yeah. I think there’s two kinds of closing loop on customer feedback. So there’s the inner loop, and then there’s the outer loop. So the inner loop is what we’re going to talk more about today. It’s what I’ve been working on. And that is just acknowledging customer feedback, responding to issues and fixing issues. So if a customer leaves you feedback and it’s negative and they still have an unresolved issue, it’s super important for any organization to ensure that you close the loop with that customer because the customer took time to give you feedback. And if you fail to close a loop with them, you’re just making a poor customer experience worse.

A lot of people talk about closing the loop and they talk about the outer loop, which is more about using customer feedback to go drive process improvements in an organization, giving that feedback to the frontline, using that feedback to coach and all that sort of thing, which is also important as well. But it’s important- there’s two components of it. A lot of organizations really focus on that outer loop and don’t do the inner loop as well. And I think that’s a real opportunity to really improve voice-of-customer programs and the general customer experience.

Dan Kalmar:
When you talk about this inner loop, I’d love if you could define further what you mean by it, is closing the loop with customer feedback, every single piece of feedback you get in, you have to resolve that completely, you have to reach out to every single person that comes in? How do you think about closing the loop in that-

Raj Sivasubramanian:
That’s a great question. And there’s not a real good answer for that. I mean, there’s a few different ways you can think about that. To me, if a customer has an unresolved issue that still requires interaction, it’s absolutely important that you close the loop, contact that customer, fix the issue and make it right.

I think there’s also an element of just acknowledging feedback and letting customers know that you’ve listened and heard them. So some customers are going to leave you feedback, and there’s nothing you can do about it, right? You’re not going to be able to make things right in every situation. So if you try to actually call back every single customer that leaves you feedback, especially if you get a lot of data points like we do, and I imagine other organizations do, I mean that’s impossible, but there is some value in acknowledging customer feedback. So I think you can actually contact every customer back. Acknowledging feedback and just letting customers know, hey, we heard you. Even just a simple thank you to thank them for the feedback means a lot.

Acknowledging feedback goes a long way. It’s more so than just fixing the issue. I think a lot of companies overestimate how important fixing an issue is. Acknowledging feedback means a lot. And I’ve even talked about this as a customer as well who’ve taken surveys from a lot of organizations. I’ve gotten responses back from organizations. I took an airline once, and I won’t mention their name. But I just had a really bad experience on that particular flight for a lot of reasons. So I took the survey, gave them the feedback. And they actually responded and they acknowledged. And they didn’t actually fix any of my issues. But the fact that they acknowledged the feedback and said, thank you, we will use this to try to improve, that meant a lot to me. And then I still continue to fly that airline today. And part of that was they took the time to acknowledge the feedback.

Raj makes such a great point here. I know personally when I think about closing the loop, it means resolving a customer’s issue. But we forget how simple even acknowledgement can go. People just want to be heard. Of course, it’s better if there’s a resolution, but just because you can’t resolve an issue doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow up with empathy. Anything more than automated message truly can go a long way.

Dan Kalmar:
So why do so many companies fail to close the loop on feedback?

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Yeah. So what I’ve seen in my experience, there’s two reasons why companies fail. So one is that a lot of companies capture feedback purely to use it as a data point. I’ve written and talked in the past about the metric-centric trap that a lot of organizations find themselves in. And I talked about how it’s great that we have all these customer experience metrics now, and it’s given the customer a seat at the table. But in a lot of organizations, the feedback is used just to drive metrics and drive performance discussion.

So particularly in call center environments, getting a survey response from a customer is a great way to performance manage agents and set targets and goals. And a lot of organizations use customer feedback purely to drive those types of performance targets. And they don’t actually have an interest in closing the loop because, it sounds cynical, but the actual customer experience is less important than using the mechanism to measure performance. That happens in some organizations.

