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.


How USEFUL are you to your customers?

Take a look at your business through SD Logic

If you use the Service Dominant Logic lens (as opposed to a good dominant logic) it opens up a new way of looking at the interaction/interface between your business and the Customer.  The key aspects of the Services Dominant Logic (for me) are:

  • the Customer approaches your business because he/she has a job (something to do) and an outcome (the desired end state) in mind;
  • the products and/or solutions you sell are better thought of as services your provide to help the Customer get the job done and achieve her desired end state.

SDLogic gives rise to the question: how useful am I to the Customer?

If you look more deeply into this you are likely to see that a key question arises: how USEFUL are you and your products/services/solutions to the customer in terms of the job he has in mind and the outcome/s she wants?   It seems to me that many are attracted to all manner of toys’ and yet few are focussed in excelling at being USEFUL to the customer across the customer journey.  I would go further and say that what I find most stunning given the whole thing around customer-centricity, customer focus, customer obsession is the lack of conversation around the following questions:

  1. What phenomena (devices, environment, cues, messages, touchpoints…) would have to be present for us to show up as USEFUL in the Customer’s world?
  2. How useful are we?  Where do we excel?  Where do we fall short?  (As viewed through the Customer’s eyes)
  3. What is present that needs to be taken out to be useful?
  4. What is missing the presence of which would make us useful – as viewed through Customer eyes?

Why USEFULNESS matters

It is 3am in the morning as I get up and get ready to drive my eldest to Gatwick Airport so that he can catch is 7am flight to France.  By 3:45 I have walked up to the top of the hill where I parked the car last night and have filled the boot with shovels, supplies (food, drinks, blankets, torch…) and luggage.  I have also dislodged all the snow sitting on all the windows – overnight we got some 15cm of snow as predicted.  At 3:50 we set-off.  This is journey that should only take about 50 minutes and I know that it is going to take at least twice that long: the snow covers the roads and pavements like a thick blanket and so I am driving around  15 mph.  Finally, we make it to the motorway and we are travelling between 40 mph and 60 mph.   Not great but it is ok as I had allowed for this: when you have done enough big projects and programmes then identifying risks and coming up with contingency plans becomes second nature.

It is now 4:45 and we are only half an hour away from Gatwick Airport.  There is one problem – the motorway ahead is closed and so I need to figure out how I get to the airport.  As it happens my son has my wife’s Garmin sat-nav on.  He can’t work it so I get off at the exit, pull over and take the Garmin.  I tap it like I am used to tapping my TomTom, it should take me to the main menu where I can work around obstructions on the route and it will recalculate.  Nothing happens.  I look at the display and I cannot figure out how I get access to main menu or the route navigation menu.  I am in a hurry so I hand it over to my son and reach for my TomTom in the glove compartment.  Within three minutes the TomTom has plotted the route (which includes the blocked motorway), I have told it to avoid the next two junctions (as they are blocked) and it has come back with a new route.  Excellent, I feel great even though it is dark, the snow is falling and the route is about twice as long.  Why do I feel great?  Because I ‘hired’ the TomTom to do a  job quickly – to work out a navigable route – and that is exactly what it has done!

Now here is the point to get.  I am in the process of buying a new sat-nav as my TomTom is old and bulky.  I had been considering whether to buy a TomTom or a Garmin and up to that point I had favoured the Garmin.  Then that incident happened.  Which product am I going to buy?  The one that is USEFUL of course – the TomTom – even though it is about 50% more expensive.  Lets ask that question differently: why would any intelligent customer willingly buy a product/service/solution that is not useful or less useful than a competing product that sells for the same/lower price?

What is the access to being perceived as useful?

