How to Increase Synergy in B2B Voice-of-the-Customer

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If you’re looking for ways to gain more value from customer feedback, one of the best things you can do is banish silos. We all know the perils of data silos, organization silos, and so forth. Beyond that, consider the silos of various components of customer experience management (CXM). For example, Voice-of-the-Customer (VoC) managers are often completely absorbed in the administration of customer listening posts. Separate groups may be in charge of analysis. And others are pursuing VoC actions or customer retention. In most companies, the various managers rarely compare notes or integrate their work.

CX-Coordination-ManagersAnswers to “What is the level of coordination across B2B CXM practices?” Stronger business results were typical among companies with quarterly meetings, dotted line reporting, or single department. Source: ClearAction B2B CXM Best Practices Study

Untapped opportunities were highlighted for me as I analyzed our Business-to-Business Customer Experience Management Best Practices Study. Our questions explored ways of listening to customers, and then methods of viewing customer insights, and then practices for acting on the insights. When I pulled a specific bar graph from each section to tell a story in the report, it dawned on me: there’s a natural flow between CXM components that collectively reinforce better results.

I’d like to suggest connections between the following, with a flow of successive capability and outcomes. Practitioner evidence and additional research could confirm these logical connections. What would happen if we manage customer experience as a flow?

The big picture: Voice-of-the-Customer informs Business Intelligence, which informs CX Improvement, which informs CX Innovation, which informs Customer Engagement, which leads to Customer Retention & Loyalty, which lead to Business Growth.

By treating customer experience management as an ongoing flow like this, it makes sense that you will significantly increase your capability to demonstrate strong growth from customer experience excellence.

Leg-BoneYou’ll notice that it’s a lot like the old skeleton/’Dem Bones song: “The knee bone’s connected to the leg bone, . . . “.

What’s the value of knowing what’s connected to what? For medical professionals, knowing what parts of the body influence other parts is not only enlightening, but also a matter of life and death. I think this is a strong analogy for VoC and CXM!

The following flow is intended to maximize insights while minimizing burden on customers, and reducing your VoC costs.

The VoC details: Collect Complaints Anywhere Anytime combines with Collect VoC from Informal Interactions (non-front-line), which combines with Analyze Lost Sales and Monitor Positive/Negative Word-of-Mouth, and that leads to Text/Speech Mining, which zeros in on areas to explore with VoC via Front-Line Employees, which informs VoC via Execs and User Groups/Advisory Boards.

With all this knowledge, you’re now ready to invest in quantitative (ratings) monitoring, so you Identify All People who Influence Buying Decisions, then Identify a Sample of All Influencers, to participate in a combination of Transactional VoC and Relationship VoC, which leads to Consolidate Input from All Influencers, which leads to Data Analysis to Find Patterns and Key Drivers, which lead to Action Plans and Cross-Functional Collaboration, which leads to Transformation in the company that customers reward.

VoC-Connections

You may be wondering: “Wow, do I really need to do all of that in order to see rewards from customers?” Initially, no. Keep it simple. But follow the pattern. You wouldn’t want a doctor to rush in and conduct invasive surgery without first following a logical flow that maximizes insights while minimizing burden on you and him/her and everyone’s costs. Right?

So the pattern to begin with, in order of occurrence, is:

  1. Leverage what you already have before going out to ask customers questions.
  2. Make extensive use of customer comments from all available sources (boxes 1 and 2 in the diagram) to:
    1. Cut to the end of the flow (box 5 in the diagram) in identifying root causes as key drivers of poor and good customer experience, creating action plans, driving cross-functional collaboration for transformation, and thereby earning trust, retention, and growth.
    2. And then, use insights from comments and organizational actions (1 and 2a, above) to design your entire VoC portfolio in a streamlined way that respects what you already know, what your customers want to talk about, how and when they want to give feedback, and what will help you further transform your business to be a no-brainer best-loved supplier.
  3. Add sophistication over time – not because everyone’s doing a certain thing – but because it contributes to keeping your entire business in-sync with customers.

Most likely what’s standing in the way of better response rates, insights that compel transformation, and tying VoC to financials is this: we’re connecting the head bone to the hip bone to the foot bone. For other business endeavors we typically step back and assess the big picture and how the parts should work together. That’s how we fix things in the human body. It’s how a mechanic fixes your car. And it rings true for most things in life.

Let’s banish silos that are inhibiting our VoC value flow. By doing so, we’ll not only see better ways to manage companies, but also make VoC a better experience for customers.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Couldn’t agree more with the ideas in this post. Siloing, i.e. cloistered information and chimneyed communication, in b2b is one of the most pervasive limitations to these companies becoming more customer-centric. Customer experience receives less attention than maintaining passive, reactive processes and preserving the product-centric culture. Fortunately, for more progressive organizations, this is being recognized and addressed through customer journey evaluation initiatives. Integral to these initiatives are reframing, and then sustaining, VOC generation and analysis around the emotional, as well as the functional, elements of customer experience (http://customerthink.com/how-much-do-product-quality-and-service-quality-influence-customer-behavior/ and http://beyondphilosophy.com/trust-really-emotion/).

  2. Thanks for your comment, Michael. If customer comments were valued as highly as ratings, many companies would be seeing fewer silos in their customer experience management. I’ve come to appreciate within the past 5 years how much we can do with the customer comments we have on-hand.

    It’s surprising that many companies make little use of customer comments that they collect through surveys — we made wide and deep use of survey comments for root cause analysis and improvement action plans in every business unit each year that I led customer experience at Applied Materials.

