The Myth of the Self-Service Voice of Customer Platform

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Sounds great, just plug-and-play. The promise is bold: you can do everything yourself without the need of expensive support and get away from reliance on the research geeks. Empower organizations to manage their Voice of Customer (VoC) programs in-house without depending on vendor support. Democratize data, make everyone a CX pro or statistician with the press of a button.

The problem is the gap (more like a chasm) between the promise and reality. Having worked/partnered/consulted with some of the major players in this domain, the reality is that most self-service client programs are fair to poor compared to those that are best-in-class. The reasons fall into two categories: technology and people.

Is VoC Tech Designed for Self-Service?

Top-flight VoC platforms — Medallia, Qualtrics, competitors, and the wannabes — really are powerful and constantly evolving to add more functionality. Reducing all that power to a “press here” approach is a massive challenge. There’s a reason why you can’t find a “Qualtrics for Dummies” guide or a “Medallia Made Easy.” Sure, you can import a questionnaire from their libraries or program your own basic survey from scratch, easily create pre-defined visualizations, and run standardized routines and analyses. But try to bring in external data from outside the platform, export data to another system, or integrate with other tools; complex surveys, design logic, and scripting are a challenge; heaven forbid you want to weight the data; and managing your own text analytics models is more theory than practice. Harnessing even a fraction of the capabilities of these platforms requires advanced, ongoing training.

Does Internal Staff Have VoC Expertise?

Most firms do not have the breadth and depth of internal staff to make the self-service model work. I don’t mean this as victim blaming, but with very, very few exceptions client companies are not sufficiently staffed to be self-service in terms of the dedication of resources to be VoC platform jockeys and the expertise to lead their VoC efforts.

Most firms assign someone — and typically a junior someone — to be trained on their platform of choice. But this isn’t Excel or some accounting package; because of the sophistication and continuous evolution of these platforms, it is extremely difficult for client-side users to stay current or truly master the functionality of these systems. The client-side end user learns to be minimally proficient at some point in time, but rarely can keep pace with platform changes. They typically fall further and further behind as the platforms move forward. The client-side platform jockey seat, moreover, often is a revolving door.

CX Leadership Challenges

Meanwhile, the leadership of the overall VoC program is similarly challenged by a lack of appropriate expertise. All too often companies treat CX as a “project” that merely requires sound project management skills, or they rotate CX leadership in-and-out as part of their routinized training before people move on to the next project.

This approach was facilitated by Medallia’s early ability to recast CX as “OCEM” — Operational Customer Experience Management. This was both a brilliant marketing maneuver to outflank the traditional market research firms and a needed push to move CX beyond languishing as a research program buried in the corporate market research group and into the company mainstream. Moving CX beyond just another research endeavor was a plus, but many firms totally severed their VoC programs — which at their core are a specialized form of customer market research — from the research professionals best equipped to design, maintain, enhance, and report on those programs.

Operationalizing meteorology and customer analytics may have given us the Weather Channel and personalized marketing campaigns, but we still need the meteorologists and number crunchers intimately involved in these efforts.

Can the DIY VoC Platform Model Work?

Putting the Hubble telescope in my backyard will not make me an astronomer, regardless of how comprehensive the user guide may be, and no number of trips to Home Depot will make me a carpenter. Here’s what’s needed for the DIY VoC model to work:

  • The platform must be designed for self-service.
  • The end user must be technically proficient in the use of the tool and constantly work to keep abreast of evolving functionality.
  • The VoC/CX program must include the necessary research skills.

The push for more advanced functionality and sophistication in these platforms puts relentless pressure on the practicality of self-service design, while few companies are dedicating the resources to effectively manage the platforms or their overall VoC efforts.

The handful of clients I have seen that maintain effective VoC/CX programs on a DIY basis have committed the technical, research, and operational staff required for success by:

  • Maintaining a group of people who regularly work on these platforms and are charged with staying current on the latest and greatest capabilities;
  • Having their research staff intimately involved in maintaining the integrity of the underlying research that is the heart of their VoC measurement efforts; and
  • Operationalizing their CX activities with the involvement of leadership and managers from the various LOBs charged with implementing change.

Most firms simply are not equipped or willing to make this level of commitment. For them, the DIY path is a mistake.

Howard Lax, Ph.D.

Supporting better informed decision making with technology, research and strategy. With a focus on CX/VoC/NPS, Employee Engagement and emotion analytics, Howard's domain is the application of marketing information and SaaS platforms to solve business problems and activating CX programs to drive business objectives.

5 COMMENTS

  1. It’s hard to believe, Howard, that any of these platforms can be marketed as completely self service. Parts of them are, but you really do need support from your IT department to do more than the very basic things. I would add that as a fourth point. Most of the complexity comes in getting your data into the systems and keeping up with hierarchies when it comes to closing the loop.

  2. Point well taken, Shelly — without the help and ongoing support of internal IT folks these platforms are more a theoretical capability than of any practical use.

  3. …….and, almost completely absent from these self-service platforms, is essential and parallel voice of the employee (VoE). Without active participation from, and input of, employees, the insight and actionability loop cannot be closed. Apart from organizations like Medallia and Qualtrics, employees as assets and stakeholders are either a benign afterthought or a non-thought.

  4. I’m not sure that’s fair, Michael. Without a doubt, these platforms tend to focus on the customer side of the equation, but the tools and applications are, for the most part, equally applicable to the employee side — but the same limitations of the “DIY” approach apply to VoE work. While I might take some flak for this, I would argue that the VoE work is hampered more by the traditionalist mindset of the HR folks who typically manage that work than it is by the limitations of these platforms.

  5. And, Howard, I’m largely in agreement with your perspectives. In addition, I’d suggest that organizational leadership’s fairly myopic, prioritized obsession with all things AI and digital too frequently gives HR little direction and few resources for an “always on” VoE insight-gathering platform.

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