Connecting the dots – A holistic approach to CX

6 min read

Table of Contents

Introduction & Executive Summary

Identifying and isolating specific customer feedback for follow-up triage and action is familiar, indeed commonplace. Closing the loop with survey respondents who may have expressed dissatisfaction, offered constructive criticism, or experienced friction at a specific touchpoint is considered table stakes in a modern voice of the customer (VoC) program. Such follow-up not only allows an opportunity to course correct and make a bad situation better but also sends a clear message to the respondent. “We’ve listened, considered, and now we are acting on your behalf”, it says, and, in many ways, a straightforward action reaffirms the importance of the feedback shared, making the customer feel valued for their loyalty and direct input given. 

What if you see more significant and systemic themes appear in your customer feedback? What if big and strategic parts of your customer experience must be in sync with your market and customer expectations and go beyond only a few customers or cases? What if solving the root cause most closely linked to this outcry of dissatisfaction went beyond what a single rep could do? What if there was a need to re-engineer a key business process or even a part of your product to truly satisfy, let alone delight? What then? 

We propose that VoC systems connect the Closed Loop systems to an Outer Loop / Systematic process changes/change management system. 

This connection is necessary for systemic and lasting changes to improve the experience at the speed of business and expectation. 

History of CX & VOC Programs

Thinking back to early VoC initiatives, particularly early Net Promoter Score (NPS) programs specifically, those early programs too often fixated on closed-ended feedback – scores, mostly. Even the originator of NPS, Fred Reichheld, theorized we’d only need a single question to assess loyalty, as he wrote in his seminal The Ultimate Question book when he first described NPS to the world. Asking someone, he stated, about the likelihood they’d recommend a brand to a colleague or friend would be the ultimate measure of satisfaction as measured by their advocacy. Indeed, that makes sense, even if slightly misguided.

Knowing your customer rated you as a high scoring “9” or a lower-scoring “3” is directionally exciting and can serve as a good marker for how they feel about their experience. Anyone can see that a 9 is likely a far better and more coveted score than a three and is easily explained and understood. 

Where the notion of an “ultimate question” falls short, however, is that while directionally interesting, a score alone is virtually impossible to act upon and recover from. There could be dozens of reasons a high-scoring promoter loves a brand and another dozen why they might not. The score alone is, at face value, insufficient to direct any meaningful recovery or even more than a surface reaction. 

I’d find it impossible to think of a business story that illustrates this better than to share one from a few years ago. A senior leader at a US-based HCM (Human Capital Management) and business services company with whom I’ve been doing some CX project work called me into his office. He told me, “I just paid a large consulting firm more than 2 million dollars to build out my NPS program, and now I get my scores on a 2x per month scorecard.” He said, “Some months the score goes up. Other months the score goes down,” as he drew in the air, with his finger, what looked like a hospital EKG report with a heartbeat “blips.” Up, down, back up again, back down. 

Here was the punchline. He went on to say, “The months where my score goes up, my boss calls, and I’m a hero. Other months when it goes down, my same boss calls, and I’m a moron.”, he said, grimacing. “I just want to maximize my hero-to-moron ratio.” It was clear that he had no idea what was behind the score he tracked month in and month out, and worse, had no idea of what to do about it, as they followed the Reichheld approach of just pursuing that magic, single question resulting in a score and little else.

Chasing scores was very common in the early days of NPS as it brought executive bragging rights to many, and that’s what people most wanted, it seemed. At least until they could not do much with it other than brag, they started to see how more would be needed. Even Fred Reichheld agreed and revised his original single-question thesis.

The Why!

Reichheld and his Bain colleagues returned to their authoring roots and updated their original writing, now called, The Ultimate Question 2.0, to incorporate more than just the one question and in fact, opened it to a critical and overlooked initially companion question that would unlock the reasons why someone gave the score they did and do this in their own words. The simple power and elegance of a question such as, “tell us why?” It would unleash the true power of NPS and CX more broadly.

The visibility of why someone scored us the way they did proves to even the staunchest naysayer that customer feedback could fuel significant transformation and overall business impact. 

If that old client who could not articulate how to satisfy his customers better and in it, keep his boss on the right side of his day with only a score and nothing else, now could know exactly where to focus his energies and, more so, even consider root cause and which ones would ensure the greatest and most positive impact for all. It was the key that unlocked the true power of great customer experience.

