There is a lot of talk about voice of the customer (VoC) in customer experience (CX) circles. Most of it has to do with sifting through lots of data to determine what customers say about their needs and their perception of how well companies meet those needs. Sometimes the data comes through feedback surveys in the form of numerical rankings and/or open-ended text fields where, due to volume, text analytics are often used to gauge customer sentiment and monitor feedback trends.
The goal of VoC is to optimize companies’ customer journeys – essentially, the sum of their end-to-end experiences while interacting with your company or brand. By collecting and analyzing the data captured, organizations can benefit by finding efficiencies that lead to reduced costs and identifying opportunities that yield increased customer satisfaction, loyalty, and sales.
Before you can benefit from VoC initiatives, however, you first must ensure that you’re not so caught up in the analysis that you can no longer see and respond to the obvious. Here are three blatant actions to avoid that I frequently encounter as a consultant and customer, each of which invalidates or suppresses VoC results:
Don’t accept garbage. In computer science, garbage in, garbage out (GIGO) is the concept that flawed input data produces unreliable output or “garbage.” In VoC, it shows up in the form of customer survey tampering that undermines data integrity. A repeat offender is automobile dealerships. When I bought a new SUV five years ago, the dealership gave me a satisfaction survey to complete that had all the top ratings boxes highlighted for me to check before submitting to the manufacturer. Another local dealership’s service department offers an immediate online survey to elicit what customers’ responses will be to the survey that will eventually come from the manufacturer – the one on which they are graded and incentivized. If they are not perfect scores, the dealership pleads with you to allow them to resolve any outstanding issues to your satisfaction in order for their dealership’s performance rating to be unblemished – even though the result was manipulated and doesn’t reflect the customer’s actual experience. Manufacturers don’t learn from fake scores. They learn from genuine customer feedback.
Don’t ignore customers. Years ago, I worked with a New Yorker who had a subtle way of telling you to get lost. She’d say, sarcastically, “Love ya. Mean it” and then walk away leaving you to decipher how you should feel about the encounter. I have the same reaction to businesses that ignore the comments, questions, or feedback I share through surveys (that they ask me to complete), social media, or website contact. Of course, they LOVE me as a customer and clamor for my attention, spending, and feedback. But when I respond to them or initiate contact, I’m often ignored – and left feeling decidedly unloved. This summer alone I’ve submitted two home improvement jobs to companies via their websites’ contact pages. In both cases, I followed up with photos and phone calls. I eventually contacted a competitor for one of the businesses and have now completed the $988 glass and mirror project. Companies typically spend a lot of marketing dollars to spur web traffic, contact page submissions, and phone calls. Most can’t afford to then ignore customers’ inquiries and feedback.
Don’t go on autopilot. Just as autopilot relieves a pilot from having to constantly monitor the airplane’s controls, the use of boilerplate and template replies to customer inquiries are commonly used for efficiency and to increase the uniformity of responses’ structure and language. I am all for finding efficiencies that reduce cost to serve and other factors that erode profit margins. At issue is boilerplate responses that leave customers dissatisfied and their problems unresolved. I recently reached out to a popular sunglasses brand via its website’s contact page to find a remedy for the incessant fogging of my sunglasses due to wearing a face mask for protection in public places. The company responded within 24 hours via a standardized message to “please contact our Customer Care phone line.” There are a couple of problems with this reply: it does not address my issue in any way, so I feel unheard, and it requests that I contact the company a second time through a different channel to resolve an issue that I already explained via a Customer Care contact page at its website. This requires me to needlessly expend additional customer effort.
If the goal of VoC is really to optimize the customer experience, that means organizations should leave no stone unturned in their quest for CX improvement. This level of process improvement scrutiny assumes that the obvious variables have already been addressed: that customer feedback is not being manipulated so as to invalidate the results; that customers are not being ignored; and that process efficiencies don’t alienate or create work for customers.
Illustration by Aaron McKissen.