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Do Your Employees Know What Matters Most to Your Customers?

Do Your Employees Know What Matters Most to Your Customers?

by Marco Nink

Story Highlights

  • The majority of employees don't regularly receive information about what's important to customers
  • Most employees say that customer feedback helps them do their job better
  • Create customer-centricity by involving employees in customer feedback

In a customer-centric company, employees know what customers care about. Unfortunately, at most companies, customers' concerns are ignored.

A recent Gallup study in Europe and the U.S. shows that the majority of employees do not regularly receive information about what's important to their customers and less than one-third strongly agree their company actively involves customers in improving products. And roughly a quarter of European workers believe "comments and suggestions from customers always lead to concrete improvements in our company."

Scary numbers, but it gets worse. Two-thirds of employees have direct customer contact at work -- with the majority of them having customer contact every day -- but these employees still don't seem to know what their customers care about. And even when that information is known, they doubt their leadership uses it at all.

Two-thirds of employees have direct customer contact at work, but they still don't seem to know what their customers care about.

That's not customer-centric. That's customer-adjacent at best. To pull customers back into focus, leaders must:

  • Make it easy for customers to give feedback: Only a small fraction of customers give feedback. There are a lot of reasons for their reluctance -- including having the impression that their feedback won't be used once shared -- but inconvenience is a big one. That's solvable. Offer several channels for feedback -- in-person, email, paper surveys, websites -- so customers can use whatever format they are most comfortable with. More avenues to share customer feedback increases the amount your organization will receive, which can be integrated into product or service development.

  • Get the right customer answers: Ensure that your feedback channels help you understand the big picture -- overall consumer/market trends and customer needs, assess potential issues with your products or services, and provide insights for improvement. That information is invaluable. If you aren't getting the clarifying, big-picture answers you need, reevaluate existing customer surveys and feedback forms.

  • Communicate customer feedback to everyone through differentiated channels: Customer feedback is important and needs to be shared with the whole company on a regular basis. Communicate it to all employees in ways that make the feedback easy to digest and engaging for specific roles. For example, put market reports in your company newsletter, upload customer satisfaction/loyalty/engagement numbers on the intranet, share customer feedback in meetings and emails.

  • Act on the data: Most companies have some sort of customer survey in place -- the challenge is to act on the results. Companies need an established process that collects the data, analyzes it, identifies opportunities therein, then recommends actions based on the feedback. The last step is the most important. If you don't use the information you get, why collect it?

  • Incorporate customer feedback in goal setting, performance review and incentives: Leaders should role model customer-centricity by incorporating customer feedback in their decision-making -- and then explain why they did. This encourages others to involve their customers early (and in B2Bs, to co-create solutions) and structure their work according to customer feedback. People at all levels need to be accountable for their customers' needs.

Leaders who take this approach will see more and better customer data and thus will have a better basis for decision-making. That's to be expected. What may be a surprise is their employees' response -- customer-centricity makes employees feel like they do better work.

Employees Want and Need Customer Feedback to Do Their Jobs Better

In fact, 57% of European workers who strongly agree they "regularly receive information about what is important to our customers" say the feedback helps them to do their job better. Among those who disagree that they regularly receive feedback from customers, that shrinks to 13% who say the feedback helps them to do their job better.

And when Gallup analyzed the response of European employees who strongly agree their company "is the perfect organization for our customers," we found what may be best described as hopeful pride in the brand: 37% think their company is ahead of the competition, 57% are confident in their company's financial future, and 61% are convinced that their company is successful and growing.

We get entirely different results from the workers who disagree that their company is the perfect organization for customers. Of them, a puny 4% say their company is ahead of the competition, 17% are confident about the financial future of their company, and only 2% think their company is successful and growing.

Resolving the Blind Spots

Customer-centricity is a value that organizations must ensure is upheld in all departments -- or else. More than 30,000 new products are introduced every year, and 95% of them fail according to a Harvard Business School professor. Gallup's CEO and Chairman Jim Clifton explained why in his book The Coming Jobs War:

"Innovation has no value until it creates something a customer wants," Clifton wrote. "... the good money and good jobs come from the business model, not the invention."

Innovations are only successful when companies know what customers want. It's impossible to make valid, data-based decisions without first listening to the opinions of customers or potential customers. And time-to-market is shorter when the target groups' input comes early, is evaluated properly, and informs every developmental step of a product's or a service's evolution.

Furthermore, employees really want customer feedback, because they really want to be customer-centric. But the blind spot around customers must be resolved first. Leaders who shine a light on it -- with the right information garnered from the right questions, forwarded all over the company and acted on -- can achieve the customer-centricity so few others have.


Marco Nink is Gallup's Regional Lead in Research and Analytics, EMEA.

Jennifer Robison contributed to this article.

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