Given my sat-nav experience and the work that I have done in helping design websites I would say that you absolutely have to get the following right if your non-human interfaces / touchpoints are going to occur as useful in your Customer’s world:

DEFAULTS:  you absolutely have to understand the default (the automatic) ways that your customers think and behave.  Notice that I used the Garmin the way that I am used to using a TomTom. Why?  Because the TomTom was my first sat-nav and my world of sat-nav is built entirely around my experience in using the TomTom.  Having looked into the Garmin I have found that it has similar route navigation functionality including working around blocked roads.  The issue arose because I had to access this functionality in a different way to the TomTom – a way that I was not used to and appears strange to me even now. Another example is that I always get caught out when I use computers in FranceI touch type and only when I look up at the screen do I notice that the French keyboards are set out very differently to English/American keyboards!

RESPONSIVENESS and FEEDBACK:  when the Customer touches you have to respond within a specific time and ‘speak in the Customer’s language.  We are exquisite feedback organisms – feedback is always going on and we rely on it to orient ourselves and act upon the world.  Just think of the ‘social dances’ that we are immersed in every day.  For example, conversation: those of us who do not pay attention and cut in at the wrong time do damage to the flow of the conversation sometimes bringing to an abrupt halt and/or being considered rude, dominating, inconsiderate etc.

What constitutes responsiveness to a Customer depends on the particular state that the customer is in (relaxed, hurried, stressed….), the particular job that the customer has in mind (urgent, critical, important, sometime…), the nature of the interactive device and who visible the Customer is to other onlookers.  Feedback to occur as feedback (useful feedback) in the Customer’s world it is necessary that the designers understand the backgrounds of the Customers e.g. their culture, their language, their educational level….. And of course feedback must be timely: the Customer must be able to match, easily, the feedback to the action that he last took and use that feedback to take the right next step.

When it comes to my sat-nav experience I notice that the Garmin occurred as non-responsive to my touch and the TomTom came across as responsive.  The issue with many IVR systems is that they utter (speak) rubbish: speak corporate jargon rather than use words/phrases that real Customers think in terms of and speak and as such the Customer is left pondering stuff like what menu option to hit to progress and get his job done.  Put bluntly the Customer already has a schema (mental model) or schemas of the kind of response she is expecting and your response had better fit into one of these schemas if you do not want to disrupt the harmony between you and your Customer.

USABILITY: designing the interactive touchpoint so that it lends itself to the way that customers view, process, use information, manipulate objects of its kind.  Some phones are easier to use than other phones simply because some designers better understand and cater for Customers (users) being human beings.  Some books are easier to comprehend because the information is written and presented in a way that is natural for human beings to process.  Some website are easier to user because the website designers have immersed themselves in usability and have made use of the key tricks and avoided the key traps.

You can make an interactive touchpoint highly useful (it has the content, the tools, the functionality to do the job that the Customer has in mind) and yet it does not occur as useful.  Why?  Because the designers have not put in the time, effort and love that is needed to make that touchpoint usable.  One of my key contributions in my previous role (Head of Customer Analytics and Marketing Solutions) was to take the useful models built by expert modellers and make them easy to comprehend and use by the average marketing manager who had no affinity for numbers and did not know or care about data mining or predictive analytics.

Final Words

If you are not willing to invest what it takes to make an interactive touchpoint responsive and usable then don’t waste your money making it useful!  Very few of your Customers will ever get to the stage where they will actually find the useful stuff and then actually use it: the lack of usability and responsiveness will make sure of that.

I notice that there seems to be crisis when it comes to B2B sales.  Has this something to do with the fact that most B2B sellers are simply not coming across as being USEFUL to the jobs and outcomes that B2B buyers have on their minds?   It occurs to me that the typical functions of providing information and doing demos of products and solutions is really not that compelling anymore.  Prospective buyers can access information, case studies, demos on websites, on YouTube…..  So the question becomes what jobs and outcomes do prospective buyers have in mind and what do we need to be/do to occur as useful?

Finally, I cannot help thinking that a key measure of customer-centricity is how USEFUL you occur to your Customers as view through their eyes.  What do you think?  I invite you to share your views.