In other organizations, there probably is a desire and a need. But the problem is, it’s such a challenge, this closing-the-loop program. And I’ve seen a lot of organizations try, and then they give up because it’s such an uphill battle. So what happens is, organizations don’t think through what the mechanism is to close the loop. Who actually does this, right? Should it be someone that has a customer mindset? Should it be someone on the front line? Should it be maybe some executives or leaders that could value the input? So what happens is, the people that are actually closing the loop aren’t the right people. They’re not properly trained. There’s no impact seen. So then what happens is programs that got started shelved. And again, it does take a lot of commitment and effort to try to scale a closed-loop program. So I think the two reasons are, one, just this metric-centric data point, but then secondly, it’s just a tough thing to build up scale.

Dan Kalmar:
I think one argument for the first point is, we have to make time and resource investments, right? So when we get a data point from a customer, it takes time to address that customer, close that loop. And what we could instead be doing with that time in theory is work with that agent, for example, to try to then have that not happen for 10 more people. How do you think about that trade-off of spending time closing the loop versus spending time training or fixing problems to begin with?

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Yeah. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. I think you need to do both of those things. I think there needs to be take the feedback, easy-to-train, easy-to-fix processes, and that outer-loop component is important. But I think there’s consequences when companies fail to close a loop with customers, right? If a customer has a bad experience and you fail to acknowledge it, like I said before, you’re just making a poor customer experience worse, and it’s more likely that customer is going to churn. There’s actually been a lot of research done on this topic that companies that do close the loop do increase ret ention by a significant portion by resolving issues with detractors because there’s a financial component of it in terms of increased retention.

And then to your point, yeah, you got to balance the trade-off. It’s not possible to close loop with everyone, which I acknowledge. So I think where organizations can figure out what that right trade-off is, determining a set of criteria for certain types of issues, maybe certain types of customers that are high value, certain types of edge cases. But there are certain scenarios that will add up over time where if you do take the time to follow up with that customer, you could be saving significant amount of future business and preventing detractors from being formed.

But I think the other component of that, too, is just from an insights and analytics perspective, it’s worth the investment because there’s a lot deeper insights that you can get from following up with customers that can help you understand some things that can maybe fix issues that could impact a broader set of customers.

Dan Kalmar:
Yeah. And even if we can’t close loop with every single customer, like you say, I think probably most companies can close a loop with more customers than they are currently doing. And just sometimes we view it as an all-or-nothing thing, right? Like, I’m never going to be able to close the loop with anybody- with everybody, therefore, I shouldn’t do it with anybody. That’s probably a poor mindset to have.

So I’d love to talk about a real-world example here and this program you’ve built at Airbnb to illustrate, tapping into the voice of the customer. And then I’m sure we can close the loop on closing the loop as well. How have you started building the functionality to close these customer loops?

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Yeah. So that’s a great question. Because when I arrived at Airbnb, there wasn’t a program in place for us to close loops with customers and it evolved organically. One of the first things we started doing when I joined was we started looking into different types of ways to get feedback from customers. And one of the things that we implemented was a program to get video feedback from customers as opposed to just text responses. So this is three or four years ago, video was becoming more prevalent in society, there was more appetite, people were shooting selfie videos, and customers in general were more apt to take a video. So we put a video widget into our NPS survey and gave customers the option, if they wanted to, instead of leaving a freeform text response, they could leave a video response. And we did this as a small pilot. The point of this was to see if we can get better feedback, richer feedback.

One of the big learnings from it, which helped us to build out a closed-loop program, was that when customers left a video response, they felt like they were talking to us. And when we watched the videos, we were compelled to want to go fix the issue, right? We would hear customers talking about these issues. And as a viewer watching it, I realized and our team realized that, wow, these customers are talking to us, they feel like they’re talking to us, we owe it to them to close the loop. Because not only are they taking the time to leave a survey response, they’re taking the time to leave us a long video response. And if they’re taking the time to do that, we owe it to them to go fix their issues. And that was just my thought.

But then we started sharing the videos with executives and other leaders throughout the organization. Again, it’s just as a way to show the customer perspective. But then that led to questions around, what are we doing about this issue? Can someone go fix it for this customer? So then we started on an ad hoc basis trying to resolve those issues with customers. And that kind of organically over time helped us to slowly build out a closed-loop pilot.

Dan Kalmar:
So what did that pilot look like? How did you set this up? Was it just this kind of team that you formed within Airbnb?

