The role of retail's chief feedback officer

Carol Lee Andersen is president of Questback, an enterprise feedback management platform.

Highly important and rarely talked about is the role of the chief feedback officer in retail. This position requires the marrying of customer and employee feedback in a holistic view while correlating it with existing data points to make better predictions, mitigate risk and avoid costly failures. 

“Listening to what customers and employees are saying and understanding what they think and feel about the way things are done in a structured, continuous and integrated method is critical to making the right decisions to improve bottom-line outcomes and top-line performance,” explained Carol Lee Andersen, president of Questback, an enterprise feedback management platform.

This kind of feedback can reveal powerful insights about a business. But Andersen says that acting on these insights is a huge initiative, spanning multiple traditional departments like human resources, sales, customer service and marketing. She believes the chief feedback officer should be an experienced leader who understands how to change behavior, strategically align the organization and instill a culture of continuous feedback.

Although few retailers currently have someone with this exact title, in practice, as the importance and value of feedback matures within the business world, it is quite foreseeable that the actual title will evolve, says Andersen.

“The real value is having a strategic and organizationally aligned approach to analyzing feedback from customers and employees. Customer experience and customer feedback will no longer reside just within marketing and sales, just as employee engagement data will not belong to human resources. To gain the most insight and value from these crucial and often untapped data points, organizations need to evolve their thinking and become integrated, holistic units pursuing unified strategies,” she said.

In the era of big data, retailers need to be collecting the right data and using it to make improvements. And despite the data available, a recent IBM study indicated that 80% of leaders still rely on conventional techniques like brainstorming to predict a business’ future. 

“It’s my firm belief that it’s an offense to solicit feedback from someone, whether they’re a customer or employee, and then do nothing with the input they took time to provide. Businesses risk frustrating their people that matter most (customers and employees) who spend precious time providing input but don’t see a return of effort from the organization,” Andersen said. “It’s not necessarily acting on all the feedback but creating a dialogue with your customers and employees. We need to redefine our most important relationships and establish a culture of trust through a cycle of active listening, transparent dialogue, insightful analysis and meaningful action.”

Beyond looking at the data, the chief feedback officer would work closely with sales, marketing, customer service and HR, as these departments typically already gather customer and employee feedback. As the role of the chief feedback officer evolves, the position will leverage feedback as part of a cross-functional and cohesive organizational structure. In this scenario, Andersen says the chief feedback officer leads a cross-functional team, anchored in the client organization and tasked with specific responsibilities for realizing defined business advantages through feedback. The chief feedback officer and center of excellence team are the bridge between the feedback group (customer, employee, market research) and the business (sales, marketing, customer service, HR) to create that alignment between strategy and execution through feedback. 

There has already been an emergence of several business models which are entirely dependent on feedback such as eBay, Uber, Airbnb and TripAdvisor. 

Big data is now the standard and Andersen says that feedback is the next phase. 

“There are a few forward-thinking companies starting this journey, but it will likely be a process with many challenges to overcome,” she said. 

The two biggest challenges are:

  • The chief feedback officer needs to be an agent of change, which requires the ability to manage and align insight between historically siloed departments to organizational strategy, and ultimately, execution.
  • The chief feedback officer needs to understand and embrace the journey: Successful change management is required to progress the business from where it is today to where it desires to be in the future. 

“Big data in business was once viewed as cutting-edge, but it’s become something every business can’t afford to ignore,” Andersen said. “As we progress in our understanding and usage of feedback, the chief feedback officer’s role will become increasingly important. First, it will be the change agent and leader of this journey. Then, it will transform into the facilitator, aligning the insight collected from customers and employees to the operational realities seen in each department. If companies don’t keep up with feedback from employees and customers, they risk becoming irrelevant.”