Voice of the Customer programmes and customer surveys provide an invaluable source of insight into the performance of your business. But there is another source closer to home that organisations can also draw upon to add further detail and a different perspective on your customer’s experience.
James Bolle, VP head of client services EMEA at InMoment, explains: “While a single customer can share his/her perceptions of their experiences at specific touchpoints and throughout their journeys, they provide an important, but limited, sample size of one. A single employee, on the other hand, may interact with hundreds of customers each day and therefore the depth of their feedback around the customer experience is much greater. Also, the breadth of their perspective is greater as they can see all of the elements that contribute to a good or bad experience.
“The elements that may frustrate an employee, whether it be making a customer wait in line, poor service from customer care or billing, or any myriad of issues, are often the same things that frustrate customers.”
Karine Del Moro, vice president of marketing at Confirmit, agrees: “Customers who provide feedback are only able to talk about their own experience – which is, of course, what you want to understand. However, employees on the front line who speak to many customers every day (particularly those in contact centres) are perfectly placed to recognise patterns in what customers say to them directly. Not only can they identify that the same issues may be arising time and again, but they can help to understand which underlying processes are failing and therefore are causing pain points.”
Nicholas Watkis, chief executive of Contract Marketing Service, adds: “In every business, the workforce have a day-to-day understanding of how the business operate. While senior management may provide overall direction, business operations are carried out at a lower level.
“For the commercial manager, this means that the detailed understanding of customer requirements and how they are satisfied resides in the employees who are generally in closer contact with customers and the market than senior management.
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“It follows that employees with that knowledge will be the first to know when things go right or wrong, and how processes may be failing or be improved.”
Voice of the Employee
The collection and use of this source of information has been labelled ‘Voice of the Employee’, with Forrester Research defining it as: “Any feedback from employees or partners that pertains to their ability to deliver great customer experiences.”
But gathering VoE feedback isn’t always straightforward. While organisations should encourage staff to proactively share feedback they have – even if they are uncomfortable truths – the reality is that some employees are not as forthcoming as others, and so a more structured programme is required.
This has inevitably led to VoE being baked into the employee engagement surveys that have become commonplace in recent years. This is certainly a good way of adding value to these internal surveys.
“Most times, employee engagement is viewed in a vacuum,” says Bolle. “Every year or year-and-a-half, the human resources department trots out a survey asking employees to rate their satisfaction with various aspects of their jobs: benefits, pay, management, work-life balance, and so on. Rarely, if ever are employees explicitly asked about their perspectives on the customer experience. What are their perceptions of what’s working, and what’s not—and more importantly—why? What would they recommend as solutions? What new ideas do they have to improve how your brand delivers on customer expectations?”
The problem with relying on employee engagement surveys as the vehicle for customer experience feedback, is that they are rarely conducted regularly enough to capture timely information.
“If employees can provide you with such a large percentage of actionable, success-driving insights, asking for their opinion cannot be relegated only to the normal 18-to-24-month employee engagement survey cycle,” says Bolle. “As gold mines of insight-laden information, smart brands should provide a variety of employee feedback forums.”
“To get it right, first make an inventory of the current VoE sources by looking at customers' journeys and the underlying ecosystem as well as the employment journey. Then use this as a basis to develop a road map for VoE listening posts to enhance or develop. Once you have a better idea of where you want the VoE program to go, you’ll need to think about how to free up and train employees to ensure that you get quality feedback and how to make giving feedback a priority for employees so that you get lots of it.
“And then consider which vendors can help you build that programme — think of not only Voice of the Customer vendors but also HR consultancies, enterprise social networking platforms, and ideation platforms. And finally, create a routine of asking yourself every day: Have I listened to what an employee of my company had to say about the employee or customer experience?”
Getting VoE right
This systematic approach to VoE should also utilise a number of different feedback vehicles, continues Stern.
“CX teams have to cast a wide net to collect different elements of VoE data, from insights about a customer's pain points to the underlying policies, processes and technology systems affecting the customer's — and the employee's own — experience. The insights will come from a variety of data sources, solicited (like an employee survey or a comment box) as well as unsolicited (like social media comments), structured (like surveys and performance evaluations) as well as unstructured (like open comments), and direct as well as implied (like attrition rates). Your task is to collect feedback in a disciplined way and to make it effortless for employees to give feedback.”
Del Moro adds: “By asking your employees to complete short surveys around what they hear from customers, you can act more quickly and resolve issues faster. Enable your employees to provide feedback either on a regular or ad-hoc basis so they always have the opportunity to escalate issues, rather than simply dealing with one customer at a time.”
She continues: “Use the right channels for the job. Mobile opens up retail and hospitality environments, while the web will be highly effective for contact centres. Seek out the technology that will encourage employees to get involved.
“A picture paints a thousand words, so enable your employees to use their mobile devices to upload photos of what’s going on via a feedback app on their phone. One large retailer has gathered thousands of pieces of this rich data, helping to build up a clear picture of the customer experiences taking place on the ground, each day. Escalating this data to a regional or area manager can help to resolve recurring problems and prevent negative word of mouth from spreading.”
Stern also recommends the following best practices are followed, to maximise the value that you get from the feedback, and to encourage staff to further share their experiences.
- Integrate the feedback with other sources of data. Rather than treat the information in isolation, integrate it with other sources such as customer feedback and operational data, allowing you to get a holistic view of the root causes of poor customer experiences.
- Respond to the feedback. Ensure that the findings are acted upon. Collaborate with employees, partners and even the customers themselves if appropriate, to develop solutions to the problems that are identified.
- Close the loop. Explain to staff how their feedback has been used. This will keep employees engaged and enthusiastic about the value that there is in them sharing their feedback with the organisation.
About Neil Davey
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.