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Yeah. No, it was one of those things where I didn’t have the resources yet to go build a large program, so we started small. And so what we did was we found a group of experienced agents and positioned this pilot as an opportunity for some of our highest-performing agents that deal with challenging issues to try something different. And I got a portion of their time.

When we built up a process for them to review the video feedback- so we started with just the video because, again, that was a situation where it felt like the customer was talking to us. And we would review the video responses. And then based on the video response, the experienced agent would make a decision, is a follow-up required or not. And if there was a negative experience that was talked about over video, we would actually close loop with the customer, make things right. And then we would use those successes- again, I would take these success stories, and then I would create case studies and I would use that to build the narrative and the case for why we need to expand the program.

Dan Kalmar:
And so one of the challenges you mentioned around why companies fail to close the loop is the scale side of it. There’s just so much inbound. And I would imagine that’s probably a challenge you face at Airbnb. And video sounds like something that’s not scalable. Well, it feels like it’s easier to scale tech. So how did you think about trying to scale this?

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Yeah, that’s a great question. So we started small with video, right? We only showcased the video option to a small percentage of customers. And I had the option or the ability to scale up or down the customers that got the video response based on the resourcing at the time that we had.

And then in terms of video, there’s analytics tools that have come a long way where you can apply text analytics to video, there’s transcription to video, right? So you can use the video, set it up in a way where we don’t necessarily have to watch every video from start to finish and make a determination. We could use analytics tools to highlight, okay, this is a negative video. But again, we don’t necessarily need to review every video, but all the negative videos, we would review and then determine if a follow-up is required based on that.

Dan Kalmar:
And you mentioned that it made people want to take action on this because the videos came in. In some ways, do you think that’s a bad thing? Were you overweighting video responses versus a text response? Or do you feel like it really warranted how these people took this time, therefore, we should help these people more than those people, if you will?

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Longer term, the plan is to grow where we also look at text responses as well, right? I don’t think we should overweight the video responses. And just because someone doesn’t leave a video, they shouldn’t get a follow-up. We definitely are building towards closing loop with more than just the video responses. But video was a mechanism that I use to create the empathy to kind of build the program out.

Dan Kalmar:
So you also have this idea of balancing the head and the heart. What do you mean by that?

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Yeah. So the thing is, with the video responses, like I mentioned, it created empathy, right? And it did inspire certain leaders to want us to take action on those video responses, but it wasn’t enough to drive real structural change. So particularly in organizations like ours that are very metric- and data-centric, I need to do more than just showcase some videos. That would appeal to some people. But in terms of scaling it, to your question about how do you scale it, I needed to find the balance between the head and the heart, right? So the heart with the videos creating empathy, that created some initial interest in building a closed-loop program, but then I also had to back that up with data.

So then what we did was we looked at not just video responses, we looked at all of our detractor survey responses over a period of years. And we’re able to look at, okay, these are the number of detractors that are created annually based on their experiences with us. And we know a certain percentage of those detractors have unresolved issues that require follow-up, we’re not doing any follow-up right now.

Then we also looked at, okay, we didn’t follow up with these customers. We also can look at their future behavior and see that, okay, these customers we’re not following up with, a certain percentage of them are leaving. And that could be due to a lot of factors, but likely, that’s due to they had an unresolved issue that we didn’t resolve.

So we were able to do some analysis and determine, okay, this is the percentage of customers that we are losing by not closing the loop. And then we also had some analytics where I could look at- there were customers that would tell us in their survey responses, I’m never using Airbnb again based on this experience, and we could prove that out to see that they didn’t. So I was able to make the case that closing loop with these high-value customers has the potential for us to retain customers that we could be losing. So that was the head element, the data element behind it, but then you balance that with the videos.

And I would do that often even in terms of, we would send out a biweekly VOC update for just the voice of the customer for that week. And oftentimes, I would say in the response, hey, these are the big issues that came up, this many customers told us last week that they were never using us again. And by the way, here’s a video of an example. So then you have the data point, but then you also show the video where a customer is describing a really painful issue. And that combination of the head and the heart actually got people to say, hey, maybe we should start to do something there.

