Without a customer feedback loop, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to predict your customer’s behavior. For that reason, it’s important to have a great feedback loop that allows you to see first hand how customers are responding to your products and services. When you’re a startup, that feedback comes relatively easily right into the product team and leadership. However, as you scale, enabling customer-facing employees to pass that feedback up to leadership is critical. Without a system for flowing customer insights to your product and leadership team, you’re limiting your organization to sophisticated guesswork.

Cindy Alvarez, Yammer’s Director of User Experience, wrote a great post about understanding your user base. The post starts with “People are unpredictable. And they are animals.” The premise is that the “rationale being” that much of economics is based on, doesn’t apply. People act in irrational ways when it comes to buying goods and services. This is the realm of behavioral economics.

“Companies can’t rely on customers to make straightforward decisions based on clear triggers. And they can’t rely on themselves to understand what will motivate people to buy, download and use their products. To fix this, they need to dig a level deeper.”

The challenge in digging deeper is that we have natural biases as sellers and as buyers. Because of this, just asking customers directly may give you misleading answers. As sellers for example, we have confirmation bias. We tend to talk to people who validate our thinking, we’re critical of people who don’t and we ask leading questions that will confirm our hypothesis. On the customer side, among others, is supportive bias. We have a tendency to get pretty stuck in our ways and resist change. Users will defend their current way of doing things even if it’s problematic. This can be true even if they don’t like the current solution and they didn’t chose it.

There are ways to mitigate these biases if you’re aware of them. For instance, just being self-aware of confirmation bias can help, but there are ways you can frame questions and stay tuned into other behavioral cues to get a more accurate picture of what your customers will love.

The first step in creating a strong customer feedback loop with your customer-facing employees is to provide training. At Yammer, Cindy has made this part of the on-boarding experience. New employees learn about the importance of capturing customer insights. They also learn how to approach collecting insights to mitigate the issues bias brings in. To reinforce that all customer-facing employees should look for and pass on customer insights, employees are also rewarded for passing on feedback. An example of a reward is providing early access to roadmap information to these employees. When it’s earned, this type of access can be very motivating.

After training, make it easy for customer-facing employees to share the feedback and insights they’re gathering from customers. Keep the insights simple. One or two sentences and share them broadly. This keeps insights flowing all the time. Sharing is important for another reason. It allows people to disagree. Remember confirmation bias? One important way to combat this is to allow room for people to see customer feedback from a different perspective. It’s important that this debate happen to make sure your organization isn’t just hearing what it wants to hear. There’s a great opportunity here to combine validating feedback from an excited prospect with insight from a recently lost deal, or a customer that didn’t renew.

The final step is to turn these insights into stories using the voice of the customer. Stories are important to help people remember the insights in a way that will be incorporated into how they do their job and most importantly how the product / service team designs your offering.

By creating an operating paradigm and process for capturing customer insights from your customer-facing employees, you can create an organization that truly cares about what customers truly want – not just what they say they want. With this capability, you have the ability to create a value proposition that surprises and delights.

Have a look at the SoapBox case study of Viceroy Hotels and Resorts for lessons learned in setting up an employee idea program to improve the guest experience.