Comments Are Customer Experience Gold


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customer-comments-valueWhat's the one thing you can do for greatest impact on customer experience differentiation? Act on comments customers have already given you. It's a treasure trove of diagnostic advice that is waiting to be assembled, distributed, resolved, and measured.

If this is the case, then why isn't everyone doing it? Conventional wisdom has been more exciting and enticing — until recently. Text/voice mining tools now make it much easier to collect, stream, digest, and track customer comments from a variety of sources.

Every day customers explain what they're trying to get done and they talk about their impressions, expectations, frustrations, workarounds, and alternatives. They tell these things to your front-line employees (include accounts receivable and other interactions) and to peers in various communities/forums. Yet, without processes and tools to embrace this gold mine, your company may be operating rather blindly, and spending scarce resources to research what's already within your grasp.

Customer Comments as Change Agents
I learned this the hard way. In 1991 I was assigned to lead a multi-country, multi-division taskforce to develop a customer satisfaction methodology as part of my company's (Sonoco) total quality management initiative. While our revenues put us at the 250 spot on the Fortune list, our headquarters was in a rural town, so our culture valued extensive learning from others. We visited numerous providers and practitioners and invited several to visit us. We developed a company-wide survey suite that tracked customer relationships and transactions, with an index and closed-loop case management for dissatisfaction that we encountered while conducting the survey. Yes, all of this was in practice more than 20 years ago. What to do with all the data collected was not well-known among those I studied — and this conundrum persists today among customer experience practitioners.

We did the same thing at the next company I worked for, but their impetus was deep frustration expressed openly by their largest customer. The vice president of customer satisfaction to whom I reported had a long career at Texas Instruments and brought us a model that described customer feedback as a lagging indicator of business results, since it describes what our stakeholders already noticed. The model emphasized the need to create action plans resolving the root causes of themes in the customer feedback. It described action plan progress metrics as leading indicators of our stakeholders' (customers!) future feedback and behaviors.

Every single line of business, account team, and functional area across the company (Applied Materials) assigned a cross-functional team to read through all the customer comments associated with a top critical performance factor (determined by correlation analysis with our index). We followed this routine annually, tracking all the action plans and progress metrics quarterly, with C-team oversight, and executive bonus program impact.

Reading the customer comments had a huge impact on our company-wide understanding of what makes customers tick. Our closed-loop management of our voice-of-the-customer and employee engagement processes gave us strong return on investment in our research. If we'd had text/voice mining back in 1994 we could have done things even faster and more holistically.

After the Y2K and dot-com bubbles burst in 2001 we decided to replace our extensive customer survey suite with the supplier report cards that our largest customers had been giving us for years. I had struggled for years with integrating the disparate rating questions across each customer's proprietary report card, so I'd favored our own survey suite's capability to consolidate ratings for simplicity of tracking our progress. What we had missed until 2002 was the value of the customer-initiated comments and the clues our customers gave us by expressing their feedback their own way — undiluted by our phrasing.

Customer-initiated comments proved to be gold as we established quarterly quality operations reviews with our chief financial officer and vice presidents of quality and marketing/sales attending the action plan progress presentations by each general manager across the company.

Customer Experience ROI Success Factors
Success factors for strong customer experience business results, according to the ClearAction Business-to-Business Customer Experience Management Best Practices Study, include:

Value of Customer-Initiated Comments
The beauty of focusing first on customer-initiated comments, and second on indexes (e.g. net promoter score, c-sat, customer relationship index, ease-of-business index, etc.) includes:

  • Respect of customers' existing efforts to explain their world.
  • Re-channel resources to zero-in on intelligence that augments rather than mimics customer-initiated feedback.
  • Sensitize originators of customer issues regarding their personal impact on customer experience.
  • Engage executives and employees company-wide in ongoing customer experience improvement and innovation.
  • Resolve and prevent recurrence of previously chronic issues that had caused customers and your company undue costs, hassles, and draining of trust and morale.
  • Re-channel the front-line to provide higher value in place of the former emphasis on remedial efforts.

Voice of the Customer ROI Stepping Stones
In ClearAction's 4-year study of customer experience practices, we noted that numerous tools for understanding customers are under-utilized, or not even considered as part of voice-of-the-customer. This spurred us to create a customer experience maturity assessment with stepping stones designed to help you achieve enduring CX ROI. Here's a glimpse at the voice-of-the-customer stepping stones:

  1. Respect existing customer feedback: embrace what customers telling you from every source, including front-line employees.
  2. Understand the whole customer experience: monitor customers' efforts both pre- and post- your touch-points, including the thought processes of all the people influencing buying decisions.
  3. Focus on customers' jobs-to-be-done: characterize expectations by customer journey triggers and integrations.
  4. Align voice-of-the-customer to customers' preferences: update your listening methodologies in accordance with what you've learned from the insights described above.

If you want to get enduring business results in customer experience management, make customer-initiated comments king. Build-in broad, bold changes to transform customer experience as diagnosed by the comments, and you'll find gold in resource savings as well as customer enthusiasm that grows your company.

This article is 4th in a 10-part series providing glimpses into our customer experience maturity assessment.

  1. Customer Experience Maturity Roadmap
  2. Customer Experience Strategy is Uncommon
  3. Customer-Centricity is Controversial

Lynn Hunsaker

Lynn Hunsaker is 1 of 5 CustomerThink Hall of Fame authors. She built CX maturity via customer experience, strategic planning, quality, and marketing roles at Applied Materials and Sonoco. She was a CXPA board member and SVAMA president, taught 25 college courses, and authored 6 CXM studies and many CXM handbooks and courses. Her specialties are B2B, silos, customer-centric business and marketing, engaging C-Suite and non-customer-facing groups in CX, leading indicators, ROI, maturity. CX leaders in 50+ countries benefit from her self-paced e-consulting: Masterminds, Value Exchange, and more.


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