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.

Customer Experience in the UK: what is really going on?

What’s really going on the UK contact-centre industry?

Yesterday, I met up with a friend who works in the VoC and contact-centre space and we discussed the whole customer thing.  This is what showed up for me in our conversation:

– There has been a huge surge in people with Customer Experience titles. And mostly it is people in contact-centres taking on these titles.

– The customer experience is not the fundamental driver of how contact-centres operate.  The contact-centre industry is permeated through and through by a focus on processing transactions (calls) as cheaply as possible. This was so before Customer Experience titles became fashionable and it is still the case.

– Whilst some brave souls in the contact-centre industry (like my friend) are up for and focus on the customer experience in contact-centres.  The big outsourced contact-centre providers who dominate the industry are focussed on bums-on-seats, costs and meeting their transactional SLA.  They have no listening for customer experience.

– VoC has become the new black, just about everyone is doing it.  And there is big question mark over the value of this given the lack of genuine passion for the customer and the customer experience in the organisation.

– There is a lot of talk about social customer service and the reality is that very little is going on.  There is a tsunami of calls coming in from customers and only a trickle of contacts through social. This works for the people in the business because they are terrified of social and its impact on the carefully scripted brand image and messages.

Customer Experience: what is the cause of the gulf between the words and the reality?

What is going on here?  Why is there such a big difference between the words and the reality?  Why is it that whilst the words have changed from CRM to CEM, the indifference to building emotional bonds with customers continues?  Is it a lack of understanding?  Are people in business simply ignorant and so they need more education from the likes of customer experience gurus?

My passion is the being of human beings especially how we show up in groups and organisational settings.  And what it takes for us to shift our being-doing.  So allow me to share a story with you that I say sheds light on what is going on.

A holy man was meditating beneath a tree at the crossing of two roads. His meditation was interrupted by a young man running frantically down the road toward him.

“Help me,” the young man pleaded. “A man has wrongly accused me of stealing.  He is pursuing me with a great crowd of people. If they catch me, they will chop off my hands!”

The young man climbed the tree beneath which he sage had been meditating and hid himself in the branches. “Please don’t tell them where I am hiding,” he begged.

The holy man saw with the clear vision of a saint that the young man was telling the truth.  The lad was not a thief.  A few minutes later, the crowd of villagers approached, and leader asked, “Have you seen a young man run by here?”

Many years earlier, the holy man had taken a vow to always speak the truth, so he said that he had.  “Where did he go?” the leader asked.

The holy man did not want to betray the innocent young man, but his vow was sacred to him. He pointed up into the tree. The villagers dragged the young man out of the tree and chopped off his hands.

I say that a shift to an authentic customer orientation, one where the focus of the company is to come up with value propositions and customer experiences, that enrich the lives of their customers (and all the people who have to play their part in making this happen) requires transformational change.  It requires a complete break with the past and operating from a radically different context. It is the kind of break that the caterpillar makes in order to show up as a butterfly.  And that is a big ask for almost all of us especially large companies that are doing ok.

What does it take to make an impact as the Chief Experience Officer?

Allow me to introduce you to Lonnie Mayne , Chief Experience Officer at Mindshare Technologies. As his bio says “Lonnie Mayne influences each and every interaction involving Mindshare’s valued clients—from front-desk greetings to printed marketing materials to everyday sales calls to impromptu gifts of friendship.”  Mindshare is in the business of providing companies (and their executives) valuable customer insight gleamed from tapping into the Voice of the Customer.

Just before I went on my holidays I had an interesting conversation with Lonnie and in this post I want to share some of  points/learnings I took from that conversation.

Why focus on the customer and the customer’s experience? 

Lonnie’s answer to this question is simple: at some point the customer will be faced with a choice and if you have not created value for the customer, made his/her life better, then the customer will switch to another supplier.

Yes, it is possible to be doing well financially if you have created enough value for the customer through your product/service without asking/involving/focussing on your customers and what matters to them.  However, sooner or later this situation will change and when that happens your business will pay the price.  Put differently, the price of not listening to your customers and not keeping in tune with them is often paid further down the line.  As I write these lines I cannot help but think of Tesco in the UK.

What is the central challenge facing the Chief Experience Officer?

As a result of 20+ years of business experience, Lonnie is clear that CEO’s tend to be focussed on profitable growth. And in pursuing profit it is easy for the CEO to ‘lose sight of the customer along the way’.  How exactly?  The CEO doesn’t consider the impact of decisions deeply enough when it comes to the impact on the customers.  Put differently, too much focus on profit leads to poor decision making: decision making which favours short term efficiency and cost reduction over long term effectiveness in meeting/addressing customer needs.

