modern voice of customerWhat’s the greatest challenge Voice of the Customer (VoC) managers face? Low survey response rates, capturing feedback at all important touch-points, selecting the right scales and questions, integration of customer data across systems, connecting the dots across VoC sources, linking VoC with operational and financial data, or driving customer experience (CX) excellence?

What matters most is driving customer experience excellence. That’s the purpose of VoC. All of the other efforts in the list above are means toward this end. Most VoC managers grapple with those at the expense of VoC’s purpose, according to ClearAction’s 5-year benchmarking of B2B customer experience practices. Temkin Group’s “State of VoC Programs 2016” study revealed that only 15% of VoC managers view their program as very successful, two-thirds of VoC programs aren’t good at making changes to the business based on VoC insights, and only 4% of VoC programs are at the top of the VoC maturity scale as “Transformers” (linking customer insights to operational data and processes and strategic planning throughout the company).

Investment in VoC can be staggering: several full-time employees to manage it all, subscription to a customer feedback management system for several hundred thousand dollars, analytics subscriptions (text, voice, predictive, social media, loyalty driver uplift, etc.), and continuing VoC education (certifications, conferences, etc.). No wonder Forrester’s State of Customer Experience study revealed that while 90% of executives believe customer experience is essential to their company’s strategy, 86% don’t expect to see much value from it.

But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! The Temkin report also showed significant advantages among VoC programs that are at the Transfomer and Collaborator (tailoring customer feedback to stakeholders who are diligently engaged in continuous improvement) levels. They are twice as likely to identify and solve product issues and to make strategic decisions more customer-centric. Still, only 55% of companies at these levels are doing these things.

Radical changes in VoC management are necessary. Tweaks to VoC business-as-usual (the list in the opening paragraph above) are not likely to be enough to transform your VoC into a CX Transformer (truly transforming CX, ROI, and business growth). Here are the radical changes I believe will be VoC of the future:

(1) Let customers and employees give you feedback anytime, anywhere, any way. Place links and QR codes literally everywhere to make it easy for customers to give you their insights. Allow a variety of input methods: free-form comments by voice or text or video or photo, AND selection of optional survey types (rate a transaction, rate a situation, rate an employee, rate the overall relationship, vote on a product/experience change).

Empower your employees to immediately pass along customers’ comments. Some of the juiciest insights are shared by customers informally with your employees. Make it easy to capture it on the spot. It’s kind of the reverse of a lost-sale-analysis. Spontaneous comments from customers can be streamed into relevant functional areas for proactive management.

Why: solves response rate and touch-point challenges, improves insights’ richness, increases relevance to originators of issues/applause, re-focuses VoC team’s attention to post-research data streaming to all functional areas across the company. You’ll be more likely to capture insights applicable to all company rituals, especially strategic planning. And most importantly, for customers it makes VoC much more natural and enjoyable.

(2) Focus on customers’ expectations. Change as many survey formats as possible to this: “(A) What is your ultimate objective regarding [brand]? (B) To what extent is [brand] contributing to this objective? (C) What should we (a) do more, (b) keep the same, (c) do less?”

Use a list of choices for (A) the ultimate objective: grow my business, serve customers, serve employees, build my capabilities, serve basic needs of my [business] [life], avoid pain, relax, other — specify. These choices are your customers’ “job-to-be-done“. Use any type of scale for (B) ratings. Use text/voice analytics to quantify (C) comments. You can still add “likely to recommend” and specific moments of truth rating questions.

Why: customer experience success and business success both boil down to one thing: meeting or exceeding customers’ expectations. Furthermore, customers readily talk about their expectations and their experience was harmonious or not. And insights will definitely have relevance to all your company rituals and functional areas, compelling change.

(3) Create synergy in your VoC portfolio. Treat all your VoC sources as a waterfall: (A) informal sources such as employee-customer interactions (including customer care logs), complaints, lost sales, word-of-mouth; (B) expert sources such as advisory boards, user groups, ethnography; (C) big-picture sources such as relationship surveys, journey surveys; (D) specific situation sources such as transaction surveys, web-page ratings.

Use the waterfall to streamline the emphasis of each successive VoC source. What you learn from the (A) informal sources should help you zero-in on the most meaningful topics with (B) expert sources. This learning should be applied to the question set for (C) big-picture sources, which should inform your design of (D) specific situation sources.

Why: minimizes redundancy and burden on customers, removes VoC silos, leverages existing resources before further investment, streamlines managers’ digestion of insights.

(4) Drive ROI through value-chain thinking. Recognize that everything happens as a flow; plan out the flow for everything you’re doing. A value-chain is a sequence of value-adding activities. Influence who does what, when, how and why both before and after your VoC activites.

Think bigger about compelling every functional area and every company ritual to get in-sync with VoC insights. Think bigger about VoC insight patterns. Learn and apply systems thinking. Design CX metrics as a value chain. Go beyond real-time data and actioning to preventing recurrence of chronic issues for your whole customer base.

Compare notes with managers of other types of CX efforts across the company: UX, CRM, customer care, customer success, AI, etc. Incorporate their insights, ask them to incorporate your insights, and coordinate to collectively create a seamless experience.

Why: builds-in integration and connecting the dots, shifts VoC managers to proactive change agents, minimizes silos caused by CX management itself, enriches insights, compels action at a bigger and more collaborative level.

(5) Empower yourself. Set up VoC as a determinant of corporate strategy and a shaper and refiner of all business strategies, processes, policies, structures, and rewards. Make sure your VoC team represents a “science hero” persona within your company (“Highly technically proficient scientists (often in all fields) and with a sense of adventure and curiosity. Plus, gadgets!”). Speak the language of business managers. Learn the language of each functional area. Become a facilitator of all parts of your business getting in-sync with customers. Drive insatiable curiosity about customers.

Why: expands relevancy of VoC, sets up your company to be customer-centered, links VoC to operational and financial success, elevates VoC function and career ladder, drives customer experience excellence.

Experiment with these radical changes to VoC management. Let me know what you discover!

This is the 4th of a 4-part article series:

  1. Solving the Voice of the Customer Immaturity Conundrum
  2. Solving VoC Immaturity: Fast-Track to Customer Experience Transformation
  3. Value Chain Solution to VoC ROI
  4. 5 Radical Changes to VoC of the Future to Achieve ROI Maturity

Feature image purchased under license from Shutterstock.