Listening with Many Ears


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I once led a workshop on the topic of customer focus for a group of health insurance executives. When we got to the topic of feedback I asked what types of voice of the customer information they currently collected. The leader of their member contact center responded – with some degree of pride – by listing the types of member satisfaction feedback they routinely gathered. They collected and reported regularly on such things as overall member satisfaction, the knowledge, courtesy, and professionalism displayed by the contact center representatives, and the first-call-resolution success rate. They had done a pretty good job of covering those basics.

But we weren’t done with this topic just yet. I recall saying something like, “That’s great member feedback. What are you doing to capture feedback from employers?”

[Cue up the blank stares from the audience now.]

Someone in the group asked for clarification, so I raised what I thought was a key point they were missing: If I, as a member of their health plan called in with a problem and didn’t receive the level of service I expected or get the problem resolved to my satisfaction, I might decide to change providers at my next opportunity.

“If I leave, I take myself and three other ‘lives’ with me. You wouldn’t even notice.”

But what if something else happened?

“What if the CFO, or the Senior VP of Human Resources at one of your major employer clients determines that their organization is not getting the level of service they expect, or that their professional problems and priorities aren’t being met to their satisfaction?  How many hundreds, or maybe thousands, of members do they take with them?

So, again, how are you listening, capturing, and sharing what they have to say?”

[Recue the blank stares, this time with just a tinge of angst.]

The problem wasn’t with their call center-based voice of the customer feedback process. What they were doing was important and entirely appropriate given the goals they were pursuing and the audience they were reaching. But it was listening in just one way, to just one slice of their member base, covering content that may not have had any impact whatsoever on the business decision to stick with the current health plan or look for another. For all of a company’s employees.

They were listening, but with just one set of ears.

At our firm we talk a lot about using the right method to reach the right audience, to gather the right information necessary to achieve the right objectives. The conversations center on these questions:

What are we trying to do?

Are we trying to measure, monitor and improve service levels or operational excellence, halt the defection of major customers, or set the strategic direction of the company?

What information would be helpful?

What data and insight, if we had it, would help us to make faster, bolder decisions in pursuit of our goals?

Who among our customer contacts is best able to provide the information we want?

Is it users on a production floor? Procurement managers that make routine buying decisions? Technical buyers that make recommendations based on the best fit for their needs? Or executive contacts looking for solutions to strategic problems and competitive opportunities?

What method(s) will help us get what we need?

What VoC approaches reflect the importance and stature of the respondents, reinforce the experience you want your customers to have, and get you the types and depth of information you really want? It may be a phone survey, or a client advisory board, or in-depth customer interviews. Or some combination of those and others. But you really don’t know until the other three questions are answered.

For most organizations, using just one approach isn’t going to cut it. Instead, think about listening to many voices, with many ears.

Eric Engwall
President of E.G. Insight, Inc. Experienced consultant and business leader in the areas of strategic customer and employee feedback processes, customer loyalty, and sales effectiveness. Primary focus is using stakeholder feedback to improve critical relationships, make operational and service improvements, and pursue growth opportunities with key customers.


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