The Power of Interlocutors

In Brief

In our last article, we discussed 5 best practices for making the most out of Low Volume, High Value (LvHv) Feedback situations. We broke down exactly how companies can capitalize on feedback opportunities when they have a limited number of very important and influential clients. In this article we’ll take some time to do a deeper dive on what may be the most important of these practices: featuring an interlocutor.

Let’s take it from the top. What is an interlocutor? An interlocutor is a conversational partner; the person on the other side of your conversation.

in·ter·loc·u·tor ˌin(t)ərˈläkyədər

a partner who takes part in a dialogue or conversation.

But why is the presence of an interlocutor so important in LvHv feedback situations? Think of it this way: most companies draw from a large base of customers when they request feedback. Take a fast food restaurant for example; they’re most likely drawing from a customer base of hundreds of thousands of customers every single day. They send out an email or an SMS request, or a webform with their logo slapped in the corner.

If they can get 5% of those people to respond, they’ve gathered enough data to form an idea of what is happening with their customers. Although this breaks just about every rule of human conversation that you’ve known since you were a child, these companies get away with it due to the sheer volume of customers surveyed.

But most companies have a base of customers that make up the meat and potatoes of their annual revenue, and that especially applies to those in LvHv situations. Those companies simply cannot afford to send out a half-assed webform and hope they’re lucky enough to entice a small percentage of customers to fill it out. For LvHv companies, each person receiving a feedback request represents a precious client and a substantial piece of business to the company.

The solution lies in following conversational rules that we humans use in just about every scenario in our day-to-day lives. Make the feedback request a conversation by engaging the respondent and creating a connection between the customer and the company asking for feedback. We’ve found that the best way to do this is with an interlocutor.

By giving survey respondents a relatable conversational interlocutor, you can show them exactly what experience you’d like them to have. There are two ways to do this in your feedback requests.

The first way is to feature customers as your interlocutors. We often see examples of this in various industries, but it is especially impactful in healthcare. Often times the customer — in this case the patient — is in a vulnerable position. Employing another patient as the interlocutor lets them see that they are not alone in this situation and allows them to open up about their experience.

Another great example of this working well can be found with a pharmaceutical company, specifically one that needs to get feedback from oncologists. These doctors spend the majority of their day, quite literally, saving lives. It is hard to think of a more difficult group to ask to put their day on pause, even for just a moment, to take a survey. These surveys feature doctors as the customers because there are few other people who understand what it takes to do their job. This lets the oncologists feel like they are talking to someone who understands what they are going through and more importantly, someone who will take the feedback seriously.

The other angle that you can take when featuring an interlocutor is to use employees, which can be even more effective than using customers as interlocutors in many situations. Placing employees in front of the customer tells them that real people in your shop are accountable for each and every experience the customers have.

Employees should “speak” throughout the survey about what the ideal experience they would like to provide looks like. This not only provokes more honest and direct feedback when things go wrong, but also makes respondents more likely to give positive feedback when their experience matches the one the employee would like to deliver.

The type of employee used as an interlocutor may vary depending on the situation, but many companies choose to use either their CEO or Director of Customer Experience to discuss what kind of experience the company strives to provide. Using an executive tells customers they are an important part of a small group being asked for feedback.

For example, an initial request features a CEO as the interlocutor but they take a different angle instead of jumping right into the survey. The CEO tells the customer they are a part of an exclusive group the company is trusting to help shape the future of the firm and that they will be in touch throughout the year to ask for guidance.

This isn’t just a simple webform request; it’s the start of a relationship with the potential to provide CX teams with crucial feedback from clients who are hardest to reach. These decision-makers appreciate that someone has taken time to recognize the value of their feedback and want to be a part of this exclusive group providing it to executives.

It doesn’t always have to be the CEO who makes the ask though. Many times, seeing a frontline employee gives customers the sense that they are being taken care of by the entire organization, from the front desk all the way to the CEO. Frontline employees sometimes can serve as a more relatable interlocutor because they are the ones customers tend to interact with most often. The frontline employees are usually those who actually are doing things that may or may not make the experience special for each customer.

One of our favorite examples of great interlocutors can be found at Xerox. They have been around so long that they actually have a company historian! Now imagine getting a request from a company historian who says, “We’re recording history right now and we want you to help us plan for the future.” These are the kinds of feedback requests that send response rates through the roof.

It comes down to not only making the customer feel like they’re being listened to, but also makes them believe that their feedback will be used to make important decisions in the future. When you take the time to connect and make customers feel special, they’ll return the favor by engaging in customer feedback requests and giving high-quality responses for as long as they remain a customer.

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