Voice of the customer is not customer experience management!

28th Oct 2010

A voice of the customer programme is but one important component in a customer experience management strategy. Here, Lior Arussy lists the range of initiatives beyond VoC that must be addressed.

Imagine a husband who tries really hard to listen to his wife. He watches What Women Want, reads Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and sets aside dedicated 'quiet' time each week where he listens to his wife as she pours her heart out and tells him whatever is on her mind. He would appear to be the quintessential husband. 
The problem is that our quintessential husband does nothing with these conversations. He simply listens, nods his head, files what he’s heard in that back of his mind, but doesn’t act upon anything he’s heard to improve the situation or comfort his wife. He asks but will not act. His wife now calls him 'idiot'.
I know that many vendors and CE practitioners may take offense to this article’s title. Yet as the saying goes "the truth will set you free". A voice of the customer (VoC) programme is but one important component in a customer experience management strategy – but it’s only a component. Too many executives see VoC as something they need to do, but not something they in which they will truly invest the requisite time and resources.
Practitioners and executives should be cognizant of the fact that VoC is not the pathway to delivering great customer experiences. While such programs are critical to understanding customer needs and employee performance, there needs to be follow up action with respect to employee training, and product and service offerings to ensure that customer needs are met.
Beyond VoC
Customer experience management is about a closed loop that starts with listening to the customer and ending with the delivery of a great customer experience across all channels. Customer experience practitioners should address a range of customer experience initiatives beyond VoC to include the following:
  • Create a clear vision for the desired customer experience backed up by market positioning
  • Map the customer journey to identify key moments of truth
  • Conduct an in-depth assessment of the moments of truth to understand primary obstacles to high quality performance
  • Innovate and redesign the key customer touch points
  • Break down organisational silos to ensure collaboration and consistency of the experience across different functions
  •  Provide the skills and expertise to all employees so that they can apply customer experience principles to their daily work
  • Develop awareness and build acceptance regarding the importance of the customer experience to the organisation’s success
  • Ensure senior executive sponsorship of the customer strategy and related initiatives
  • Address HR-related issues such as performance evaluation and hiring criteria to ensure customer experience strategy success
  • Unify and redesign measurements around the customer
  • Demonstrate measureable progress by illustrating the impact on corporate financial targets
  • Retain and expand customer experience activates
These are but a few of the high-level responsibilities that customer experience leaders need to undertake. Such responsibilities are further detailed in my latest book Customer Experience Strategy (2010).
The truth is that for many customer experience practitioners the list of activities detailed above is overwhelming, leading many to ignore a large number of them. As such, they default to VOC programs. Some simply used a VoC program because they it is one of the few initiatives with which they are comfortable.
Customer experience management is about transforming product centric companies into customer centric organizations that deliver differentiating customer experiences. The scope of activities that is required to achieve these goals is far larger than VoC. Those that rely exclusively or predominantly on VoC programs will not go far on the customer experience journey.
Let me offer one final piece of advice. If you really cannot see beyond a VoC program, please don’t do it. If you do, all that will happen is that the VoC report will be filed into a cabinet to collect dust with all the other reports that are rarely if ever used. Your customers will be frustrated and will call you an 'idiot!'


Lior Arussy is the founder and president of Strativity Group, a global customer experience research and consulting firm specialising in design, innovation and deployment of differentiating, profitable customer experiences. His books include Excellence Every Day: Make the Daily Choice and Passionate & Profitable: Why Customer Strategies Fail and 10 Steps To Do Them Right!

His latest book - Customer Experience Strategy: The Complete Guide From Innovation To Execution - will be released shortly.

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By John Coldwell
28th Oct 2010 12:06

Well said Lior.

The example of the husband setting asside time to listen to his wife suggests that the action is bordering on being proactive.  To take your scenario one step further, imagine that the husband has told his wife that he wants to hear her feedback and then does nothing.  Its insulting, mean, petty - and heading towards the end of the relationship.  In B2B its no good just adding a comments page to your website to gain the VOC, you have to be proactive - go out and ask your most importantant customers for their feedback.  If you then do nothing with the feedback to improve the relationship (I'd rather have both marriage and B2B seen as a "relationship" than an "experience", but I'm afraid that its not always so) then, by definition, the process will have a negative effect.  By asking for feedback a whole train of events is set to occur - and there can be positive and negative outcomes but never neutral ones.  And if no action occurs, then the relationship is damaged.  It is not just that the report will be gathering dust - you'll be kissing good-bye to some of your customers.

ISO 9000 is one of the most dangerous culprits in all of this.  The quality standard demands regular customer feedback but rarely warns of the consequences of "not following through".  TS16949 is the international quality standard for Tier 1 and Tier 2 automotive suppliers and its requirement is that the customer feedback must be linked to some form of continuous improvement programme, which is much more sensible.  Why the people at ISO have been so weak I just do not know, but there is a genuine problem that needs fixing.



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By Jodi Koskella
28th Oct 2010 19:47

Great post Lior! I completely agree with you that action is key, this is one of the biggest problems we see with companies that try to implement a customer experience strategy without enlisting help from experts like you. Often they find interesting insights, but with no plan to follow up- they've not only wasted their time but wasted the customer's time. I wonder if it sometimes does more damage to ask and not act than to not ask at all? I bet the wife would say yes!

Jodi Koskella



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By LiorArussy
01st Nov 2010 10:56

Thank you for the kind words.  I have been receiving tremendous exposure to this message  it seems as i touched a nurve.  keep on sppreading the word and may be we will get more commitment to execution.


New Book: Customer Experience Stratgey (2010)

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By ohadinbar
02nd Nov 2010 07:17

Very interesting post, Lior!

 I've been researching customers' interaction with technology in face-to-face service encounters, and I believe that customers are typically left out in the design stage. While not being "users" in the traditional sense (i.e. actively interacting with IT systems), customers are very much affected by these systems and by the service representatives who operate them.

I give some examples to these situations (that I termed "incidental user") in my blog: and in a paper published in Interactions Magazine last year:

Ohad Inbar

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