    Now with text/speech mining, comments from numerous sources can be leveraged to significantly improve customer experience before ever conducting a survey. And once a company gets in the groove of acting on comments, that’s the better time to start conducting surveys. By that time, you will know what customers really want to talk about, how/where to do it in a least invasive way, what your business really needs to hear about, and methodology decisions to increase the value to customers and for managers’ actionability.

    For readers who want to see more about the magic of customer comments in busting silos, please see Comments are Customer Experience Gold.

  3. Hello Lynn,
    I have a much simpler suggestion: do as John Timpson did whilst he was at the helm of Timpsons. What did he do? Well he banished this kind of thing as a start. Instead he:

    1. Spent most of his time travelling? Where to? The stores where the employees interact directly (sell, serve) customers. In the stores, John, not only talked with the employees, he became one for the day! He got behind the counter, greeted customers, served customers, asked them questions, listened to any complaints.

    2. He made sure that every area/regional manager did the same. These managers had to also spend most of their time in the stores: listening, observing, learning…. By doing this these managers understood intimately: the customers, the store employees, what was working, and what was not working, what needed changing, the impact of changes made.

    3. He changed the context in which the store employees worked. He made HQ serve the stores and not the other way around. The folks in the store owned the P&L and had the freedom to make all kinds of decision even the decision to introduce new products into their stores – if they deemed to be local demand for them. Further, the employees were rewarded on the basis of the P&L…

    4. He disbanded the corporate complaints department and moved the job of dealing with customer complaints to the stores. Why? So that the folks who had created the complaints, and were in the best position to deal with them, dealt with them. It also increased responsiveness to dealing with customer complaints. And when the area/regional managers (and John himself) were at the stores (which they were regularly) they came face to face with customers, their complaints, and how their complaints had been handled or not by the folks in the stores.

    It occurs to me that your suggestion, like so many suggestions made by so many, just make stuff more complicated. And keep those in the position of formulating policy comfortable in their ivory towers – insulated from the lived reality of what is going on in the business. Worse still, knowledge/understanding of the kind that can be conveyed by reports is not the kind that moves hearts and generates action. This is more than amply demonstrated by watching Undercover Boss. Enough for today.

    All the best,
    maz

  4. Hi Maz. Not sure why you think it’s complicated to connect the various components of something to allow people to see the full picture.

    In my research with numerous companies, the ones who are using customer comments extensively across their company are faring better than those who aren’t.

    In fact, many companies are not reading customer comments at all.

    Companies that are sharing customer comments from advisory boards, surveys, and other sources across functional areas have a greater sense of what it means to be customer-centric, compared to those who are focusing on ratings/indexes.

    Many companies have numerous listening posts (some have several dozens, or even several hundred) without a way to pull it all together, or to prevent reinventing the wheel, or worse, overburdening customers and wasting precious resources.

    Furthermore, B2B sells to other companies. They don’t sell to consumers in stores. You’ve missed the mark in terms of the need for the frontline to be relieved of a lot of junk that they do NOT have control over, because the originators of the junk are upstream in engineering, manufacturing, marketing, IT, finance, etc.

    Have you been talking to a lot of people in a lot of B2B firms as a basis your suggestions?

  5. Hello Lynn,

    Let me illustrate what I mean by talking in terms of manufacturing. In traditional manufacturing folks made what they made and inspection was done by the Quality folks at the end of the process. So the faulty parts had to be thrown away or more usually reworked. What did not change were the practices that led to the rework.

    My point about making things more complicated is this: if those who find themselves in a management position actually spent worked-lived-experienced that which occurs on the frontlines (between the customer and the organisation) then the multitude of listening posts would not be necessary including VoC surveying. Further, without this multitude of listening posts, it would not be necessary to hire folks to help glue up the listening posts.

    Let’s move on and ask is it even worth the effort to collect, glue up and distribute this paper? Do the folks that receive this paper read it? Do they grapple with it? Do they then take action on it? My experience is a definitive NO! Years ago, I found myself in charge of financial analysis and planning function for a FTSE100 company (I have a finance background). There was too much demand and we could not hire fast enough to meet the demand. So I tried out an experiment: I stopped distributing reports – starting with the ones that took the most effort. I wanted to see who (and how many) managers would scream. Guess what, there was silence – almost complete silence. Then I did the same for the second most time consuming report. Guess what happened: almost complete silence. Most of the reports that we spent lots to time, money and effort in producing ended up ‘in the bin’. I have never forgotten the lesson.

    No joining up the reports is not complicated – consultants can be hired to make that happen. Using the approach the you are suggesting shows up for me as complicating things. The simple action is to redesign management practices like John Timpson did such that all this complication of listening posts, reports, gluing up listening posts, more reporting etc is rendered unnecessary. That is all that I am suggesting. And as you know and I know that is not likely to happen anytime soon. Therefore, the VoC industry and all who play in it are promised a bright/prosperous future. i read a quote the other day, I think it was attributed to Einstein, it went along the lines that there is only one thing that is unlimited in this universe: human stupidity.

    All the best,
    maz

  6. Hi Maz, thanks for taking the time to write. I’m wondering whether you’ve taken time to actually read the article. I say this because (1) we are in violent agreement that VoC surveys are over-used, and (2) my article recommends making use of (taking extensive action on) what customers have already told us.

    I guess my diagram by itself may look like an appeal to glue together reports. That’s not what the article says. It says: quit looking at everything in silos, quit asking customers to repeat themselves, quit “managing customer experience” without the aim of transforming the company to be better aligned with what customers need and value.

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