Dan Kalmar:
Yeah. And it’s not that text is not a good way of conveying information. I mean, really, I’ve got a bookshelf behind me, and it clearly is. But there is something special that happens I think when you hear directly from the customer in their words, their- you hear their frustration and you hear the connotations and certain words that they use. Why else do you think that video is such a great way of gathering customer feedback and then helping to decide how to close the loop or when to close the loop?

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Yeah. Another side benefit of video that we hadn’t even thought about was it takes the friction out of the process for giving feedback. So one, obviously, it creates empathy and all that. But then we also got these longer responses. And then it was easier, customers would just talk freely. So again, if you think about the mechanism of taking a survey, you have to either have a phone or a computer and you’ve got to be on it and typing and whatever.

In a video response, we got a lot of video responses where people were out, like running errands, they were out leaving responses. There were a lot of people that actually were driving when they would leave- I don’t necessarily condone that behavior, but there were a lot of people that were just in their car driving and then would just talk freely and leave us feedback. And we realized that we’re getting much richer and much deeper feedback than we would get from text because people aren’t going to write out that long, but if you give the people the option just to talk- so one, it’s like you and I right now, we’re having a conversation. So they feel like they’re having a conversation and they give us more information. And you also reduce the friction because you don’t have to go fill out a survey, type out things. They can just talk while they’re running errands and doing that sort of thing.

Dan Kalmar:
And I think a key word that you use there was option. It’s not about saying, hey, we want your feedback, you have to do a video. I think it’s about meeting people where they are, that some people don’t want to give video feedback, and that’s fine. They would rather just do something quick. But like you said, there are some people who are like, hey, I really want to give feedback, I don’t want to type out this form. But I’m walking my dog, I can do a quick video. I’ve got a few minutes now before I have to do this thing I’m procrastinating on. I can do a video. So I think it’s just about kind of meeting people where they are as opposed to making people do a video.

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Exactly. And I’m glad you brought that up because I think the other thing, too, with it was we found a lot of people wanted to leave freeform responses where they talked because not everyone was comfortable leaving a video. So we actually found some people would choose the video option and then turn their camera around or turn it off and just say, I don’t want to be on camera, but I do want to talk to you about this issue. So we would get these, whatever, 30-, 45-second really good rich responses that were totally video responses, but they weren’t on video. So obviously, some of the emotional empathy element wasn’t there, but we still got the rich feedback. And as part of that learning, we realize, okay, let’s add an audio option, so we can give the customer the option to leave just the audio response where they don’t have to worry about video. So again, it kind of evolved from there as well.

Dan Kalmar:
So what were the impacts of the program?

Raj Sivasubramanian:
The video program obviously created a lot of empathy and a lot of richer feedback, which led to the closed-loop effort, right? So they were combined in that effort. I think that the closed-loop program is still evolving. One of the things with this is it’s a long process, right? So we are closing loop now with more customers than we were before, but we’re still not closing loop with everybody.

But I think in terms of impact, it’s had a big impact on a lot of areas. So one, there’s a significant number of customers that we’ve just saved, that we were likely going to lose to other platforms, hotels, whatever. There’s a lot of bad experiences that we resolved and repaired. So that impact just at a micro level in terms of the customers we’ve saved has been great.

But the closed-loop process has delivered a lot of unique insights, too, as well that we wouldn’t have found if we didn’t close the loop, that have allowed us to change certain policies and certain processes, that have improved the overall experience for all of our customers.

This program is super interesting for a few reasons. For starters, I asked Raj about how this doesn’t seem scalable to me. But their team has found some interesting workarounds to make it more scalable than it might initially seem. And even if they can’t enable this for everyone, even having it for certain high-value clients is such an incredible way to get richer feedback and close the loop.

It’s also a great way to get everyone closer to the customer. A lot of meaning can get lost in text. But by hearing the voices and seeing the faces of our customers, whether they’re singing our praises or cursing us out, is going to unlock empathy and make us think of them more so as people than just a number, which really is a key hurdle for organizations to be more customer obsessed.

Dan Kalmar:
And what have been some big learnings and takeaways that you’ve had from running these programs?