The same team who brought us NPS and, to a large extent, the original methodologies of closing the loop based on understanding the root cause of specific scores and, more so, customer dispositions also envisioned another situation. Early on, they taught us the importance of closing the loop and following up with survey takers who shared either highly negative or positive feedback with appropriate and targeted outreach. Rescuing detractors and amplifying promoters grew in importance and became staples of most VoC initiatives. 

However, it would become clear to many that it was realistically possible to gather feedback and see root causes emerge that were bigger than a series of easily rescued customers or one-off and isolated squeaky wheels. If you heard only a few complaints about your pricing, a small token coupon or discount would satisfy. That could be quickly initiated case-by-case by a single customer service representative as needed. Single customers could be rescued and even delighted by a single recovery action. 

Root Cause & Systemic Upgrades

What if you begin to see larger and more systemic themes appear in your customer feedback? What if big, strategic parts of your customer experience need to be in sync with your market and customer expectations, and they go beyond only a few customers or cases? What if solving the root cause most closely linked to this outcry of dissatisfaction went beyond what a single rep could do, and what if there was a need to re-engineer an essential process or even a part of your business operation, product, or service to satisfy, let alone delight truly? What then?

Reichheld and his colleagues described a systematic approach to vetting and acting on this more strategic feedback as an “outer loop”; in effect, comparing it was what they similarly called an “inner loop,” which described the 1:1 feedback handling and close follow-ups. 

Outer Loop – The Process

The outer loop, as described, is a process of tackling larger-scale, more systemic challenges, suggestions, and opportunities for improvement that go beyond a small segment of customers or problem solvers. Often, the outer loop process can involve a large multifaceted team and if implemented well, can have a lasting and positive impact on many customers. A clear “win-win,” Reichheld wrote. 

Evaluating outer loop feedback for action is complex and to be taken seriously. Efforts to make large-scale and systemic changes to a business and its operation are expensive and impact many. As such, they require input and consideration from diverse collaborators and solution designers. Vetting these ideas in terms of feasibility and impact are crucial underpinnings. These decisions will make the difference between successful change and little more than a money pit of bad ideas.

Outer loop tools have emerged as components of the most advanced VoC and CX platform solutions, closing the gap between feedback solicitation, analytics, and this new collaborative vetting and action management. Some of these systems have taken a crowdsourcing model of idea evaluation with Reddit-style voting for the best ideas and a natural burying of the worst. The best ideas can be prioritized and managed as they mature and take shape based on regular evaluation, consideration, and collaboration. The result has the potential to be transformative and stunning and impact the experience many, if not all of our customers have.

Driving change and not simply problem-solving is fundamental in our customer experience toolbox, and ensuring the changes we choose to pursue are the right ones, at the right time, for the right customers is what the outer loop is truly about and what it enables us to do.

The Intersection

Interestingly, there’s also a natural intersection of both the inner and outer loops. Very often, as we open surveys to feedback, we may see initial traces of feedback that could make us think the input is only a couple of small isolated situations and pursue easy rescues. Only when things emerge to be more systemic and recurrent do we promote them to the outer loop and look at solution options beyond a short-term reactive measure. 


As a final thought, I’ll leave you with this. Simple inner loop feedback handling is very similar to that old carnival game, “Whack a Mole,” where a player has to hit a stuffed mole that pops its head out of one of 9 holes in a wooden playing board with a large mallet. The mole quickly moves from hole to hole and is a genuine reaction time test. Imagine that the mole, in this case, represents your customers sharing feedback.

An inner loop is an effective tool to help satisfy one mole in one hole at one time, but you will forever be firefighting in a reactive mode and unable to pause and consider more scalable solutions for more moles in more holes. By its very nature, the outer loop ensures we are strategic in our problem-solving and innovation and can address all at once if done well and handled thoughtfully.

The power of the pair, inner, and outer loop together is immense and should serve as the foundation of every VoC program from now on. Without a balance of the two, you’ll be forever chasing customers who, like those moles in the game, pop up unexpectedly and move quickly and, without it, risk losing control, let alone the loyalty of your customers served.


  • Marc Mandel

    Marc works as the Vice President of North American Sales & Account Management at QuestionPro. He has more than 20 years’ experience in customer engagement, voice of the customer (VoC) and CX with senior roles at companies such as Concentrix, Convergys, Customerville, MaritzCX and Clarabridge, among others. Prior to joining QuestionPro, he was a Senior Enterprise Account Executive at Uniphore, a pioneering company in conversational AI. In 2021 he was selected to serve on the North American Council of the Customer Experience Professionals Association.