What happened next? Understanding the real purpose of long-term VoC strategies

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We’re all aware of the quick wins available in the early stages of a Voice of the Customer (VoC) programme, and of the benefits of closing the loop with individual customers. Greater levels of customer engagement, increased positive word of mouth and high retention rates are all results of acting quickly on feedback from individual customers.

But how do we take this to the next level and go beyond the closed loop? More specifically, how do we drive more far-reaching change and ensure we truly maximise the impact on our business?

Understanding the drivers of satisfaction or Net Promoter Score (NPS)® at management level is of course key and individual customer comments really add colour to the metrics, giving an emotional connection to our customers and clients. But can we be sure that we are really driving improvement? Are we really learning from our successes – and our failures – so we can apply those learnings elsewhere?

At the risk of appearing to be offering lessons in egg-sucking, we’re looking at a 3-stage process:

  1. Listen/Monitor
    This is about using our Voice of the Customer programme to get a representative understanding of which issues are impacting customers.
  2. Root cause analysis
    This is much more than identifying the attributes that will impact a CX metric: it helps us truly understand the priorities that will impact the change in employee and customer behaviour we are looking for. For example, staying with us, buying again or buying more, or reducing cost to serve. What we should not focus on is simply tweaking a metric!
  3. Change something! 
    In some respects – just do ANYTHING! Don’t give way to analysis paralysis: start taking action. Even the smallest, easy-to-implement changes can have an impact – and measuring that impact will tell us what we need to be doing next.   

learning

That takes us back to listening and monitoring…how effective has the action we have taken been?  Has this resulted in an improved experience for our customers?

Of course we know this. Many companies are already doing this (though a startling number are still deaf to anything more that the squeakiest of wheels!). But what’s different in the companies who are really successful at driving change is the level at which root cause analysis takes place. Often, feedback is coming in at multiple points around the company, with team members working to close loops and take individual actions. Meanwhile, in the boardroom, a handful of executives make wise and sage decisions based on their rolled-up view.

This isn’t wrong, exactly, but it gives most business two to three global initiatives to drive change in certain areas and that’s a pretty limited approach. What if, instead of change being decreed from on high and pushed down the business, we allowed people across the company to create and implement initiatives based on the successes they personally have seen work with individuals in their area of control and responsibility? Then, instead of two or three initiatives to play with, we could have two to three HUNDRED initiatives.  Each initiative is owned by local managers who run through the ‘listen – root cause analysis – change’ model themselves, using role-based dashboards so they can truly monitor success in real time for their own areas of responsibility.

The immediate question is “what about the things they can’t control?” Yes, there will be global systems – invoicing processes, for example – that they can’t manage themselves, but those are the items that can be pushed up through the business. In short, we can create a process where if a local manager CAN control something, they should. If they can’t, they escalate. It may seem like a recipe for anarchy, but it’s genuinely not!

Why not? Because this is where you share best practice. By monitoring every initiative, we can establish what works and roll those changes up so the impact is made across the organisation. For example, a team leader within the contact centre sees an issue with product knowledge with his team and implements a ‘show and tell’ session at her Monday morning huddle. When the next team leader has a similar priority issue they can review what all of their peers have tried and pick the best solution based on the impact it had on the metrics, but also on the subjective opinion of the initiative owner.  This is where looking back at a range of activities undertaken around the business will help us to create a ‘shopping list’ of options to implement and mirror in the longer term.

What if, instead of change being decreed from on high and pushed down the business, we allowed people across the company to create and implement initiatives based on the successes they've seen work

What else do we need to consider?

We’re not operating in a vacuum

As we work to establish which action achieved which results, we need to remain aware that however much root-cause analysis we do, and how many metrics we track, there are other factors at play. It is often, if not always, very difficult to establish what’s correlation and what’s causation. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t develop a good sense of which initiatives have had a positive impact and which have been ineffective. Like many elements of Voice of the Customer and customer experience programmes, it’s a combination of art and science.

How do we know if we are getting better? 

Assessing the effectiveness of initiatives

This brings us neatly on to the thorny issue of measurement. In most cases, this will need to be a combination of objective measurement of metrics and outcomes and of softer, more subjective matters. While hard facts are important, it’s critical to listen carefully to our managers’ opinions of what is working and what isn’t. Sometimes that gut feel that says “this just isn’t right for this region” has to be enough unless we’re exceptionally sure that the numbers say otherwise.

Aggregated data provides a guide

Again, we need to remember not only that we are not operating in a vacuum, but also that a one size fits all approach is not necessarily appropriate. This can provide some clear guidance on potential next steps. This aggregated analysis can help us to identify three key objectives for a region and develop initiatives to achieve them. For example, we may establish that limited product knowledge in the US in causing problems and refer to initiatives that are proving successful in Europe or Asia to seek solutions.

Take alerting to the next level

Alerting for individual cases is a key component of our programme and, particularly for B2B organisations, represents a huge opportunity to salvage at-risk relationships by taking speedy action. However, in order to get a business-wide insight into key metrics, it’s important to introduce an aggregate level of alerting as well. This forms a vital part of strategic action management because it enables us to get a view of our norms, and understand when something has gone wrong and needs addressing.

In most cases, businesses will need to operate within ‘control lines’; that is, a pre-defined top and bottom score that accounts for normal variations. When a score drops below that bottom line, it’s time to take action. With the right reporting mechanisms in place, it should be relatively straightforward to drill down – whether that’s within regions, departments or product groups – to see where an issue is dragging down an aggregate score. If a similar issues has occurred before, our root-cause analysis and tried-and-tested set of initiatives can come into play, giving us a set of options to take immediate action.

Build a community for viral change

This is true of all elements of a Voice of the Customer programme but it always bears referencing and brings all of our above points together.

The key element to understanding action taken and results is through the creation of teams of people involved in our VoC programme who have a shared responsibility across regions. As long as those team members have clear insights into actions taken at a local, departmental or business level, we’ll have the best foundation possible on which to develop and evolve best practices based on our successful tactical actions.

About Claire Sporton

Sporton

Claire Sporton has specialised in customer feedback for over 15 years, and has run programmes in the Financial Services sector, and more recently with technology and consulting providers to improve their customer experience. Claire’s focus at Confirmit is on ensuring Confirmit customers can deliver feedback to the people who can make a difference to the end customer and generate ROI.

Claire was instrumental in the development of Confirmit Voices, a customer engagement model which provides an end to end approach to the Voice of the Customer.

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16th May 2016 21:03

From LinkedIn User Miguel A. Gonzalez:
Sit down and define what you want to do with your customers. if you want engagement be ready for paying attention to the voice of customers.

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16th May 2016 21:04

From LinkedIn group user Debra Christy:
I am a HUGE advocate of the voice of customer! It is through their feedback that we learn, improve and grow our customers loyalty and trust!

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16th May 2016 21:05

From LinkedIn group user Sven-Tore Bengtsson:
I couldn't agree more. Gives the employee access to customers insights and empower the employees to act on it is the best way to create ongoing improvements across the organization in order to build and keep momentum in improving the CX.

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16th May 2016 21:05

From LinkedIn group user Darenn Plowright:
Interesting article. While I agree the technology can play a huge part in VOC strategies, my experience has always been that the best customer intelligence comes directly from your people who regularly interact with your customers.

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16th May 2016 21:06

From LinkedIn group user Nigel Greenwood:
Darenn Plowright - completely agree. When we map customer journeys, it's the management who tell us how the process should work, and the people who deal with customers who tell us what actually happens! They are great at explaining what little things annoy customers, and often have brilliant ideas for improving customer experience.

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