Therefore, the central challenge for the Chief Experience Officer, according to Lonnie, is to ensure that the customer is present at the leadership table.  How?  By asking the following question: what is the impact of this decision on the customer?  Clearly it is not enough to ask the question.  The Chief Experience Officer (or Chief Customer Officer) also has to provide an answer.  In practice this means ‘applying science to the Voice of the Customer’ to deliver a sound business case that speaks to the CEO.

What does it take to make a meaningful impact as the Chief Experience Officer?

Moving from talking about customer focus and customer experience to actually orienting a company around customers and generating the right customer experience is not easy.  Some say it requires a transformation in mindset, culture and organisational design.  What does Lonnie say and how has he gone about it?

1. Ensure you have the wholehearted support of the CEO and build a good working relationship.  Lonnie is clear that to be successful in his role he needs the wholehearted support of his CEO.  That means reporting into/working with a CEO that gets the importance of the customer and the customer experience.  It helps if the KPI’s of the Chief Experience Officer align with the CEO.  Lonnie tells me that his success metrics are identical with those of his CEO.  So what is the difference between Lonnie and his CEO?  Lonnie’s focus is first on the customer and then on profitable growth whereas the CEO’s focus is first on profitable growth and second on the customer.  You can say that they complement each other.

2. Have real clout within the organisation.  As Chief Experience Officer, Lonnie is not simply heading up a staff function with no line authority or responsibility.  He used to lead the sales and account management function.  Now, as the Chief Experience Officer, Lonnie has direct responsibility for marketing, sales and client retention.

3. Broaden the definition of customer to include internal customers.  Time and again Lonnie referred to internal customers as well as external customers when he talked about customers.  It occurs to me that Lonnie gets that to serve/make an impact on external customers he has to serve/make an impact on the internal customers: the employees of Mindshare.

4. Involve the people in the organisation in grappling with the key questions.  There is considerable value in having the right people grapple with the right questions.   When it comes to designing/generating the right customer experience, the right people are the employees.  Which questions? Lonnie mentioned two questions that he posed: “How would you ever know, if you were outside the organisation, what we stand for as an organisation?”; and “What do we want the ultimate Customer Experience to be?”  The value/beauty of taking such an approach is that you do not have to get ‘buy-in’ later, the ‘buy-in’ is built in right from the start.

5. Access and use of the Voice of the Customer. Lonnie has been able to influence decision making by tapping into and making good use of the Voice of the Customer.  He calls that ‘practicing what we preach’ given that this is the core business of Mindshare.

6. Speak the language of the business.  It is not enough to access the Voice of the Customer.  Why?  If the Voice of the Customer does not speak the language of business then it falls on deaf ears.  What is the language of business?  Finance.  Specifically and in practice this means making a sound economic case for acting on the Voice of the Customer.

7. Get the CEO in front of customers regularly.  Given that CEOs are disconnected from and tend to lose sight of customers and what matters to customers it is essential to the get the CEO in front of real flesh and blood customers. Put differently, facts and figures can never replace face to face encounters: there is nothing like being there, seeing/hearing/experiencing the customer first hand.

8.  Respectfully challenge the CEO as and when necessary.  Clearly, this is only possible if and only if you have confidence.  It is easier to be confident if you have built a good working relationship with the CEO, you have access to the Voice of the Customer and you know how to use it effectively – to make a sound business case.

I dedicate this post to Cathy Sorensen.  Cathy I thank you for your words of kindness:  it is great to know and to feel that my writing makes a contribution to you and that you missed me during August.

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

In the first post I shared the first part of my discussion around VoC with Erich Dietz, VP of Business Solutions at Mindshare Technologies (specialists in customer surveys and enterprise feedback).  The key point of that post was captured in Erich’s words: “No-one is really doing VoC surveys with the customer in mind!” 

The second post (of this series) surfaced the gap between what companies say and what they do which is best captured by this statement: ““Too many companies say that they are committed to improving the customer experience and yet don’t deliver on this commitment, this promise!”

In this third and last post I wish to share with you what Erich and I discussed on how to do VoC right.   Let’s start with the context that gives rise to surveying and soliciting feedback from customers.

What is the appropriate context for generating value out of VoC? “Action. This Day!”

Erich and Mindshare are clear that if companies (and customers) are to get any benefit from VoC then Tops have to be passionate, be committed and act with a sense of urgency.  Here is how Richard D. Hanks (Chairman, Mindshare Technologies) puts it in his book Delivering and Measuring Customer Service:

“I have to admit, the most frustrating part of working with hundreds of companies on customer experience measurement is when I occasionally have a client who is doing everything “right” but is still not getting positive results….  After a brief analysis of the circumstances, nine times out of ten, I discover the following situation:

The company has been conscientious in its effort to measure satisfaction.  They have been completely committed to obtaining and communicating results.  But, they have had no commitment to improving the level of service: no follow up on needed training, no inclusion of customer satisfaction results in bonus plans, and no one has been held accountable for following up with and recovering customers who complained about a service lapse.  It’s incredible.  They will collect the customer feedback.  They will listen with both ears.  They will hear positives, negatives and suggestions.  And then they will just sit there and do …..nothing…… Particularly disappointing are those companies or managers who say something like, “Well, we’re doing pretty well so far, why do we need to change?

