Customer-Centric Voice of the Customer

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customer-centric voice of the customerCustomer-centric voice of the customer may seem automatic: it’s the customer’s voice, so isn’t it automatically customer-centric? Nope. “Centric” means “being at the center”, and if your voice-of-customer is asking about you, then it’s not really asking about them.

Customer-Centric Examples

How well did we help you meet your needs? may be a better “ultimate question” because you can infer that people who felt their needs were met are likely to recommend your brand.

What’s on your wish list toward meeting your needs? may be much more fun for customers to answer than typical rating questions that are in essence like a teacher issuing a report card — blah!

What’s standing in the way of meeting your needs? may uncover table stakes and reveal evolving expectations of customers.

These examples are asking directly about the customer. Their answers tell you what you need to know about your brand’s performance. They also tell you a lot more about the customer. You’ll learn a lot more about expectations. Natural segmentation patterns will emerge among expectation-sets.

When you manage to expectations, you’re managing customer experience. Crisp characterization of expectations differences among customer groups can help your entire company understand “intentional customer experience”. When they embrace it as the north star for their daily decisions, all groups in your company can be more proactive, preventive, and collaborative in attaining customer experience leadership.

Qualitative Over Quantitative

It’s well known that more than 95% of thought, emotion and learning occur in the unconscious mind. This is why ratings fall short in capturing your customers’ world. Now we have technologies that translate audio and video into text and quantification. Even sentiment, tone, and other aspects formerly hidden are now readily available. That’s awesome. Let’s use it!

Let your customers use metaphors to describe how well your brand met their needs, or what’s missing for them. Top brands have been using metaphor research with amazing results. Metaphors provide context and deep insight into your customers’ thinking.

Encourage customers to use video, pictures, or audio to express how well your brand is meeting expectations. Whatever is easiest for your customers is customer-centric. Today we have the technological capability to process these input formats for easy digestion among managers and employees.

These examples allow customers to communicate in ways that are natural to them. That’s customer-centricity.

Pace Asking and Acting

We’re in data overload these days, collecting inputs faster than we can act on them. Wise advice I received from a fellow voice-of-the-customer manager almost 30 years ago was: ask customers for inputs as often as your industry is changing and as often as your company acts on what customers have told you.

In most situations, directional correctness is sufficient for action. Constant real-time input can be useful in some circumstances, but in most industries it’s not necessary. Unless you’re acting on the insights in ways that help your whole customer base benefit now and in the future, you’re likely expending a lot of energy and resources without moving the needle significantly.

Customer-centric voice-of-the-customer respects customers’ inputs by emphasizing cross-functional collaboration in tackling the root causes behind chronic thorny issues. VoC ROI is highest when you’re using it to guide prevention of issue recurrence for all customers.

Ideally, you’re focusing on actioning the root causes, and tracking that progress with an internal metric. We did this at semiconductor equipment-maker Applied Materials and found that our internal metrics actually predicted future customer sentiment and financial behaviors. You can count on this when you’ve conducted a robust process of correlation analysis and identification of subdrivers through Pareto analysis, followed by cross-functional reps’ 5-why’s analysis. Your use of VoC will take on a whole new light as confirmation of what you already know through action plan internal metrics.

Cash in the Attic

My friend Carol Borghesi, former SVP of Customers First Culture at TELUS, always reminds people about overlooking so-called cash in the attic. By this she’s referring to customer insights you have on-hand, that have yet to be harvested. It’s like finding a valuable heirloom in your grandmother’s trunk. This is especially powerful when you look at the patterns among voice-of-the-customer from various sources. And even more so when you connect the dots to employee feedback and operational data.

A fabulous source of voice-of-the-customer is your contact center recordings of voice, chat and other interactions. This is pure VoC because it’s customer-initiated. Customers are coming to you and saying “I was trying to do X but Y happened and Z is my consequence.” Wow! You can learn so much here about context, expectations, what’s working, what’s not, what else is on your customers’ wish list, and define their intended outcomes.

Like outcomes-based selling, knowing your customers’ intended outcomes gets you out of the weeds of features and interactions. It raises your perspective to focus on customers’ big-picture jobs-to-be-done. This can inspire wonderful creativity and innovation among your employees.

As digitalization increases it should be progressively easier to capture the 360-degree view of your customers’ world. Dennis DeGregor, author of The Customer-Transparent Enterprise and also HAILOs: Competing on AI in the Post-Google Era, advocates a 720-degree view of customers by overlaying digital insights across the customer life cycle on top of traditional insight sources.

When I’ve conducted analyses that tie together disparate sources of customer insights the findings have been profound. This may be the most customer-centric work you can do in normal times, but certainly during times of crisis when it’s awkward to conduct surveys.

Make it Easy

Customer-centric voice-of-the-customer means you’re listening to customers how, when, where they want about the what’s and why’s that are important to them. In-situ feedback opportunities are less intrusive on customers’ time and energy.

For example, when traveling it’s easier for me to give feedback to the hotel and airline when I’m with them. By the time I get home I’ve got a pile of mail, email, laundry, and errands to run. Answering their follow-up survey doesn’t factor into my bandwidth.

We now have technologies to capture what customers are saying and doing during their interactions with our brand. Why not use those insights rather than asking separately for customers to take precious time and effort?

Make it easy for customers to give you feedback anywhere, anytime, any way. Some companies use QR codes or bar codes on products, stationery, email footers, signs, packaging, and so forth to allow customers to send in their inputs at will.

During the many years I was voice-of-the-customer manager I struggled to combine the supplier report cards we received from our customers such as IBM, Motorola, Texas Instruments. The scales and factors they used were apples and oranges, so to speak. It wasn’t possible to merge them into a single, simple report for each General Manager.

Then we had a triple crisis in 2001: dot-com bubble burst, Y2K aftermath, and 9-11. This put a strain on my company and I was asked to contribute to our financial recovery by suspending our voice-of-customer outreach for a year. Instead of the usual surveys we embraced our supplier report cards. Each General Manager presented monthly at first, then quarterly, what they were doing to act on their supplier report cards. The audience in these meetings was the Chief Financial Officer and the VP of Corporate Quality. It was amazing to see how well the GMs digested the supplier report cards, and even more gratifying to see how much progress they were making in acting on those insights.

At the end of the day, customers just want their life and business to run smoothly. As customer experience leaders we should be seeking ways to synchronize our processes with customers’ natural habits. That’s customer-centric customer experience management.

Image licensed to ClearAction Continuum by Shutterstock.

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