Increasing Customer-Focus in Voice of the Customer for Business Results

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Customer-focus in satisfaction/loyalty surveys may be the lynchpin to higher response rates and to linking customer experience management (CEM) to business results as well. “Aren’t surveys already customer-focused?” you may be thinking. Well, whenever you’re the recipient of a survey, how often do you feel like the questions are focused on what you care about, versus what the surveying company cares about? And, accordingly, do you feel like the surveying company is really getting the best information from you that they can through their current surveys? For me, the answers to these questions are: not much and no. Let’s face it: there’s room for improvement in making voice of the customer (VoC) efforts truly customer-focused.

The perennial dilemma for survey designers is finding the balance between asking too much or too little, affecting respondent fatigue and response rate levels. But take a look at your call center logs and other customer-initiated feedback. When customers talk about things they’re passionate about, there’s essentially no such thing as respondent fatigue or asking too much. The real dilemma at-hand is not so much finding the right survey length, but rather, finding the right customer-focus that opens up customers’ passions related to what your products, services, and experiences do for them.

How to Discover Your Customers’ Passion Buttons for Your Brand

Contrary to popular belief, doing what everyone else is doing might be the exact wrong thing to do, as described in my article: 8 Paths to Value via Benchmarking Studies. Often, the route to differentiation is to take the high road and leapfrog the masses. A smaller yet smarter segment of organizations is discovering their customer’ passion buttons by analyzing unstructured data (survey comments, call center logs, social media comments, etc., often with the help of text mining and voice mining tools) and/or visiting customers to observe their experiences. These analyses and visits can be quite eye-opening by revealing the larger context of how your product, service and touch-points play into value-add or hassle factors (i.e. customer value quotient) in your customers’ ongoing quest to succeed in their life/business.

Here are some examples shared in the 3rd Annual ClearAction Business-to-Business Customer Experience Management Best Practices Study:

Customer Personas: To better understand customers, what their day looks like, and how they use their purchased solutions, teams from LexisNexis (professional software provider) visited clients in various roles and observed them using their products. Then they aggregated findings from dozens of these “job shadowing” visits to create composite customers for each major role. Called user personas, the output was a series of profiles that included the fictitious customers’ pictures, interests, demands, and goals. Personas were posted physically in offices and sent electronically to team members to help everyone understand the big picture and be more sensitive to customer perspectives. “The information was also used to make products more relevant and successful,” said Jennifer Maldonado, former Customer Experience Program Manager for one of LexisNexis’ U.S. divisions. “Product management and development teams learned to improve and create features tailored to the needs of specific user personas. One example of this was combining two separate screens in an application into one to simplify the user experience for the paralegal role, an idea born from observing actual users in their offices toggle back and forth between two different pages repeatedly throughout the day.”

Close to the Customer: To help employees relate to B2B customers’ day-to-day realities, a division of Sungard (risk management firm) conducts a monthly interview webcast with a customer, asking 3 questions: “What is the purpose of your company, your group and your role? How do you use our software to meet your business needs? What is a good customer experience for you?” This unfiltered, direct exposure to customers is valuable in understanding how their products and services impact customers’ personal quality of life and business objectives.

Customer Mirrors: Observation of customers at their work site is a program that Maersk Line (freight provider) calls “Customer Mirrors”. While the company had mapped their own internal processes, they know they need to have a clear picture of the processes their customers go through. Employees visit the customer to see how they interact with the company, observing without a specific problem in mind. For the people dealing with the company on a daily basis, what do they actually do? How easy is it for them to find the appropriate person to deal with? What is it like for them to navigate the company’s website and fill in forms? While the focus is on observing, a bit of problem-solving is typical when customers request it. Findings are posted in the offices to provide a Customer Mirror for all employees to look into and learn from.

Findings from these valuable in-depth research tools should be used far and wide in your company to inject additional customer-focus into all of your customer feedback efforts as well as day-to-day attitudes, processes, and decision-making company-wide. That’s how you’ll begin to reap exponential business results from customer experience management. Shift away from company-focused surveys and move toward customer-focused surveys by tailoring them according to your findings from these types of in-depth research. Response rates are likely to improve, but even more importantly, the validity and value of the information you collect is likely to increase exponentially.

