Beyond Closing the Loop: VoC/E

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“Closing the loop” – the process of responding to customers who provide weak feedback scores or critical comments to address or resolve the customer’s issue – is a standard feature of Enterprise Feedback (EFM) platforms. This near real-time risk mitigation approach is one of the primary reasons many companies cite for deploying EFM technology.

While a critical component in managing the risks associated with customer experiences failures, closing the loop is insufficient for resolving larger procedural or systemic problems. Closing the loop is a great way for taking care of a customer’s wound: the process provides for a means of cleaning the wound, applying an antibiotic and putting on a band-aid. All of that is fine and certainly is better than permitting the wound to fester and become infected.

But what about when 2, 3 . . . “n” number of people get the same wound? Do you want a serial approach of caring for a trail of the same problems over and over again, each on a one-off basis? Or do you look for a process that says when two or more customers experience the same issue you need a more systematic approach to fixing the source of the problem so other customers don’t suffer the same wound?

Enter VoC/E
By VoC/E we mean augmenting or supplementing your VoC process to systematically solicit employee recommendations on how to address customer concerns. This is not customer-raises-an-issue-and-employee-responds. Rather, it’s a broader process of when multiple customers raise the same issues, the company actively involves employees in finding a solution.

For years some companies have conducted “mirroring” exercises, asking employees their opinion regarding the customer experience, often having employees rate the firm’s performance on the same criteria and scales as they use in their customer surveys. They then look at the gap in perceptions of the experience between what customers and employees say. The problem with this approach is that it illustrates the gap but little else.

Instead of asking employees simply to rate the customer experience, a far more substantive approach to VoC/E is to directly solicit employee feedback and recommendations on experience problems already identified by customers. This approach scores a win on two fronts: it generates ideas for solving actual issues raised by customers and actively engages employees in the process.

Three Flavors of VoC/E
VoC/E comes in three basic flavors. These are not mutually exclusive, and there can be multiple variations on a theme. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Post-Interaction: In this iteration, a company is running a transactional survey. Customers indicate that customer chat, for example, is a weak spot. The firm then directly turns around and solicits employee input on how to improve the customer chat experience. This method is a quick way to generate ideas regarding issues of immediate concern raised by customers. This is the timeliest approach, which is a clear plus. On the flip side, however, many employees work in areas that have nothing to do with customer chat and know nothing about the chat function. We need to be careful about sending non-relevant feedback requests to employees, as we don’t want to over-tax them with requests, waste their time or sour them when the time comes for a request that is relevant to their expertise. Many times, moreover, customer feedback is about people not process, and these issues should never be shared with other employees.

Ongoing VoE surveys: In this flavor, a company incorporates general questions about possible suggestions to improve the customer experience in its ongoing VoE surveys. Baking-in such questions institutionalizes the collection of employee input on the customer experience. While this is a good way to solicit employee suggestions in general, it’s not very useful for finding a fix for a specific issue, such as customer chat. Ideas that come in through this approach can be useful, especially for any low-hanging fruit issues, but most comments will be too vague and generic to be of much use. Comments such as “we should treat our customers better” are common but don’t provide any tangible direction.

Issue-specific: A third approach is to invite issue-specific feedback from employees involved in the area of inquiry. This permits a focused, deeper dive into customer chat with employees who know something about customer chat. Not only are these employees more knowledgeable about the relevant issues and processes, but they also are more motivated to contribute ideas because of their direct involvement and expertise in the area. This method permits for deeper probing on issues identified by staff from customer input and tends to elicit the most specific and targeted ideas. This approach, however, requires some curation, closer coordination with the functional area involved and is more time consuming to manage and implement. This translates into the need for more resources and/or prioritization, but this is a good trade-off to stimulate better solutions.

Mix-and-Match
Life is rarely one-size-fits-all. The same for VoC/E. Do you want depth or breadth? Are you looking for fixes for specific problems or trying to generate general ideas about improving the customer experience? Do you want to take on every phase of the customer journey? What works best will depend on the company and what you are trying to accomplish.

Blend approaches. Iterate. Perhaps cycle employee-generated suggestions back to employees for further vetting and comment. No matter which path(s) you choose, the key, of course, is turning the best employee-generated suggestions into action plans for implementation and involving employees in the process.

By all means keep on closing the loop with customers. Simultaneously, however, take a step back and explore ways to move beyond patching-up problems as they occur to more systematic approaches to putting in place fixes that avoid future problems of the same sort, while boosting employee engagement along the way.

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