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Companies today have more ways than ever to receive, and respond to, input and opinions from their customers. Hereʼs why companies need to embrace a crosschannel approach to customer experience to drive long-term business success.

Social media has brought a new urgency to the way companies interact with customers. It’s no longer enough to acknowledge feedback and promise to pass it along, or come back later with a reply. On public forums like Facebook and Twitter, brands are forced to respond immediately and with the promise of a solution, or risk losing existing and potential customers.

But as important as social media is for brands, it can also distract from other feedback channels that are just as critical, such as email and the phone. Brands with the strongest omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89 percent of their customers, according to a survey from the Aberdeen Group, compared to 33 percent of those with weaker strategies.

That means responding to Twitter tirades, opening up online chats, answering emails, picking up the phone and even replying to handwritten letters — all with the appropriate speed and tone.

“The best companies take the time, money, and effort to respond to every comment,” says Shep Hyken, a customer service and experience expert and best-selling author. An estimated 89 percent of consumers stop doing business with a company if they consider their customer service to be inadequate.

Customer feedback is a two-way street

Companies need to both seek out and manage incoming feedback if they want a bigger picture of how consumers perceive their product or service, says Hyken. He points to statistics showing that, for every customer who takes the time to complain, 26 others remain silent.

“People will give you real feedback depending on how you ask for it and the way you ask for it,” Hyken observes. “Someone who volunteers feedback, good or bad, typically loves you or is mad at you, so you have to catch as many people in the middle as you can.”

But brands need to take a measured approach to asking for opinions, to avoid so-called “feedback fatigue.” For most industries, that means surveys should be distributed sparingly and questions need to be short and take little time.

“If you want to irritate me as a consumer, give me a survey that takes 20 minutes,” says Hyken. “If you want to make me happy, give me two or three questions to answer that takes about 20 seconds.”

It can also mean exploring other types of feedback channels, including observations that come from online customer behavior. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools offer invaluable insights into customer behavior across social and other channels, helping companies respond more quickly and with more context to direct customer feedback. But whether the feedback is solicited or voluntary, brands need to pay attention to the more subtle cues in the feedback loop.

“Think of feedback as an opportunity to improve, whether it’s positive or negative,” Hyken says. Too often companies gloss over the good stuff. Instead, they should ask why others aren’t saying the same thing. Is there an inconsistency in the service?

Responses may vary by industry

How a company solicits and manages feedback could vary depending on the industry. For example, a financial services company may take longer to provide a more detailed response to feedback on individual money matters than a cable or utility company responding to a service outage.

For that reason, the phone might be the best feedback channel for a financial services company, while Twitter or Facebook can be ideal for a power company that needs to respond immediately to update its customers about when the lights will come back on.

“In circumstances where it could be a crisis, there needs to be a swift response saying, ‘We know this is happening,’” says Jeanne Bliss, an expert on customer-centric leadership, an author, and president of consultancy CustomerBliss.

How the response is written or spoken is also critical to gaining customer appreciation and loyalty. “Thanks for letting us know” or “ We’ll pass on your feedback” can be insulting to customers. Bliss says companies should empower customer agents to respond to complaints, instead of passing customers on to someone with more authority.

In some cases, the consumer may just want to vent and the company needs to be willing to hear them out. Either way, the customer service agent needs to be empathetic. But that doesn’t just mean being nice. According to Hyken, “a nice but useless person won’t create a happy, loyal customer.”

The goal is to be solution, customer and company focused. In the end, the people on the front lines are often the first—and hopefully not last—truly personal experience a customer will have with your brand. Making them an advocate will positively influence others who value their opinion.

Making them an enemy can cost you your reputation, and also a lot of money. It’s estimated that American businesses lose $62 billion annually through poor customer service—money that could be going directly to the competition. Which is why, when it comes to customer service, every company should know the potential cost to their business of not getting it right.