Voice-of-the-customer (VoC) is often the start and focus of customer experience management, as well it should be in several respects. It’s about paying attention to “the hand that feeds you”. But stop to think about the customer experience return on investment (CX ROI) implications of this emphasis:
- By starting your customer experience management (CXM) with VoC, you’re probably side-stepping the all-important foundation of CX strategy and customer-centered culture. Ask any VoC manager what their biggest concern is after a few years of conducting surveys and most will tell you that gaps in strategy and culture plague their progress.
- By focusing CXM on VoC you’re likely to be so busy updating/selecting samples, driving response rates, poring over data, and packaging graphs and presentations that most of the other internal engagement efforts needed to fix broken things get short shrift. Ask any customer who’s participated in surveys what their biggest concern is, and most will tell you they feel like not much changes for the good after they generously share feedback.
These weaknesses in VoC are evidenced in Temkin Group’s 2013 State of VoC Programs study:
- 7% of companies are VoC novices, in the very early stages of VoC development.
- 37% are VoC collectors, focusing on listening post selection, which questions to ask, and which metrics to use.
- 37% are VoC analyzers, spending the majority of their time finding insights from VoC data.
- 16% are VoC collaborators, tailoring customer feedback to stakeholders who are engaged in continuous improvement.
- 4% are VoC transformers, linking customer insights to operational data and processes, as well as strategic planning throughout the company.
With statistics like that, it’s no wonder that executives are frustrated about CX ROI. How many other business efforts are allowed to stay in the non-transformation phase year-in and year-out? VoC is not an end in itself. It’s a means to an end.
Here are 3 keys to getting it right: respect existing customer feedback, understand the whole customer experience, and align VoC to customers’ preferences.
1) Respect Existing Customer Feedback: Remember the purpose of CXM is to build strong relationships that yield better results for the company and for customers.
DO THIS: Collect customer comments from your front-line employees, CRM, service call and sales call reports, complaint logs, social and other sources. Historically, comments were unwieldy, but now we have technologies that help consolidate, sort, prioritize, and deliver relevancy. Like any human-to-human relationship, let’s respect what customers have already told us before asking them to say it again.
NOT THAT: Surveys are often “jumped into” because “everybody’s doing it”. If you want to stand out from your competitors, think carefully about what’s best for your customers and for your unique culture. Scores and indexes are typically over-emphasized to the exclusion of reading, studying, and acting on customers’ comments. Is that what you’d do in any other type of relationship in your life or business?
2) Understand the Whole Customer Experience: The whole experience is whatever the customer defines it as — and typically has an earlier starting point, a later ending point, and more behind-the-scenes efforts by customers than managers tend to define it.
DO THIS: Allow customers to give you feedback about their experience, and their world. Make sure you’re understanding their challenges and journey before any touch-point occurs, as well as post-purchase, and behind-the-scenes among their decision-makers. What does your product/service get combined with in the customers’ use, and what implications does that have for customers? These are essential sources for performance improvement and innovation ideas, if you’re aiming to differentiate customer experience and improve business results.
NOT THAT: Resist the temptation to copy someone else’s survey questions, design surveys as a means to determine departments’ bonuses, or enable your survey to support your planned public relations and marketing claims. What a waste of everyone’s time and investment. Don’t confuse your world with the customer’s world. When you ask customers to rate you, that’s not necessarily indicative of how well their needs were met. And when they answer in terms of their world, you not only gain context that illuminates their expectations, you also increase the likelihood of higher response rates. Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Let them.
3) Align VoC to Customers’ Preferences: Allow customers to provide you feedback when, where, how, and on what they prefer. After all, VoC is intended to improve — not detract from — customer experience.
DO THIS: Find out what feels most comfortable for customers, and what draws them out to gladly share their world with you. Build-in some flexibility to adapt your methodology over time. Or be willing to abandon non-customer-friendly methods when you discover what works best for customers’ experience. Only ask for more feedback as quickly as you can act on what you already have, or when things may have changed. Enable customers to volunteer feedback anytime, any place, and put processes in place to capture it and channel it to departments in your company (or your external partners) with emphasis on acting on it.
NOT THAT: Resist the inclination to stick with a methodology purely for internal reasons. While ratings continuity is desirable, what’s the point when the very thing you’re aiming to improve is hindered in the VoC process? New technologies make it easier now to customize questions, allow substantial comments, and translate customers’ world context to actionable information in your world. Get out of the old-school rut of stock-piling or vaporizing customer feedback in your CRM, contact center, and other sources; the originators of those problems, wherever they may be, need to receive that customer feedback and be held accountable to prevent recurrence.
A sensible approach to voice-of-the-customer is what’s needed for sustained customer experience business results. Make VoC the central focus for CXM — and for everything the company does! To do this, make sure your CXM resourcing enables facilitation of strategy, culture, employee engagement in continuous improvement, and everything else that’s needed to respond to and build upon inputs from “the hand that feeds you”. For long-lasting customer experience ROI, respect existing customer feedback, understand the whole customer experience, and align VoC with customers’ preferences.
- “VoC, Customer Insight & Understanding” is one of the six domains in the body of knowledge advocated by the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA).
- The concept of “Do This, Not That” is borrowed from the popular book “Eat This, Not That“, where the weaknesses of common practices and myths are brought to light and sensible replacements are recommended.
- Other articles in this series:
Images purchased under license from Shutterstock.
Contact the author, Lynn Hunsaker, to find out how to customize these practices to your situation.