"Perception is reality" is a Tom Peters quote we turn to again and again when talking to clients about the customer experience.
It underpins a host of different lessons, but the particular one I want to focus on for this post is that it means that what customers believe is more important than what you actually do. The customer experience happens inside customers' heads.
That being the case, it's a tragedy that so many organisations ignore or underuse their biggest opportunity for changing customer perceptions - talking to customers about the survey and what they're doing as a result of it. Ironically, many organisations try to influence customer perceptions at precisely the wrong point; they try to make sure that customers give a high score in the survey (using tactics like this card I recently found in my hotel room).
So if it's important to talk to customers, what should you tell them?
Start with an honest account of what the survey told you. You don't need to quote facts and figures if you're worried about those falling into the wrong hands, but you should be clear about where customers told you that you need to improve.
Don't be afraid to open up before you've made tidy plans. Tell customers about the steps you're taking to figure things out internally. Ask for their help and input. The important thing is not to present a polished plan, but to show them that you're making a genuine effort to improve.
That said, it is important that you do something with the results of the survey, the quicker and more visible the better. Whatever that action is, don't rely on customers noticing it on their own - make sure they notice by telling them about it. This helps to make sure that customers give you credit for the changes you've made, but just as importantly it also makes an explicit link between the survey and those changes. It's hard to overstate how important this is as a way of making sure that the survey is seen as something that leads to real change.
Don't slide from honesty into boasting, but it is a good idea to talk about the good as well as the bad. Most organisations are basically good at what they do - most of their customers have a good experience most of the time - and it's not wrong to position your improvements in that context.
There's no excuse these days not to be talking to customers about your survey results. Use all the channels you have, as often as you can, to communicate as regularly and transparently as you can. Spend less time worrying about controlling the exact message,and focus on starting a conversation.