VoC: what’s wrong with VoC and how do you get it right? (Part I)

I like the folks at Mindshare Technologies – specialists in customer surveys and enterprise feedback.  We share a philosophy, YOLOMAD: you only live once, make a difference.   From what I can tell they are passionate about helping companies to get access to the Voice of the Customer and use that to improve the customer experience and cultivate customer loyalty that delivers revenues and profits.

With that context in mind  reached out to Erich Dietz, VP of Business Solutions to get his view on VoC stands – the reality and not hype or commentary.  Before I do that let me tell you a little about Erich.   Mindshare started up in Nov 2002 and Erich joined in January 2003; Mindshare has over 250 clients and around 105 employees –  Erich was employee no 7.  And he runs on of the key verticals:  the contact centre vertical.  He has a degree in industrial engineering and so has a penchant for finding a better way to do stuff.  When he worked as a barman he had intimate contact with people so you could say that he understands people – perhaps better than some of us.

What’s the big issue with how companies are going about Voice of the Customer?

You may have noticed that has been a backlash about customer survey.  It appears that customers and people who write about customer related topics like customer service and customer experience have had enough – it has got to the state where requests for customer surveys are having a negative impact on the Customer Experience!

What does Erich say about that?  Erich gets the issue.  He is also clear that VoC, done right, can and does create value for customers and the enterprise – Mindshare has the data to prove it.  Which begs the question: what is the key issue with VoC?  Why are so many companies not doing it right?  Here’s what Erich says:

“No-one is really doing VoC surveys with the customer in mind!”  

By this he is pointing out the following:

1. Customers are not given an incentive to take part in the surveying process.  Put differently, the question “What would entice our customers to give up their time and provide us with valuable feedback?” is not being addressed.  Erich’s view is that a monetary incentive should be provided to kick start ‘engagement’ with the customer.

2. The customer surveys are too long, asking unnecessary questions and so asking too much of customers in terms of the effort and customer time.  I pointed out this issues in this post, ‘The Coppid Beech Hotel: are you asking the right questions?’

3. Companies are not showing customers what they are doing / have done with the feedback.  Customers want to know that they are not wasting their time providing their feedback.  Customers also want to see the changes that have been made – that their feedback can/does make an impact in the way that the company does business.  Enterprises are not providing this feedback – not at the individual customer level nor at the aggregate level – and as such not meeting a vital customer need.

Why is this happening?  What is the root cause?

OK, I get the issue now tell me what is giving rise to this behaviour? That is the question I posed and this is Erich’s answer: companies do not get VoC is about engaging customers in a meaningful dialogue (around the customer experience) and not simply surveying customers! 

This led me to ask this question, why are companies approaching VoC as customer surveying rather than a meaningful dialogue around the customer experience? Here is Erich’s answer:

1.  There is an existing strong tradition of surveying customers. This traditions comes for the marketing world – that of surveying customers and/or holding focus groups.  In both cases the research is expensive to set-up and do and so companies are intent to get the most out of this research. As such companies (and researchers) see customers as a valuable captive audience and want to get as much out of them as possible – hence the battery of questions that strive to ask about anything and everything that might be useful.

2.  There is no tradition and accepted practice around engaging in a genuine dialogue with customers.  Exploring this further, Erich and I agreed that there isn’t even any genuine dialogue within the enterprise – between the manager and the people that report into him, between colleagues, between one department and another….. In short companies run on a ‘command and control’ mode and in that mode there is no room, no space, no opening for dialogue, discussion, batting things back and forth.  In ‘command and control’ the Tops decide, the Middles relay the orders, the Bottoms execute.  And this is exactly what is happening with VoC.

Part II coming next

In Part II (coming next and soon) I will share with you Erich’s views on the second critical issue with VoC – getting value out of it!  I will close this series with Part III, where I will set out Erich’s recommendations on how to do VoC right and get value out of it.  I thank you for listening to my speaking.


2011: what is likely to stay the same?

Right now there are lots of people putting forward there views on what will be hot /new / different in 2011.  As I do not have a crystal ball and because I believe in the fundamentals, I am going to focus on the key themes that are not going to change in 2011.

Customer will continue using trusted resources to find information and make decisions

Customers live in a world that is full of suppliers, brands, products and services.  Choosing between them is difficult and there is always the concern around making the right choice.  So for low consideration products (the basics of food, drink, utilities, retail banking..) customers will simply continue using the brands that they use today. Some customers will continue to be tempted by ‘specials’ – to try other products, other brands, other suppliers.

