Listen to your customers, and they’ll help improve your market success and overall business performance. At least, that’s the idea behind Voice of the Customer (VOC) programs, which enable you to turn subjective customer opinions into actionable business intelligence. Unfortunately, the full promise of VOC programs and VOC data isn’t often realized.
Good VOC programs start with gathering useful data, as discussed in the first part of this series. In this second post, I’ll discuss what comes next: going beyond data analysis to embed customer-driven insights into decision-making across the enterprise.
Decide and conquer
Systematically organizing and acting on customer feedback—and ensuring that it gets incorporated into your customer service, product, pricing, branding, communications, etc. decisions—is the endgame of all VOC programs. But it can be an elusive goal. In fact, according to Gartner, only 29% of companies with VOC programs systematically incorporate those insights into decision-making processes. And only one in four believes their VOC programs are effective at driving action.
So what can you do? Here are five tips for taking your VOC program from data to decisions.
1. Know your goals
Analyzing VOC data should be like zero-sum budgeting. You’ll need to specify detailed objectives for every piece of data you collect—and clarify the process it will inform. Who’s going to use this piece of research? How will it be translated into a business decision? And how will you make sure you’ve gotten all the data you need to inform that decision?
It’s also important to get the buy-in and sponsorship of each decision maker that’s involved. If your stakeholders aren’t accustomed to thinking like a researcher, help them understand exactly how your data will improve their choices about product design, branding, communications, and customer experience, and how it will fit their workflow. VOC programs are not without cost, and each VOC effort should be evaluated in the same way that any other investment would be, e.g. according to what it returns to business success.
For a recent BTG client, for example, I designed a formal system that ensured no VOC effort would be funded without a clear description of its purpose, a corporate agent responsible for implementing results, a schedule for decision-making, and metrics to measure impact. One quick fix that came out of the system: VOC data gathering and analysis are now in lockstep with the timing of specific business decisions, thus avoiding the trap of stale data (whether real or perceived) or data that comes too late in the decision making process.
2. Build a process and organize
Goals are great, but it’s hard to make things happen without committing to an actual process. Create an explicit framework for driving VOC deployment: when data collection and analysis will happen, how insights will be delivered to stakeholders, and when stakeholders will meet to drive those insights into decision-making. Otherwise, you’re likely to leave good intelligence gathering dust on the proverbial shelf.
One client I’ve worked with has created a small group of employees who are specifically trained in working with both VOC experts and business decision makers. This group helps translate VOC findings into insights to bridge the gap and drive results from VOC investments. Another client totally revamped the company’s VOC structure so that it’s better aligned and integrated with individual business units.
3. Align the incentives
Companies that really believe in VOC make sure the organization isn’t just empowered but incentivized to leverage its full power. If an executive commissions a piece of research that isn’t incorporated into the product decision, they should be held accountable for it. Similarly, researchers must commit to following up with their business partners to understand the impact of their data… then document and circulate that story back through the broader organization.
Many companies will tie executive reward and compensation to VOC results, for example, while others take additional steps to celebrate the success of VOC actions through internal recognition and rewards. These types of programs reach all levels of the organization, from senior executives to frontline employees.
4. Walk before you run
There are a lot of ways to collect feedback from your customers, and a lot of smart ways to make it useful. Fortunately, you don’t have to tackle everything at once.
The biggest obstacle that my clients share with me is how to start driving action from VOC. Many are overwhelmed and even intimidated by the volume and complexity of results. My advice? Pick the area where you are likely to be most successful to start—whether it’s working with a supportive executive or tackling an area where VOC is most needed—and design a pilot program that will make a real difference to the company. Once you have had a number of successes at doing this, with measured impact, the effects will snowball throughout the organization, and you can expand your efforts.
5. Make smart use of technology
Part of what’s made VOC exciting these days is technology, which makes it easier to collect, analyze, and escalate important data points. But technology needs to be leveraged in the right ways. Fancy software doesn’t spare you from having to ensure the integrity and relevance of your data. In fact, I have seen technology, in the wrong hands, allow some organizations to elicit VOC data that is biased, ambiguous, or not useful for the decision at hand. What’s more, technology won’t ensure that you incorporate the right kind of structured and unstructured feedback to cover the whole customer experience… Or link VOC to appropriate sources of relevant information about spending, loyalty, and business outcomes in your company.
So buyer beware with technology. Without the right expertise within an organization, it can be wasteful or misleading. Technology has empowered VOC in many ways, but it needs the right people to ensure it maximizes true value to the organization.
Bring it back to the bottom line
According to the Aberdeen Group, organizations with best-in-class VoC programs enjoy an almost 10-fold year-over-year increase in annual company revenue, and a 55% greater customer retention rate. So it’s worth taking the time to get things right.
Susan Piotroski helps clients drive growth by building effective VOC, customer experience, new product/service development, competitive positioning, customer loyalty, and branding programs. A former partner at Accenture, she has worked in a wide range of industries (e.g., healthcare, financial services, technology, consumer products, and many others), and she's helped BTG clients on a number of VOC and quality management initiatives.