Boaty McBoatface and the Dangers of Customer Feedback

Boaty McBoatface and the Dangers of Customer Feedback

Two of the most often heard boardroom buzzwords over the past few years have been the words “authenticity” and “transparency.”

I say they’re buzzwords because they are built on the wrong premise; that premise being that if we’re open and honest with our customers, we can trust and rely on them to be open and honest with us.

But you can’t. Here’s the harsh version: You can’t trust what your customers tell you-especially when you’re reaching out to solicit their advice and feedback on important strategic decisions.

With my clients, I call it the “Boaty McBoatface Problem.

The name comes from a public research poll carried out in the UK by the Natural Environment Research Council to name its new $300 million dollar research vessel.

One user suggested the name “Boaty McBoatface.” The entry picked up steam on social media for being entirely ridiculous, went viral, and won a landslide victory. The people had spoken, and the vessel would become known as Boaty McBoatface.

(Since then, Parliament has rescinded on the unanimous decision and overruled the people naming the ship the David Attenborough. Some folks in the organizations declared the campaign a success because of the virality of the story-even if only to save their “face.”)

Through all of the social media hilarity, there’s an immensely important business lesson which applies to all aspects of customer loyalty, engagement, and feedback.

We can ask our customers for feedback, and we can survey them to find areas where we can improve, but there is very little correlation between the answers we get there, and the really important measure of “Are they continuing to come back? Are they continuing to spend money with us?”

Ultimately, that’s the vote that has meaning.

Surveys will give you answers like Boaty McBoatface. And that’s one of the major flaws with the Net Promoter Score (NPS)-the classic 1-question customer loyalty tool which asks recent customers to rate from 1-10, “how likely are you to recommend us to a friend?”

It doesn’t matter if 99% of your customers give 10s and say they’re likely to do it. You can’t trust them, and the likely won’t do it. Even then, the creator of the classic NPS survey has said that many companies using the tool have missed the true purpose of the tool, as employees have urged customers to give perfect 10s, regardless of service and satisfaction.

Here’s what you can trust:

You can trust what customers do with their time and their money.

That’s it.

Those are the two most important metrics to let you know how well you’re doing.

You can trust the 10% that does take the time to recommend you to a friend. You can trust the other 60% that continues doing business with you regularly.

You can’t trust a customer who is not always right. In fact, customers often act a lot like Boaty McBoatface. One article in the Atlantic summed it up well, “The people of the Internet had spoken emphatically, and they’d spoken like a five-year-old.”

Don’t try to pander and cater to the Boaty McBoatface crowd. Don’t let Boaty McBoatface run your company.

Instead, watch where your customers are putting their time and their money. Trust the answers that come from that.

Here is this week’s challenge: If you’re using generic and indiscriminate customer surveys, or listening to what Twitter says about your business, STOP IT!

Find ways to pay more attention to your customers speaking with their time and money.