Over the years, I have had the opportunity to be involved with some of the largest - and smallest - Voice of the Customer (VoC) and Net Promoter(tm) programmes. I’ve had the privilege of being part of some great successes, but have also worked on initiatives to rectify some epic fails.   Each experience gave valuable insights in what works and what definitely doesn’t.
 
So when my colleague, Marina Natanova and I sat down to compile a checklist of what real Champions of the VoC game do to make their programme a success, I thought it might be relevant to share some of the lessons learned in this post.   
 
Some of the points raised are obvious. Some are more advanced. I’d be curious to hear how many boxes you are able to tick :-)
 
 #1. Make the customer voice a C-suite topic
 
Too many VoC programmes live in the realms of service improvement. Surveys go out, alerts are raised, loops are closed, reports are published.  While all of these activities are critically important, there is a bigger prize to be had.  
 
The real - big picture - value of VoC lies in the way it can influence C-Suite decision making. Getting senior executives to truly understand the power of the customer’s voice and use it as the basis for their decisions, can create business value which eclipses that of any efficiency or improvement programme.  
 
VoC Champions aren’t satisfied with a run of the mill VoC programme. They make it their explicit goal to use solid data and a lot of persistence to get every C-suite member on the bus.
 
 #2 Show the business the money
 
Responding to customer feedback costs time and money, while the ROI of the actions taken is often intangible. As one CEO told me, “People get paid in Euros, not in happy faces". So for VoC programmes to resonate with the business, they need to clearly make the link between customer comments and money made.  
 
VoC Champions realise this and make an effort to turn customer value theory into reliable data. They do this because they know that - once available - this data quickly shifts the conversation from being nice to customers, to maximising ROI. In fact, I have seen the right numbers convince some of the most hard-nosed CFO’s to become avid customer advocates in the span of hours. 
 
#3 Accept that VoC is a work in perpetual progress
 
When establishing (or reviving) a VoC programme, many professionals want to get it right. They want to buy the best software, come up with the most elegant processes and get life down to a handful of metrics. VoC Champions accept that this won’t happen overnight.
 
They accept that they live in a world of insufficient time, budget constraints, corporate politics and therefore … compromises. Rather than fight this reality, they embrace it and consider their VoC programme as a work in perpetual progress. Not by lowering standards, but by deliberately (and formally) implementing a programme to continuously improve the way they collect data, conduct surveys, close loops, make reports and influence the business. 
 
This way they don’t just get over the compromises, but they also eliminate their own bias and keep their programme in tune with the latest developments. 
 
#4 Make sure that the business practices active listening
 
The raw voice of the customer can shift organisations. However, if it’s not acted upon, the customer's words aren’t worth the paper on which they are printed. Worse, if you ask for customers’ opinion and then don’t act on what they’ve said, you might even give them more cause to be annoyed with you than they already were. 
 
VoC Champions relentlessly keep an eye on this hygiene factor. They make sure that the loop is closed on every single customer comment, every single day. In doing so, they go beyond merely responding to customers which have offered up some of their valuable time to give feedback.  
 
They also make sure that employees can contribute their perspective through a quality Voice of the Employee (VoE) programme and use these combined insights to make sure that the business improves at every future customer interaction.
 
#5 Focus your technology on what matters
 
Unless the business decides to outsource their VoC programme as a managed service, it's going to have to deal with technology. VoC Champions make sure that this technology delivers information which is: 
 
  • Comprehensive: by making sure that systems capture and process all types of customer feedback, not just the responses to the nicely crafted questionnaires. Unstructured emails, telephone calls, face-to-face conversations, all need to be logged, categorized and enriched with any other customer, financial and market data that is on hand.
  • Accessible: by providing everyone in the business with the information they need (and nothing more) across the screen, mobile or paper channel they prefer and in a language that they understand. And yes, VoC Champions aren’t afraid to send that hermetic 700-number fancy dashboard to the scrap heap.
  • Actionable: by diligently making sure that every piece of customer feedback leads to a (traceable) action, and provides escalating alerts if customers are left behind.   
VoC Champions understand that as long as the technological platform they choose delivers the above, they'll be safe. If it doesn’t, or isn’t flexible to accommodate, at some point in the future they realise they'll run into trouble. 
 
#6 Keep the people on the VoC bus
 
Beyond C-suite strategies (see above), business success is made up of hundreds or even thousands of small decisions and daily actions. 
 
To make sure that each of these small steps are aligned to the customer’s needs, VoC Champions make sure that employees are willing, skilled and able to listen and act on the customer voice.  Not just in sales and service, but at every level of the organisation.  Financial teams, marketers, logistics specialists, HR and IT all need to be exposed to their relevant part of the customer voice and be encouraged to get involved. 
 
That is why VoC Champions set up awareness and engagement programmes (backed by operational KPI’s) which ensure that customer conversations stay top of mind.  They share success stories that make customer engagement fun and encourage further participation. And those Champions that are really on the ball even work with HR to align the employee experience to the experience they want their customers to have. 
 
#7 Consider VoC as a way of life, not a programme
 
I know it sounds lovey dovey and smells of apple pie, but VoC isn’t about the processes, technologies and tools. It’s a state of mind.  It’s about employees pro-actively reaching out to customers to solve problems and better meet their needs. It’s about leaders getting out of their chair to go into the market and expecting their teams to do the same. It’s about various departments sitting around the table to jointly address customer insights as part of their decision making or innovations. 
 
VoC Champions get this. They focus their efforts on building a culture that does the above, realising the various tools of the VoC trade remain important, but almost become incidental.   
 
They do this because they know that if their people haven’t got the customer vibe, the sleekest of technologies, best documented processes and most swanky reports, won’t get the job done.   
  
 
If you would like to know more about the ways of optimizing your VoC programme or – shameless plug – hear about our VoCCalibrate health check, get in touch with Marina, myself or my other colleagues at Futurelab.
 
Net Promoter, Net Promoter Score and NPS are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc., and Fred Reichheld
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