For high consideration purchases, customers will turn to trusted sources: the internet, Google search, social network, other customers and independent sources.  Customers will particularly value trusted resources that take out or cut the hassle associated with doing all the research and coming to a decision.

Companies will continue to shoot themselves in the foot as the content and tools are often created by marketing.  And too many marketers are disconnected from the real lives of customers and their real needs.  Too often the need for spin outweighs the need to provide useful, informative, honest content.

Customers will continue to have the same needs around products

Most customers will continue to look for products that are easy to understand, easy to set-up, easy to use and which work as they expect them to work.  Some customers will pay a premium for products that are novel, beautiful and/or well designed.

Many products will fail to live up to customer expectations either because the marketing communications are misleading, or the product has not been well designed or because the customer has unrealistic expectations.  And this will result in calls into the contact centre and negative comments offline and online.

Customers will continue to look for, be attracted to, special offers

Direct marketers are the masters of special offers – they know that the right offers will drive purchases.  Human beings are drawn to all kinds of  special offers.  The offer can be around membership of an exclusive club, or a special edition product or simply one of a price discount.

Businesses will continue to offer attractive ‘specials’ to get new customers.  In the process they will continue to cut loyalty from existing customers and thus encourage them to move to competitors to get their special offers.

Customers will continue to look for and value good service

Customers live in a complex world where they have a lot more to juggle and less time to do it; a world where choosing the right products and solutions can be a tricky and time consuming task; a world where they need help in setting up and using products effectively.  For example, one time you could just go and buy a tv, try doing that now with the latest HD tvs.

As a result customers will continue to cry out for good service in the form of correct and informative marketing material, customer centred sales advice, convenient product delivery, ease of product set-up and use, accurate billing, easy access to the right people in the company to deal with problems and issue and responsive caring customer service.

Many companies will continue to give less than good service because of the internal, silo centred, efficiency oriented metrics, processes and culture.

Companies will continue to focus on the shiny new stuff and neglect the basics

Time and again companies are attracted to the shiny new stuff, the silver bullets, the miracle cures etc.  Social media, mobile, location-based services, group buying (Groupon), customer experience – are examples of the latest shiny objects

In the process, companies will neglect the basics such as making good easy to use products, easy to use websites, improving the delivery process so you don’t have to take a full day off work, sorting out issues that prevent sales and customer service staff delivering the kind of service that customers expect etc. Here is an example of neglecting the basics: Toyota Just Doesn’t Get It

Companies will continue to focus on the sell side of the business at the expense of the service side

The majority of companies will continue to focus their best people and the bulk of their money on the areas of the business that generate or promise to generate revenue. Revenue and market share growth are the top priorities of the C-suite in most companies.

These companies will also continue to spend money on products and services that promise to cut operating costs – thus boosting profits.  That means more investments in technology and less in people – especially those that actually interact with and serve customers.

It also means that companies will continue to focus on getting new customers than on keep existing customers through good service and fair treatment. This is partly because the it is easy to show the return on getting customer and difficult to show the return on retaining customers.

Companies will continue not to embrace and make effective use of social technologies

The philosophy – transparency, openness, interaction, connectivity, sharing, participation, co-creation etc – of social is fundamentally at odds with the command and control philosophy that is at the heart of almost all businesses.  The powerful love to exercise power – this applies to all kinds of institutions including corporations.  And it applies to the C-suite executives.

This clash of idealogies and operating practices will stop the majority of companies from harvesting the true promise of social technologies:  transforming the way that work is done – collaboratively between employees, customers, suppliers, partner etc – within the enterprise.

Instead companies  will continue to dabble in social media treating this as simply another marketing and customer research channel.  Does this remind you how digital marketing and ecommerce operations were treated?  And how some are still treated today?

Companies will continue to talk about innovation and customer experience tranformation and yet fail to deliver

Whilst every company wants to the fruits of innovation very few are willing to go through the birthing process and experience the pains of giving birth to these innovations.

It is no easy matter to make the silo’s work together.  It is no easy matter to change the technology infrastructure – most companies still do not have a single customer view despite the mountains of ink on that subject over the last ten years.  It is no easy matter to change the culture of the company.  It is no easy matter to give up the practices that are resulting in ‘bad profits’ and recapture these profits by creating products and services that customers value.  And there is absolutely no incentive when you are the category leader or the market is dominated by up to four big companies.

The task of category level innovation will continue to fall on companies that specialise in this (e.g. Apple, Virgin) or newcomers that have no investment in the existing way of doing things (e.g. Metro Bank, Groupon).