Success requires action and commitment!  You must take action.  You can’t sit still.  Let me quote a client’s customer who says it more forcefully: “Why should I spend my time giving you feedback, when you didn’t pay attention to my comments the last time?”

Upon reading this I was reminded of this post – The Six Enemies of Greatness – which I thoroughly recommend reading, it is an easy read, humorous and informative.

How to get started with VoC?

Lets assume that you, your organisation, has the requisite passion, commitment and sense of urgency.  How should you go about it?  According to Erich, the following approach is a pragmatic one that works:

Map the entire customer experience and identify the key moments of truth.  The point to get is that the “the customer is in the details”: it is the many details that make or break the customer experience.  Richard D. Hanks in his book Delivering and Measuring Customer Service writes “All industries have moments of truth and almost all moments of truth involve people!”

Listen to your customers / set-up VoC. In order to act on what matters to customers and fix that which is broken you have to set up mechanisms that allow you, your organisation, to know what you do not know.  Who is best placed to tell you?  The customer.  Erich cautioned, that you give up the temptation to do this on your own.  Why?  Because it is a specialist task and the value you get out of using professionals, like Mindshare, will more than offset the costs.

Don’t just listen, engage your customers!  Listening as in surveying is not enough.  Engaging customers is what matters – it is the difference that makes the real difference.  What does Erich mean by ‘engaging’?  If I understood him correctly, he means entering into a genuine dialogue, a two way conversation.  At a minimum, this means that you close the loop by going back to the customer (and/or customers as a whole) to let him/her know what you done with his feedback – what changes you have made.

Pilot.  Erich recommends that you, your organisation, starts with a pilot.  Why?  Done right, pilot are a great way to try things out, learn and see what shows up.  Pilots are also low cost, low risk and allow you to demonstrate the business case for VoC.

The Mindshare VoC formula: how to do VoC right

Mindshare’s VoC formula – how to do it right – is set out in Richard D. Hanks’s (Chairman, Mindshare Technologies) book Delivering and Measuring Customer Service:

Collect and listen to the customers input

Establish the process for reviewing the feedback – focussing on under and over-performing units, teams, and people

Share and standardise best practices – communicate insights, set improvement goals, hold people accountable, team up high performers with low performers

Train and support your employees – teach and train your employees and equip them with the right tools

Reward and control – reward in public and counsel in private, reward both correct and improving behaviour

Make the needed changes – empower the local managers to take action / fix the problems, focus on what is working well and expand this

Show the customer the changes – close the loop with the customer / demonstrate that you are acting on the customer feedback

Repeat

My take on VoC and Mindshare Technologies

If you are genuinely up for competing on the basis of the ‘customer experience’ then ‘workability’ requires that you actively invite/encourage/solicit feedback from your customers, turn this into actionable insight and that you act on this insight with resoluteness and a sense of urgency.

If you are going to get value out of VoC then I say that you will get value out of expanding beyond customer surveying and include all sources of insight – social media, call centre, voice of your employees…. And it is not enough.  Knowing about driving can never create the experience of driving, for that experience to occur you have to sit in the car and drive.  Knowing about the customer experience is not the same as experiencing the customer experience; text, figure, charts are a poor substitute for video, audio, and being there, experiencing it in the first person – as lived.

It is necessary and useful to actually experience what it is like to be a customer – walk in the customer’s shoes.  And it is also useful and necessary to work, incognito, on the front lines to experience the lives and working conditions of your front line staff – aka Undercover Boss.  How else will you get to experience the absurdity of policies cooked up, by you and your colleagues, in HQ that are totally divorced from the reality on the front lines?  How else are you going to get a lived experience of ‘bad’ managers – managers who fail to get the best out of the customer facing staff, instead cultivating ‘learned helplessness’ in these staff.  Word, Excel, PowerPoint do not move-touch-inspire people to act in way that one’s own lived experience does.

It occurs to me that the folks at Mindshare Technologies have their hearts in the right place and they have lots of experience to bring to the table if you are considering undertaking, improving, getting value out of VoC.

An offer for you: get a free copy of Delivering and Measuring Customer Service

If you are embarking upon VoC and want to get a copy of Richard D. Hanks book Delivering and Measuring Customer Service ( I found it easy and useful to read) then email me at maz@thecustomerblog.co.uk – the first person to email me will get the book, free of charge. 

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.