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Yeah. I think one of the big takeaways, again, one of them, I think I alluded to earlier, is the idea that acknowledging feedback is often enough, right? So again, when we first started doing this, we thought, okay, we can’t close loop with everybody and we can’t resolve every issue. But what we found out was that in a lot of cases, just the fact that we acknowledge the feedback- we got a lot of responses back from customers to our closed-loop efforts that they just came to us and said, hey, it just means so much that you listened, it feels so great to be heard. I have a lot of examples of customers that in their survey response, again, they told us, we’re never using you again. Our closed-loop team followed up. We didn’t actually even spend any money or do anything, but then we got a response to the closed-loop effort that they said, you’ve restored my faith in your brand, the fact that you listened and the fact that someone’s listening means a lot.

And related to that, another learning is that I guess there might be a misconception that resolving customer issues requires throwing money at those issues and fixing them. So I think that was some pushback that I had when we were building this, what it’s going to cost. And we found, in a lot of cases, we didn’t have to spend any extra money. So just again, listening, acknowledging, providing some guidance, that meant a lot.

And then I think another key learning is just how much- employees that do this, the agents that are doing this, how much they enjoyed it. If we’re just reading detractor feedback or watching detractor videos, there was a concern that over time, that could just be depressing just reading all this negative feedback, right? We actually encourage the team to watch positive videos occasionally to reinforce that we actually do get it right most of the time.

But the excitement that they got from actually going and making things right and then actually resolving issues and seeing the positive response back from the customer, that created a lot of job satisfaction and just a lot of pride in the team doing it. And then, like I mentioned earlier, it was a pilot team. We weren’t sure how long this was going to go. And it just naturally extended. And the people that were part of this pilot team, they all want to keep doing it. So it’s amazing, and it’s really cool to see how rewarding and powerful it is for those agents because people want to keep doing it. They enjoy doing it. And I thought that would be the case, but it was a learning to see how enjoyable it is for those agents.

Dan Kalmar:
How can other companies start closing the feedback loop? What thoughts come to mind of advice for other companies?

Raj Sivasubramanian:
The biggest advice I would give is to start small and- what we did, right? I think, like you talked about earlier, you mentioned the fact that if companies think they can’t close loop with everyone, they don’t even bother, right? And it’s not possible to go from 0 to 100. So start small, think about who are your most, highest-value customer segments, or think about- again, via the video, think about certain types of feedback that you think require closing a loop, and start small, like position it as a pilot. I think, find a small group of agents that want to do something different. I talked about how rewarding it was for agents. Particularly, in call center environments, attrition is a big issue. So it could be positioned as something new, growth opportunities. You can find the right people that want to do it. Start small, so it’s manageable, and then just let it grow from there.

And the other key thing that I would recommend is as you start small, also showcase success early and often. One of the things we did was we encouraged the team, anytime they got a good success story where a customer reacted positively to a closed-loop encounter, share that with all of us, and then we would create case studies. And we’re even tracking over time to see, okay, this customer said they’re never booking with us again, we closed the loop, and actually now they’ve immediately booked another place. So showcasing those successes allow programs to build momentum over time.

Dan Kalmar:
So before we get to our wrap-up question, is there anything we haven’t talked about around voice of the customer or closing the loop that you think would be great for listeners to learn from you?

Raj Sivasubramanian:
I think one other key thing just to think about is, voice of customer in any organization, there’s a lot of interest in customer feedback. You can try to do certain things. But a lot of companies are going to have their own roadmaps and their own projects. So I think as much as possible, if you could tie things you want to do from a voice-of-customer perspective through corporate initiatives, that can help you grow further. So think about initiatives that are important and then ensure that feedback and programs are aligned to that. And that’s a way to potentially just get more traction for things that you want to do.

Dan Kalmar:
Yeah. I think that’s just a good overarching feedback of how to get initiatives off the ground, is try to tie it back to things that are important to the higher ops and to the company overall. So I always like to end this podcast the same way, which is if you had some really actionable advice for the folks listening at home of how to be more customer obsessed, what advice would you give them?

