Customer experience transformation is the top priority of business-to-business (B2B) companies that track customer survey data. That’s according to a series of global B2B customer experience studies that I led. 80% of B2B companies said they track voice-of-the-customer (VoC) as a means to improve business processes and 63% do it to increase customer-centricity. So, are we really setting ourselves up for success in these objectives? My conversations with B2B VoC managers over the years, and even recently, indicate that most of us are falling short.
Five levels of VoC maturity were identified in a report by Temkin Group:
1) VoC Novices — in the very early stages of VoC development
2) VoC Collectors — focusing on listening-post selection, which questions to ask, and which metrics to use
3) VoC Analyzers — spending the majority of their time finding insights from VoC data
4) VoC Collaborators — tailoring customer feedback to stakeholders who are engaged in continuous improvement
5) VoC Transformers — linking customer insights to operational data and processes and strategic planning throughout the company
Sources: levels identified by Temkin Group; this slide is from the ClearAction CCXP Exam Prep Course
About half of B2B firms are still in the pre-action stage of VoC maturity. This does not jibe with the objectives mentioned above: 80% intend to improve processes and 63% intend to improve customer-centricity. Why is there a gap?
Often it’s because of the way we start our customer experience management efforts. It’s tempting to start with VoC. But it’s better to start with a change management plan. This plan should be about who needs to do what, when, why, and how, regarding the overall objectives: business process and customer-centricity improvement. When you start with a change management plan, you can set everyone’s expectations for what they need to do when they receive VoC reports. When you’ve thought through the potential obstacles to follow-through on VoC insights and action plans, you can put things in place to move quickly into the upper levels of VoC maturity. There’s no reason, really, why it must take many years to be strong in the top two levels. It’s mostly a matter of mindset and advance planning.
When we start with VoC rather than an overall CX change management plan, we are usually thinking that we need to get customer input first, in order to know what changes are top priorities. We tend to think that once we get our bearings with VoC collection for a few cycles, then the action will naturally follow. What typically happens with this mindset is that VoC administration takes on a life of its own. VoC managers find themselves on a never-ending treadmill of surveying and reporting, with little bandwidth — and often, very little know-how for driving action that transforms business processes and customer-centricity.
When we start with VoC, we get the alphabet soup of listening posts that I mentioned in my last post in this series: "How to Increase Synergy in B2B Voice-of-the-Customer". Most companies have a variety of surveys, along with customer advisory boards, user groups, and many other types of VoC. When I ask them how all those VoC paint a full picture for General Manager A and General Manager B in their company, it's rare that anyone has connected those dots. Think of the power that could be tapped into by business units if there were a sequencing of VoC methods to build upon one another, preventing duplication and increasing subsequent collective wisdom about how to align the company with customers’ needs.
When we start with VoC, we tend to be more tactical and less strategic. That's why the business process improvements and customer-centricity currently driven by VoC may not fully offset the investment we're making in VoC. In Forrester Research's 2013 "State of Customer Experience" report, 90% of executives said customer experience is vital to their company's success, yet 86% said they didn’t expect to see significant value from customer experience management. We need to think bigger, and more strategically.
When you pre-plan who needs to do what, when, why, and how, think big. In addition to closing the loop with customers at a micro level with survey participants, plan how you will close the loop at a macro level, to benefit your whole customer base. In addition to expecting immediate action on dissatisfiers, look for patterns with each VoC effort — and across all your VoC efforts — to create an end-to-end view of customer experience, and to create a single view of each account's customer experience. In addition to engaging customer-facing staff and channel partners, plan to engage everyone across the company in understanding and proactively managing their ripple effect on customer experience.
Only 61% of B2B managers said that they expect Operations departments to take action of VoC insights. Only 34% said they expect cross-organizational teams to take action. Yet the types of issues getting in the way of ease-of-doing-business are typically operational and cross-organizational. These findings from our research magnify the mis-match between VoC objectives and VoC realities.
Whether you're starting out in customer experience management or well underway, it's better to create your big-picture customer experience change management plan now. Don't delay. In fact, change management is the most essential tool for any customer experience manager. Improving processes and customer-centricity to differentiate your company's customer experience requires careful, ongoing planning, with big expectations. The only thing standing in the way of customer experience transformation — by linking customer insights to operational data and processes and strategic planning throughout the company — is our mindset.
This article is part of a series on Optimizing B2B Customer Experience:
- How to Synergize B2B Voice-of-the-Customer
- Account Teams in B2B Customer Experience: Help Me Help You
- B2B Customer Experience: Do This, Not That
- Customer Experience ROI Opportunities in B2B Touchpoints
- B2B Voice-of-the-Customer: Integrating Decision Influencers’ Views
- Understanding Business-to-Business Purchase Decisions
- Business-to-Business Customer Experience: What’s it Like?