5 Fails to Avoid with Your VoC Program

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I originally wrote today’s post for CallidusCloud CX; it was published on their blog on June 21, 2017.

Not seeing the results or improvements you expected to see from your customer listening efforts?

Why is that? What’s going on?

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I’ve been known to cite two reasons for VoC program ineffectiveness:

  1. Companies simply “collect feedback, just like some people collect stamps, which requires you to: buy the stamps, put them in a book, put them on a shelf, and forget about them; similarly, companies listen to customers, analyze the data (often ad nauseum and erroneously), create these lovely management reports, put them in binders, and pass them to their managers, who then proceed to put the reports on their bookshelves, never to be seen again. (Of course, all of this takes several months, by which time, customers are gone.) Or…
  2.  They focus on the metric, i.e., they try to move the metric, not to improve the experience; moving the metric can actually be detrimental and cause inappropriate behavior, gaming, and other undesirables that derail from the purpose of listening to customers and does not involve the same actions required to improve the experience.

There are clearly more reasons than these for VoC program ineffectiveness, but let’s assume you’ve done everything else right up to the point where you need to do something with the feedback. After you listen to customers, you actually need to use the feedback – this is a major requirement for program effectiveness. Trust me; I know I’m stating the obvious, but it clearly doesn’t seem to be obvious for everyone. Not acting on the feedback your customers take their valuable time to provide is just plain wrong.

Some of the most-egregious VoC program fails happen after the feedback is received. (Again, assuming you did everything else, e.g., actionable questions, right audience, etc. right up until now.)

What are those fails? Detailed below are five of them. I need to get a bit more specific than simply saying “you need to act” because that’s pretty nebulous; I think that’s where people get paralyzed:  What should I do with the data? What do I do next? Who acts, how they act, and when are all critical pieces of information at this point. I hope the explanations for these four fails get you started on the right path.

1. Failure to close the loop at the personal level
Also known as service recovery, this is one of the most important ways to follow up with customers about their feedback; it lets them know that their opinions matter and that you are committed to improving the experience. The business benefits through customer retention, reduced negative word of mouth, product enhancements/ideas, and potential growth opportunities.

Outline a systematic approach for service recovery to occur at the individual customer level. Who will respond to the customer? Within what time frame? In what mode (phone, email, in person)? What will they say/ask (e.g., apologize, ask for more information to get to the root cause, schedule a follow-up call for more details, etc.)? How will you empower your staff to handle these calls? What information do they need to make the call? What is the intended outcome of the follow-up? When and how does the service recovery get escalated? How will you capture the discussion? Will you share best practices with others to learn from? How will you know if the customer is satisfied with the follow-up? How will you know if you’ve “saved” the customer?

2. Failure to close the loop at the tactical level
By tactical level, I’m referring to closing the loop with stakeholders, with those teams or departments with a vested interest in the specific feedback. Share the feedback with them so that they can address the following: What are some of the common issues, themes, or trends that arise from the data? How can/will each department respond to their respective issues? What will they fix? What improvements do they need to make to their specific policies and processes? What additional training does their staff require? What tools do they need? What communication is required to ensure the entire team or department is on board with the required changes? Are there best practices that they can share with other departments?

3. Failure to close the loop at the strategic level
Acting at the personal and tactical levels is paramount, but it’s also necessary to step back and look at the big picture. Some of the improvements that need to be made are organization-wide and require C-level involvement to ensure the commitment is there for time, funds, and other resources. They’ll need to view the insights you gain from customers under a larger lens: Are there common feedback themes across the organization? What structural changes does the entire business need to make? How should we incorporate the feedback into our decision-making processes? How can the feedback influence business performance and strategies? What communications are required to engage the organization in a more-strategic overhaul or transformation?

4. Failure to close the loop with employees
If employees don’t know what they’re doing wrong, then they can’t change their own actions and behaviors. Your employees are the ones who deliver the customer experience; keeping them in the dark about how they are performing or how they are meeting customers’ needs is detrimental to the business. They have the ability to immediately change the customer’s experience, so share the feedback with them. Recognize them for the right behaviors and for delighted customers. Or coach them when the experience didn’t go so well.

5. Failure to close the loop with customers
This is a must! Again, customers spend their precious time providing you feedback about your products and services; the least you can do is tell them what you did with their feedback, what improvements you made as a result, including both tactical and strategic changes. Communicating this to customers reassures them that: their feedback is valuable, their time wasn’t wasted, you actually use their feedback, and they can provide feedback again. Always communicate back to your customers what changes were made as a result of their feedback and thank them for taking the time to do so. Given that this type of communication is more global in nature than personalized service recovery, it will cover more-strategic improvements but may also cover some of the tactical changes that you’ve made. Either way, don’t forget this piece of communication.

One key point to keep in mind: remember that closing the loop is not just about acknowledging, addressing, and resolving the bad experiences; it’s also a way to celebrate the good. If the feedback is positive, thank your customers and perhaps delve deeper into why they would promote your brand,  activate your advocates, share the good news internally to highlight what a good experience looks like, and give kudos and recognition to employees, where due.

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Some companies close one of these loops but not the others; some companies do none of these. They are all critical. Hard wiring customer feedback into your operational processes, whether tactical or strategic, and into meetings, discussions, and business decisions is the only way you’ll get value and results out of your VoC program. Using customer feedback for continuous improvement at the various levels outlined above ensures VoC program success.

Speaking of success, what are the success metrics for your program? You’ve outlined them, right? If you did, I would imagine that you’d include things like specific and measurable process improvements, cost efficiencies, culture changes, and customer retention as some of your critical KPIs. These things cannot be achieved without taking real action on the feedback.

Customer feedback must be engrained into the company’s culture, into its DNA; when the customer’s perspective becomes not only desired by – but also persuasive throughout – the organization, you have achieved a customer-centric culture.

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it. -Margaret Fuller

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