Why Voice of the Customer Lacks Punch And What You Can Do About It?

Rod Butcher’s latest post and my recent experience with my son have got me thinking. And I want to share this thinking with you.

VoC programmes show up as attractive even compelling

I can see the logic. We need to better understand what matters to our customer, what they think of us, how they feel about doing business with us.  We can’t just ask our employees as they are likely to distort the picture. So let’s go and ask customers.  Using this logic, Tops initiate VoC programmes which usually involve some kind of customer survey (e.g. NPS) and may or may not be integrated with other sources that provide access to the voice of the customer e.g. customer calls, customer complaints. In any case the information is tabulated-summarised and published as a report and sent out typically to the people who matter in the organisation – usually Tops, sometimes Tops and Middles, rarely Bottoms.

VoC programmes have a powerful sting in the tail

What is missing from these VoC reports is the actual listening to the voice of the customer. I say that whilst these reports ‘pretend’ to provide access to the voice of the customer they actually serve the function of obscuring genuine listening and connection to the voice of the customer. I say that VoC acts to keep executives in their comfort zone. VoC programmes keep executives disconnected from any direct contact with real flesh and blood customers and the people in the organisation who actually interact with and serve these customers. This is another example of change in organisational content whilst the powerful-hidden organisational context which determines organisational behaviour staying the same.

You might be asking yourself is this an issue?  It is. Why? Because the dominant complaint around VoC programmes is the failure of the organisation to act on the voice of the customer coming through these programmes.  Why might that be?  This is what Rod writes in his post

It’s far too easy for senior executives to be seduced by numbers, graphs, charts, red-amber-green ratings, and generally let their eyes glaze over when they hear the word, customers. Especially if you’re sitting in a conference room up on the 25th floor – customers look quite small from way up in the rarefied air of the corporosphere.

Where is the emotional punch that generates action?

I have ‘listened’ to the voice of the customer through VoC reports. I have listened to the voice of the customer by listening into customers calling into the call-centre. And I have listened to the voice of the customer by talking with customers over the phone or face to face. I have seen my clients do the same.  And based on my experience I say that there is world of difference.  What kind of difference?  Difference in the emotional punch.  I have found that VoC reports don’t pack emotional punch. This matters because it is the emotional punch that drives action.  Put differently, it is what we feel strongly about that gets us to act.

There is no substitute for experiencing what the customer experience, not even listening to the voice of the customer

Allow me to share a recent experience with you. An experience that shows the huge gulf between listening to the customer and getting the experience of the customer.

My son had his sociology homework to do. It needs to be done by the end of this week. He had been complaining about it being too hard for him to do for over a week. Please notice, my use of the word “complaining”. My son had told us that the homework was too hard, that he could not make sense of what he had to read, that he had tried several times, and that he had given up.  I didn’t hear that. I made a judgement and the judgement was that his teachers could not possibly have given him work that was beyond his capability. And so my son was making a big deal of nothing. Just finding a way of getting out of doing his homework.

One day I actually sat down to help him do his homework.  That involved reading all the papers he had to read and answering his questions. What showed up as I sat in his seat? I experienced what he had experienced!  I ended up saying “Wow these are hard.  These papers assume you have an understanding of the world like I do yet you are only 16 years old. And they use really complicated language. Specialist even academic language. No wonder you have found it hard, I am finding it hard!”

As a result of this experience affinity between us showed up. And I made myself available for 1.5 hours a day to sit side by side with him and help him read and understand all the papers that he needs to read and understand.

My advice

Listen to the advice offered by Rod Butcher in his latest post.  Listen to the experience I have shared with you.  Get your Tops and Middles out of their offices and directly in contact with your customers.  And bring the voice of the customer home to the people in your organisation in way that packs an emotional punch.  Video is a great way of doing just that.  Bringing real customers into your organisation and talking with them at a human to human level is a great way to do that.  I leave you with the Rod’s wise words:

Talk to the customer – yes, I know, it’s not rocket science is it? As I shared in a recent post, SouthEastern does it in person – they regularly hold “meet the manager” events at London Bridge station in the rush hour, where 10 or so senior directors gather with their clipboards, listening to their customers’ tales of commuting nightmares. Others do it over the phone. Virgin Media are strong here – resisting the temptation to just have managers passively listen to calls, and for a day only (when, let’s face it, the urge to check in with the day job will still be strong), they have every manager spend a week back on the floor, being trained up, then manning the phones and at the end of it all, reflecting back on what they’ve seen and learned.

Posted on April 12, 2013, in Case Studies, Customer Experience, Customer Insight (inc VoC), Leadership / Change / Transformation, Management, Social and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Maz,

    I enjoyed your post, but I wonder if there isn’t more to it than that?

    I agree, most organisations don’t act on their customer feedback. But does getting the managers to actually meet the customer change that?

    I wonder if the root cause isn’t different. Why is it that managers don’t want to listen to customers in the first place? What is it about their beliefs that mean that they don’t think that that is a good use of their time?

    Maybe understanding that is the key to the problem.

    James

    Like

  2. adrianswinscoe

    Hi Maz,
    Building on James’ comment I’d like to see more firms use inexperienced users/newbies…..call them what you will as I don’t know the right term to get them to evaluate their ‘experience’. Perhaps then they might start properly listening.

    Adrian

    Like

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