Who are the many customer experience voices going unheard - and how is their absence harmful?
There are many more voices that can contribute to our understanding of customer experience than most organisations realise.
By now, we’ve all been asked the question “How likely is it that you would recommend my (organisation/product/service) to a friend or colleague?” - it’s the foundation of the globally popular Net Promoter Score (NPS).
Whether you are a fan of NPS or not, there’s no denying that it has been the catalyst for many discussions about how to measure customer experience. A similar approach is behind the Customer Satisfaction Score (CSat), and the slightly different approach behind the customer effort score (CES).
All of the above are examples of listening to the Voice of the Customer, but the book also describes how accurately measuring the perception of customer experience is dependent upon gathering data from ‘the three voices of CX measurement’:
- The Voice of the Customer (VoC) – which describes how your customers perceive the experience / journey
- The Voice of the Employee (VoE) – which gives the perspective of the organisation’s employees, and
- The Voice of the Process (VoP) – which can provide a link between the business activity and the journey.
Yet, it would be a mistake to think of these three voices in isolation - indeed they are just a part of a multi-layered, continuous narrative that spans the entirety of experience – before, during and after a specific interaction or customer journey.
For the sake of this article, we shall focus on the voices that make up an organisational value chain.
The voice of the value chain
A concept first introduced by Michael Porter, a value chain is a description of how an organisation transforms resources (raw materials and labour) into products and services. For those familiar with the concept of customer journeys, one might consider it as the meta-journey an organisation undertakes to create value – the business result.
In an ideal world, an organisation would start out with a clear vision and purpose – it’s raison d'être – in most cases this would be how it creates value for its stakeholders. Of course, this couldn’t happen in a vacuum, so its purpose has to extend to how it fulfils the needs of its customers, with the support of employees, themselves enabled by business processes and technology.
However, in the real world, that ideal picture often becomes inverted – the systems become the start of a long process that ends up delivering a business result.
Systems – Whether it be an established organisation or a rising disruptor, investments in technology - the systems - often end up dictating what data needs to be collected and how it is processed. For most, it is simply too difficult or expensive to build or customise a systems platform to perfectly meets its requirements, never mind those of its customers. This can be even more the case when the system is accessed as ‘Software as a Service’ solution.
Processes – Often wholly dependent upon the underpinning systems, processes frequently reflect as much the needs of the systems as they do those of employees or customers. Surrounding the processes are rules and measures designed to ensure compliance, or procedures to deal with exceptions (which usually default to the least ‘risky’ solution).
Journeys – Between them, the systems and processes usually dictate the journeys that employees need to undertake when serving customers. Whilst efforts can be made to reengineer bloated, outdated processes, all too often they continue to accumulate additional tasks and decision-gates. Every time something ‘bad’ happens, a new decision-gate is added to prevent reoccurrence.
Employees / Channels – So, employees are constrained to follow the journeys, using the preferred / supported channels that in turn reflect the processes and the systems – often with very little flexibility. So ubiquitous is this state of affairs that it became the catchphrase of a long-running TV comedy sketch “the computer says no” – where common sense and humanity seem to have no role to play. If there is one thing guaranteed to irritate a customer, it is when an organisation’s internal process needs become the customer’s problem.
Customers – At this point, it’s worth remembering that most customers don’t care what it takes to deliver a product or service – they are only interested in how it meets their needs. Furthermore, customers do not evaluate an experience on a logical, independent basis – rather through the lens of their prior experience and expectation.
“Experience is not what happens to you – it’s how you interpret what happens to you.” Aldous Huxley
When customers are presented with an imperfect, inflexible experience, they judge it against the best experiences they’ve had elsewhere (albeit within the context of a specific industry or sector) and their expectations.
Experience – It is at this point that many organisations first attempt to measure customer experience with tools like satisfaction surveys, star ratings, and so on. To the naive, a single measure is then used to sum up the totality of customer experience. The more sophisticated look beyond the number to the first-order ‘drivers’ of the number and a few, a very few, look beyond that to what is really driving the customer’s experience; an end-to-end analysis.
Business results – Whilst there is ample evidence of the correlation between delivering a good customer experience and better business results, ultimately business impact can be affected by any part of the preceding value chain. What’s more, correlation is not the same as causation – and although we may like the simplicity of a single number measure of customer experience, it often masks a subtler picture.
Listening to the voices
Right now, many organisations are turning to technology to survive – scrambling to implement systems to overcome the obstacles of COVID-19 and the measures put in place to contain the pandemic. In the context of a value chain, we can see that this will potentially have an impact on employees, customers and ultimately business results.
To make matters worse, many customers themselves are going through a transformation – adapting to new personal, work and financial situations – meaning that much of what we learnt about them in the past may no longer hold true.
Every stage of the value chain creates data – speaking in its own voice. To truly understand what is driving customer behaviour and thence business results, we have to get better at listening – not just gathering data, but analysing it to find meaning, the cause at the root of the effect, and we have to do that along the whole value chain.
The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth
At the end of the day, an organisation can measure what it wants; when it wants to; and can choose to do something or nothing with it. One of the keys to the success of any measurement system is understanding the purpose of having it in the first place.
A quote often credited to Peter Drucker - ‘what gets measured get managed - is one that many have agreed with over the years is that but perhaps the original quote from VF Ridgeway is more reflective of what really happens all too often:
“What gets measured gets managed… even when it's pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organisation to do so." - V F Ridgway, Dysfunctional Consequences of Performance Measurements, 1956
Even so, many businesses measure many things and fail to do anything with the output. If the motivation is to ‘control’ employees, then measurement may have an effect on productivity to some degree but will result in employees doing ‘what they are told’, without thinking – not something that aligns to a customer-centric strategy.
If the motivation is to recognise and reward employees, then measurement will also influence productivity but will almost certainly result in behaviours that benefit the employees concerned, rather than colleagues or customers.
If capturing; listening to; and acting on the three voices of customer experience measurement can stand any chance of achieving measurable change that will benefit the customer, employee AND shareholder, then the motivation MUST be about doing what is right for the whole organisation. The motivation must be about getting to the truth – it is only when the truth is known and understood that action can be taken to address the priorities.
By Peter Dorrington – Founder of XMplify Consulting and Ian Golding – Founder of the Customer Experience Consultancy and author of Customer What? – the honest and practical guide to customer experience.