Whilst there are still some business leaders around the world who are yet to believe it, most organisations have woken up to the importance of continuously listening to the perception of the customer. It seems so obvious that a company or business should constantly monitor how its customers feel about what it is doing, but it would amaze you how many are not doing so. Just because many are, does not mean they are doing it well.
Measuring the customer experience is a critical competency because it turns subjectivity and judgement into fact. All organisations demand facts when it comes to financial performance – so why should they not demand the same when it comes to measuring how capable you are of meeting the needs and expectations of customers.
I first came across the acronym, VoC (Voice of the Customer), at the end of the nineties as an employee of General Electric. Led for over 20 years by Jack Welch, GE was as customer focused an organisation as I have ever come across. GE leaders were definitively focussed on making decisions with as full possession of the facts as possible – good, continuous, quantitative and qualitative VoC was as vital an ingredient to their fact based decision making as anything else.
Since that time, I have worked in and with a multitude of companies across different industries and geographies who use a variety of VoC mechanisms. As a consumer in my own right, I am also bombarded on a daily basis by the companies I interact with – and even some I don’t – with those very mechanisms. I am as convinced as ever of the importance of organisations to have the skills and competencies to capture accurate and actionable VoC, but I am increasingly concerned that despite doing it for many years, the customer feedback journey is becoming ever rockier.
Better by design
Designing a VoC mechanism is not a simple task. It is not just a case of ‘knocking up’ a survey and shooting it out to as many customers as possible – anyone can do that. Creating and implementing a robust VoC mechanism is a skill – it is a competency. The reason why so many businesses are failing to master it is that they are not in possession of the required skills and competencies. Fundamentally, too many are failing to understand that capturing the Voice of the Customer is as integral a touchpoint in the customer journey as any other. It should be viewed no differently to your website, or product delivery or customer service touchpoints. Yet it is rare to see a customer feedback mechanism designed to be a part of the customer journey – rather than a separate task completed on the ‘we have to capture VoC checklist’.
Just think about your own experiences of being asked to provide feedback. How many times have you visited the homepage of a website, only to be faced with a ‘pop up’ asking you to complete a survey before you have even done anything? What about the email that asks you to give feedback by completing a survey that ‘will only take 20 to 30 minutes’? Only last week, I was given a manual feedback form at a training venue before any of the delegates had even arrived. The lady gave it to me less than two minutes after telling me off for sticking flip chart paper to the walls (in a training venue). Not only that, the room I was in was so small, she could not find anywhere to put the form, so she decided to take it back to reception with her.
These are just some examples of the ineffective design of a VoC programme. The consequences are significant – a large number of consumers will just not give any feedback. Some will only provide feedback when something goes wrong. In the worst case, customers will decide to take their custom elsewhere.
To master VOC and maximise the opportunity that this vital insight brings to tactical and strategic decision-making, it is essential to have a clear understanding of what it is you want to achieve with your VoC mechanism and how to ensure that you realise its potential. Recently, Rant & Rave described ‘mastery’ of Voice of the Customer as incorporating four golden rules. Here they are, with my own personal take added:
If you want to implement a sustainable way of capturing and actioning customer feedback, you must do so in a way that is completely authentic. In other words, you are not just doing it to ‘tick a box’ – you are doing it to genuinely act on what customers are telling you. To do this, you need to make the experience of giving feedback a journey in its own right – from asking customers if they want to participate, to closing the loop and telling them what you did with their feedback at some point in the future. Few are mastering this.
If you want customers to believe rule number one, you need to ensure that feedback is asked in a way that is relevant to the customer. Asking customers to give feedback before they have actually done anything is NOT relevant. Likewise, having a standard survey that asks customers about customer journey touchpoints you know they have not interacted with will only irritate. I also believe that relevancy applies to the way you ask for feedback in the first place. Sending an email survey to a customer who has only ever interacted with you by telephone may be inappropriate. Likewise, trying to conduct a telephone interview with a customer who only uses their smartphone may not be the right thing to do.
Rant & Rave call this rule ‘In the Moment’ – essentially it focuses on the ability to capture how the customer feels as close to them having had the experience as possible. I know that my memory fades pretty quickly over time – asking a customer how they felt about an experience two weeks ago will almost certainly affect the accuracy of the response.
If we want customers to tell us how they feel about all aspects of their interactions with us, we need to make the experience of doing so as easy as possible. This is a tricky one as ‘ease’ could be abused – the feedback must still be actionable – make it too easy may mean collecting useless information. The key here is that giving feedback must be easy AND actionable.
Having thought through these rules, I have decided to add one of my own:
Even if you are able to apply the four rules, there is still a risk of making a very common mistake in collecting VoC – the failure to capture feedback that is fully representative – of all types of customers and of the end to end customer journey. It is essential that your customer feedback mechanism is designed in a way that you are able to capture actionable feedback from every type of customer at any stage of your customer journey. Too many businesses are not doing this. The result is that they are drawing the wrong conclusion from their VoC mechanism.
Mastering VoC – now and in the future is an essential necessity of any organisation who has the desire to sustainably focus on customer experience. Reviewing how you are doing it regularly and following these simple, yet golden, rules, will ensure that you will always be able to rely on a stream of fact based VoC that will enable you to constantly adapt your business strategy to better meet customer needs and achieve your financial goals. Sounds sensible to me.