The “To Do” List: The Seven Heavenly Virtues of Customer Research


Share on LinkedIn

Having written about how not to conduct Voice of the Customer (VoC) research programs (see I often have been asked for the flip side: what are the right things to do when designing an effective program? A list of things not to do is scarcely much of a blueprint.

So far I have begged off (that is, practiced laziness) and simply told people to do the opposite of “the sins” and they’ll be fine. (After all, that is how the Seven Heavenly Virtues originally were defined, simply as the converse of the Seven Deadly Sins.) I have always known, however, that positively specifying the “To Dos” to design an effective VoC research program requires more than simply passively avoiding the “Don’t Dos.”

Absolution complete, here are the seven heavenly virtues of VoC research and why they are essential to the effective design, implementation and follow-though on any customer loyalty or customer experience research programs.


Your VoC program must be committed to meeting clearly defined business objectives that direct the research and implementation plan

This may seem like an obvious baby step, but the frequency with which companies have VoC initiatives built in a vacuum without commitment to specific business objectives continues to stun me. At the risk of stating the obvious, charting a course necessitates a starting point and a destination. Repeat after me: the research is not the objective, but merely a tool that should be motivated and directed by the business goals. Absent a business vision, the research is a meandering waste of time and money: flipping a coin would be quicker and cheaper (and probably have a smaller margin of error).


Tenaciously maintain the focus on business objectives and customize the design and solution to best meet those business objectives, given the situation, opportunity and practical constraints

This would seem a logical consequence of pursuing specific business objectives, but firms often state their objectives and then promptly turn to shop for what might already be “out there.” Don’t start with off-the-shelf, syndicated, “normative” approaches and studies – those were built either for the lowest common denominator to maximize their appeal to as many firms as possible or for the first player into the syndicate. Be tenacious: the solution your company needs is the one that best suits your business model, your value proposition, your competitive situation, your industry, given your specific opportunity and any practical constraints. Not to throw stones, but the ACSI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) makes for interesting newspaper statistics, J.D. Powers scores make good advertising copy and NPS (Net Promoter Scores) results get conference slots – but were these one-size-fits-all approaches designed for your company’s . . . ? If they meet your needs, great, use them; but don’t make the mistake of defaulting on your journey by blindly adopting someone else’s map.


Be steadfast in your focus on capturing the “Voice of the Customer” and what matters to customers

Never waver or lose sight that it’s the customer’s perspective and voice that you are trying to understand so you can capture their heart and mind, not to mention their future spend. The focus needs to be on customers and what matters to them. This means steadfastly identifying, quantifying and prioritizing the issues that matter most to customers and accurately measuring their assessment of your performance. This doesn’t mean that your internal metrics and employee perceptions aren’t important; those measures may (should) be related to what your customer’s say, but they are not the same thing.


Understand and control Who, What, When and How to feed analysis and satisfy the Why

Having decided to do the research, do it “right.” I don’t mean to imply a dogmatic vision of right and wrong, but the need to understand, design and control the critical inputs – who (sample and population) you ask what (questionnaire or guide), when (timing) and how (mode of data collection and question design) – to best address the why (business objectives). You typically abdicate control over these inputs with the off-the-shelf, syndicated, “normative” work. If you go this route, at least make certain you thoroughly understand the inputs so you know the strengths, weaknesses and any limitations of the underlying data and what it represents. In other words, if the data validly captures the experiences of left-handed fish owners who happen to be in the mall the evening of February 4th instead of watching the Super Bowl (or the commercials) like the other 111 million viewers in the US, you may want to give pause before treating the numbers as representative of your US customer base.


Set fair and meaningful goals based on the data and the objectives

Goal setting always is a challenge. Part art, part science, goals need to be anchored in reality, but drive inspiration and perspiration to improve on what matters and be supported by the resources necessary to the task. That means lots of issues to take into consideration, especially if there is money at stake. (See Being equitable means recognizing the interests and goals of all stakeholders, the practical opportunity for and constraints on improvement, the nature of survey measurement, and the fundamental purpose of setting targets.


Link to your financials and customer databases to quantify findings, drive change . . . and improve

Don’t just settle for the clichés about the importance of customer experiences and loyalty: track, validate and quantify the results and link back to business objectives, which usually are expressed in terms of financial outcomes and/or customer behaviors. Empiricism is all about practical measurement, the foundation of applied research. While there is no shortage of solid data on linkage to results, the most meaningful linkage is to your data and performance metrics to quantify the value of improvements, fund initiatives and build the business case for your company’s C-suite.


Be resolute in implementation: lead, communicate, action plan, fund initiatives . . . re-measure

While you might only be able to manage what you measure, do not assume that measurement equates to management: the results must be used to have any meaning or impact. You need a resolute commitment and drive to infuse VoC thinking into the DNA of the company and effect change. This requires:

  • Leadership – get an executive sponsor to champion the cause
  • Communications – this needs to be ongoing and targeted both internally throughout the organization and externally to customers
  • Action planning – share ideas and determine what to do (OK, we have the scores . . . now what?)
  • Fund initiatives – having empirically validated the value of improved performance, you need to fund those actions that promise the best cost/benefit ratio
  • Re-measure – the journey never ends, as the challenges, competition, customer expectations and objectives are endlessly moving, and yesterday’s results are simply the starting line for tomorrow

I can’t promise “heavenly” rewards or nirvana for these virtues, but they are a path to best practices in customer experience and loyalty VoC research programs. (And while it may seem hokey, the first letters of the various virtues – COmmitment, Tenacity, Steadfastness, Understanding, Equitable, Meaningful and Resolute – are an anagram to remind us all of what VoC is all about.)

Republished with author’s permission from original post by Howard Lax.

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.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here