Do you remember the old commercial for Tombstone Pizza? The tagline was, “What do you want your tombstone?” (By the way, if you clicked through and it’s driving you crazy, the character actor is a fellow by the name of Oliver Muirhead, and if you also share my obsession with Seinfeld, he played Lubeck the pastry appraiser in the episode “The Frogger” who told Peterman that he could get an Entenmann’s—who do not have a castle in Windsor—in the display case at the end of the aisle.) Dark humor aside, it made me wonder how we sometimes gear our VoC programs to hear what we want to hear, and as a result, back our Customers into a corner.
Let’s take a deeper look at that.
Usually, when we discuss VoC, we’re talking about after-the-fact feedback on an interaction with our brand. But lots of smart brands also use VoC proactively to learn what their Customers want from them. It’s smart because it offers your Customers a chance to share their insights before you invest in new products or offerings. You don’t want to roll out a whole new product or service with lots of fanfare only to find nobody’s buying what you’re selling. Ahem. Cough-cough.
As great as it is to do this sort of due diligence upfront, depending on how we formulate it, it can also lead us astray. I once had a client interested in expanding offerings and had a few ideas that the leadership thought would be a hit with their current Customer profiles. Now, generally speaking, this organization was very Customer-centric and was serving a community from which they came themselves, so they weren’t likely to be too far off the mark anyway. They’d already done a bit of VoC work before they brought me in and when they showed me the results of their earlier surveying, I was skeptical. “Look,” one member of the leadership team told me, “80% of our Customers want this new feature.”
“That’s awesome,” I said. “Can I see the survey results?” What I’d suspected was the case turned out to be accurate. The survey went something like this: ‘Question 1: Here’s a cool idea we’re thinking of. Do you like it?… Question 2: Here’s another cool idea. Do you like it?… Question 3: Alright, now here’s something else. Pretty cool, huh?’ And on and on. Well, when you put it that way, one thing that’s really helpful is if nobody likes an idea. But without tying a cost to it, without offering countervailing options, it’s pretty assured that basically every idea is going to sound cool and like a great addition to your current portfolio. This is sure to give you a false sense that you’ve struck gold with your proposed product enhancements.
I’ve seen other organizations offer up a ranking system in their survey: If we offered these five new features, which would you think is the best, second best, and so on. Or, here are a bunch of cool things we’re thinking of. Which three of them do you think we should go for if we could only do so much?
These are certainly a better approach, but look at what they’re still missing: The actual thoughts of the Customers! As a Customer, I’ve had countless experiences where I wondered, Why doesn’t this product or service do this? It seems like a no-brainer. But that’s because I’m the Customer…it’s more likely than we’d like to admit that someone, sheltered within the confines of that company, isn’t even aware that the Customers interacting with their products or services may all be sharing a frustration with the brand that’s obvious from the outside but that we’re missing.
Here’s an example: Why, after all these years (man on the moon, etc.), doesn’t my iPhone know to switch to cell service if I don’t have Internet access through a nearby WiFi signal? As it now stands, I can’t do anything on my phone that entails using the Internet if, say I go into a store that offers a WiFi hotspot but I’m not logged in…my phone is trying to connect to a private network. I have to manually (funny, the use of that word these days) disable the WiFi from the Settings screen in order to use the 4G that I’d otherwise have access to. That’s not to give Apple a hard time, but if I ever got an email from them soliciting my thoughts on an enhancement for the next O/S or hardware update, that’d be at the top of my list: Default to cell service if there’s no accessible signal through the WiFi network. On the other hand, if they sent me a list of great new functions they were thinking of working on, they would certainly get my preference among that list, but no insights into what’s truly driving me crazy about their product.
So keep asking your Customers what they want. By all means (please!) involve them in your enhancement efforts. But make sure to let them offer their own thoughts, not simply choose between yours.
To bring it back around to the morbid metaphorical opening, don’t make them choose between drowning and a firing squad…either choice ends up with an undesirable solution.