Raj Sivasubramanian:
A couple of things come to mind. So I would say, one, to just generally be more customer obsessed is use your product as much as possible, put yourself in your customers’ shoes. I know that may be more applicable in B2C environments versus B2B. But wherever it’s possible, try to get yourself in your customers’ shoes and then also encourage people around the company because I think when you use your product, when you put yourself in customer situations, I think you learn a lot more about issues.

For example, long before I was at Airbnb, I was- I used Airbnb as a traveler, but I never hosted before. And I recently started the experience of being an Airbnb host. And again, I’ve been capturing feedback from hosts for almost four years. But there’s some things that I learned about the experience just doing it myself. There’s just certain things you learn doing it yourself that any amount of customer feedback is not going to give you. So I think encouraging people to try to use the product as much as possible, that helps.

And then I think the other thing that I’ve talked about a lot before is always think about any decision that’s made at any level from a customer mindset, or even just from a general, like, what would the customer think about this? And ask yourself, does this make sense? Just use your common sense in those situations.

There was a sportswriter that I used to read named Bill Simmons. One of the things he talked about was like sports teams need to have a role called the VP of common sense because a lot of general managers, when they’re making decisions, they don’t think about, does this make sense? And basically, he said, before any big trade or decision was made, there should be someone that’s not involved at all in anything and just comes in and looks at it from a fresh eyes and is the VP of common sense that just say, does this make sense from that perspective?

So I think people in customer experience, customer roles, I think be that VP of common sense, be that person that just looks at a decision and says, does this make sense. Because a lot of companies and every company I’ve worked for has made dumb decisions that are made in silos without the customer perspective on. And I think it’s important that- and even the smallest decision, I think it’s important to just think of yourself as the voice of reason, be the VP of common sense, look at that decision that says, hey, if I was the customer, how does this impact me? Does this make sense? This isn’t rocket science, right? It’s pretty easy to just decide, does this make sense from a customer or not. And if you think a decision is going to impact the customer negatively, think about, why are we making this decision? How can we do this differently where it might not create a poor customer experience?

Dan Kalmar:
I look forward on LinkedIn to seeing that you’ve been promoted to VP of common sense at Airbnb.

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Yeah. I’m going to get- try to get that job created, yeah.

Dan Kalmar:
Yes. I very much look forward to seeing that. Well, Raj, this has been great. Thanks so much for being on the show.

Raj Sivasubramanian:
Yeah, no problem. Thanks, Dan. I enjoyed it.

There’s something special about the voice of our customer. I don’t just mean the written words, but literally their voice. Raj’s approach here at Airbnb is a wonderful way to bring life to our customers’ feedback. But as Raj has talked about, just listening to it isn’t enough. It seems like there’s almost three levels to how companies deal with feedback. Some just get it and do nothing with it. Others get the feedback and try to make improvements based on it, and that’s great. But that top level is doing something with it and then closing the loop with the customer.

Closing the loop doesn’t mean resolving everyone’s issues. Even a genuine acknowledgement can go a long way. But when our customers give us feedback, positive or negative, and it feels like they’re saying it into an empty void, that’s a poor experience. They cared enough to give us the feedback and we often don’t even acknowledge them with anything more than just an automated email.

As Raj has demonstrated, this is an incredible time to turn detractors into promoters and promoters into super promoters. It’s also a way to dive deeper into problems that you’re solving the real issues. Sure, it might take a little more work, but couldn’t we all be doing a bit more to close the loop with our customers and at least let them know they’re being heard?

This has been the All About the Customer podcast brought to you by Influitive. I’m Dan Kalmar. Until next time, let’s all be the VP of common sense.

About The Podcast

We talk with customer-obsessed people to uncover how you can be more customer-focused. From customer marketers to CS leaders, we go deep with people who put their customers at the heart of everything they do.

Who this podcast is for:

  • Customer marketers
  • Advocacy and community builders
  • Customer success leaders

About The Host

Dan is the managing director of Upshot by Influitive, where his team creates authentic customer stories for industry-leading companies like Cisco, HPE, and Dropbox. He’s also the host of the All About the Customer podcast, but you knew that already, didn’t you?

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