Applying Customer-Focus from Voice of the Customer

One of the keys to success is attaining sufficient budget to manage CEM effectively. And to do that, executives want to see that great things are happening because of your CEM investments. Based on the Temkin Group’s voice of the customer maturity stages published in Assessing the Maturity of Voice of the Customer Programs, the 2012 ClearAction CEM study asked B2B companies where they’re at in the maturity journey: 1) collecting data, 2) analyzing data, 3) collaborating cross-functionally for continuous improvement, or 4) transforming business-as-usual to truly customer-centric operations.

B2B_VoiceOfCustomer_2012

Here’s what the masses are doing: A third of participating B2B companies are asking owners of VoC key drivers to create action plans, and one in four firms is collecting anecdotal or formal VoC, but not analyzing or acting upon it.

Inject customer-focus in your VoC strategy by striving to manage things the way your customers view your brand: as one cohesive entity, not as a variety of silos, data collectors, and unilateral action plan achievers. A smaller, smarter segment of companies (based on the 2012 ClearAction study) is injecting customer-focus in their VoC strategy: one in eight B2B firms is using cross-functional collaboration to continuously improve VoC, and one in ten firms is striving to transform business-as-usual toward truly customer-centric operation of their company.

Recommendations:

  • Leap-frog the masses and build a roadmap that will accelerate your company’s progress on the VoC journey toward transforming business to truly customer-centric operations.
  • Design VoC to be useful to as many functional areas and business processes as possible.
  • Design VoC to maintain the customer’s viewpoint, priorities, and phrasing.
  • Nurture an insatiable curiosity about customers within your company-wide culture.

It’s a joy to receive revenue from customers, but it’s not always a joy to be a customer. Let’s improve customer-focus in what we do and make our customers and our organizations alike more joyful and effective. Doing so will make it easier to link customer experience management to strong business results.

Hear interviews with executives from Sungard and CenturyLink about their approach to increasing customer-focus through customer visits/interviews in the recordings from the Customer Experience Optimization talk show.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I was asked the other day whether our company guarantees a 70% response rate. My answer was an unequivocal "no!”

    Yes, we have an average worldwide response rate of more than 70%, but no, we cannot guarantee it.

    I explained that the response rate depends upon a lot of factors, some of which are within InfoQuest's control or sphere of influence, and some aren't.

    The gentleman who was asking the question had recently started work at a client of ours, and had been tasked with helping to put together the list of customers who will be included in this year's survey. Not only are these customers of his worldwide; some of them are in pretty remote mining areas of Africa, Russia and South-east Asia – and last time we got them a 69% response rate.

    I explained that one of the things that affect the response rate was the strength of the relationship between our clients and their customers – something we know nothing about until we begin the validation process (when we telephone the customers, ask if they are willing to help with this exercise, and check that we have the correct contact details before sending out the box).

    About an hour later I heard from one of our validators that there was a problem with a current project. This was a repeat survey where the client had mailed the customers, telling them about the upcoming InfoQuest project, and the client had used old customer data that was full of errors – incorrect spelling of customers' names, wrong job titles and misspelled company addresses. We knew it was old data because it was the same data that they'd given us last time. Two years ago we'd verified it with the customers and passed the corrections back to our client – who should have updated the customer contact details, but hadn't.

    Customer lists can be quite dreadful, and it's usually because of poor discipline on the part of whoever enters the data in the first place. (In one recent survey there were three sex-changes, where a Mr should have been a Mrs or vice versa).

    My view is that, in business-to-business, the customer base is [usually] the most valuable asset a company has. And that should be the starting point when people are trained to maintain the customer database to the highest possible quality.

  2. Thanks for your comment, John. You’re right that the stronger the existing customer relationship, the better the survey response rate will be. And that accurate customer data makes a big difference.

    My point in the article is that we typically ask questions in surveys that don’t really turn customers on. Hence, it’s rather boring or essentially a matter of duty, or an outlet for extreme dissatisfaction or delight when someone takes a survey, whether in B2B or B2C.

    If we were to slow down from the rat-race of traditional survey design and take some time to carefully analyze customer-initiated comments and/or observe the customer in their own environment with an eye toward really stepping into their shoes for the big picture of what your product/service/experience does for them, then we would be able to adapt our survey questions/methods to elicit passionate feedback from customers. And that would be much more valuable, both to our business’ ability to align with customers, and to naturally developing passion for our brand among customers, impacting both revenue and profit.

    -Lynn

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