You’ve likely heard about the concept and practice of “closing the loop” or a “closed-loop feedback” (CLF) cycle.  What is it, and how does it work?

There are actually a couple types of closed-loop feedback systems depending on whether you’re talking about internal or external feedback.  Internal refers to an employee feedback mechanism where as an external closed-loop feedback system is geared toward the Customer’s inputs and what you do with them.  They’re both important to a healthy Customer-centric organization, and they operate basically the same way, just with different sources of feedback.  I’ll concentrate on that external, or Customer-centric model here, but realize that there’s another application for this CLF system if you want to approach employee experience the same way.

The overall concept of a CLF cycle is that you (as I’ve often emphasized) do something with the feedback you receive.  Rather than just sitting on VoC information or just reporting it, CLFs empower us to actually improve our processes in a focused way thus improving Customers’ future experiences while also showing gratitude to those who offer us their thoughts.  At first glance (and if you just take the term literally from its own label), a closed-loop feedback system is one that simply follows up with the Customer on their input.  Now, that may take on many different forms depending on how you interpret the concept:  Follow-up may be simply replying—perhaps even with an auto-generated, boilerplate, impersonal email—that a Customer’s feedback has been “received.”  Sometimes the follow-up is in the form of self-preservation and reaching out to a Customer to save the experience.  Let’s be honest:  If you don’t find out about a disastrous Customer experience until you’ve received negative feedback is likely to be a lost cause, at least in that instance…that said, sometimes you can recover, and the best experience is sometimes a make-good for what started out as an awful experience.  But even these approaches to a CLF don’t really capture the benefit of such a system.

The true goodness of a closed-loop feedback cycle is only realized if you use two loops:  One, certainly, is to respond to the Customer about his or her negative feedback.  This helps in many ways:  It shows your organization values its Customers and their inputs, and shows you haven’t just taken their VoC and ‘shelved’ it or reported it and moved on.  Simply put, it signals that you care.  Additionally, this loop allows (if you’re so inclined) further Customer inputs as you improve your processes; and those are invaluable.

Which leads to the second loop:  The improvement of your processes.  I say it all the time:  VoC data just reported is wasted VoC.  So it’s not that you collect VoC, it’s that you do something with it!  And that’s the second loop:  taking the Customers’ input and changing how your processes and systems work as a result.  You can see why engagement with your Customers is valuable here.  Without it you run the risk of misinterpreting their inputs and also likely will miss out on incremental improvements throughout your process improvement efforts…they never proceed exactly as they are planned, thanks to continued discovery as you improve, and what better collaboration than the Customer as you proceed?  Even if your Customers don’t put on a metaphorical lab coat and join you in your improvement efforts directly, you still will be working on your processes as a result of their calling attention to shortcomings.

What’s cool here is that these two loops intersect…Improvements are handed off to your team by way of these VoC inputs (what we call the ‘outer loop’), you work on them by way of process improvements (the ‘inner loop’), and pass the results back (to the ‘outer’) as a way of thanks to your Customers as well as showing their value and building loyalty.  Here’s where, after the fact, you follow-up with your Customer to show what you’ve done with your processes as a result of their initial input.  You’re bringing them into your inner loop.

If you’ve ever sarcastically thought to yourself when someone asks your advice and never takes it, “well, thanks for asking,” you can appreciate the value of the closed-loop feedback cycle(s).  It shows gratitude to your Customers for taking the time and effort to point out your opportunities for improvement, aids in clarity as to what they meant in the first place (a huge time- and effort-saver), encourages further collaboration (and thus further improvements), and builds loyalty and trust between your organization and your Customers.

You could say that the two loops in the closed-loop feedback system are a win-win!