Voice of Customer Technology: Without the Science, It’s Just Sizzle Without the Steak

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From paper feedback cards and interactive voice response tools to social media analysis and enterprise feedback management (EFM) systems, there are a number of alternative technologies currently deployed to capture customer feedback. At our own company, we are big users of a variety of data collection and reporting technologies. But one thing we have learned: whether you operate in the Stone Age or the Digital Age, technology is an enabler, not the end game itself.

Voice of the Customer or VoC efforts should be about business objectives, not just technology. The business goals almost always are a variation on a core theme: improving the customer experience and strengthening customer loyalty to improve key business outcomes and boost customer profitability. Tools, technology, and systems are well-designed when they facilitate achievement of these objectives and improve the user experience without being a distraction or creating misinformation. Otherwise, these tools are just expensive gadgets.

All too often, however, the technology takes on a life of its own independent of the business applications it should serve. We are by no means Luddites resisting change. Rather, we prefer to see ourselves as evangelists for Best Practices in customer experience and seek to employ technology to support better-informed decision making. The keystones in better decision making are accurate and reliable measurement, insightful analysis and discerning recommendations. An EFM or VoC platform should be expressly designed with this bedrock foundation in mind, not as an addition after-the-fact.

The sizzle of technology can be dizzying at times, however, overshadowing the importance of the underlying science of sound VoC work. We see this in some of the EFM platforms that focus on glitz and glitter, leaving science and substance as afterthoughts. In some instances these platforms simply ignore the importance of the analytic tools and models used to generate the results or rely on overly simplistic key metrics and errant key driver tools, as if the substance of the information is secondary.

Great technology delivering unreliable or, worse yet, misleading data actually is counterproductive, as it is nothing more than a conduit for the more effective and wider dissemination of crummy information. The strict-technology play often comes with inflexible attachment to a single approach borrowed from others and no independent intellectual product or POV. This one-size-fits-all approach is a lowest common denominator, Worst Practices approach, but is the most consistent with a completely standardized platform that does not allow at least some level of customization.

Business needs should align with, and even drive, the technology being used. Ideal VoC programs are those best suited to meet a particular company’s business needs, align the technology being deployed with the targeted respondents and platform users, and accommodate any situational constraints and opportunities. The technology platform needs to cater to these parameters, not cloud them behind smoke and mirrors. Cool tools are not effective unless they drive effective decisions for performance-improvement based on reliable data and rigorous analysis. Without this, it’s just sizzle without the steak.

Effective VoC feedback requires more than an implementation of an ‘out-of-the-box’ technical tool. We recently spoke with one company in the midst of making an EFM provider-selection decision. It turns out that neither the research team nor the customer experience team was even involved in the evaluation of suppliers. Rather, the evaluation was seen as strictly a process between IT and end users. This is like building a pipeline without considering the content that needs to be delivered via the conduit. One misinformation highway, please.

Collecting and displaying customer feedback data is only half the battle, as there’s real science involved in great VoC programs too. We have had prospective clients ask us to critique, analyze, and look for actionable insights from the data being collected by their EFM provider. Huh? Don’t the guys with the platform you bought also have the in-house capabilities to do custom analysis? Don’t they understand research, we asked? Not really, but they have super cool dashboards, was the reply. One order of sizzle please, hold the steak.

As in virtually every field, technology is revolutionizing the world of VoC research and management. To effectively marry the best-in-class technology with Best Practices VoC research, we offer three recommendations.

•    First, ensure any technology deployment aligns with the business goals of the program before you do anything else.

•    Involve the IT and tech folks, but do not leave the evaluation of the tools being used for VoC feedback exclusively to them – be sure to include strong input from marketers and researchers who understand the need for solid measurement, analytics, and reporting principles that will deliver credible, reliable, and actionable results.

•    Finally, make sure your EFM provider also gets, and can deliver against, the required rigors of solid VoC feedback – if they know less about research than you do, run away. There’s just too much redundancy, inefficiency and danger of a major disconnect in having a separate platform provider and research or analysis house.

By all means, look for the sizzle and glitz to complement and enhance the steak. Make that one filet mignon with all of the trimmings, please.

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