I’ve had Forrester on my mind for the last few days. Over that time period, the venerable research agency has had several extremely interesting things to say about the Voice of Customer industry. In a series of presentations at the Forrester Customer Experience Forum in New York and in a published report on the “State of Voice of the Customer Programs,” Forrester made some statements about our industry that certainly made me sit up and take notice.
According to Forrester, Voice of the Customer programs are at an inflection point. Though vital to improving the customer experience, most Voice of the Customer programs fail to reach their full potential. In particular, they struggle to drive actions from the insights they generate, struggle to be fully embedded in the broader companies they serve, and (as a natural result of the previous two statements) they struggle to show financial impact.
Forrester ended its latest published report with two bold statements:
1) VoC programs must expand beyond their narrow reputation as passive listening and measurement stations, to become active parts of broader Customer Experience Management efforts;
2) even in businesses that can put a precise value on customer experience improvement (not always a guarantee), VoC programs that cannot demonstrate tangible return on investment will wither and die–victims of a business climate where every manager is looking to wipe out inefficient spend.
Forrester is right: Voice of the Customer programs cannot be passive. Listening, measuring, collecting, surveying–those activities, though important, aren’t enough anymore. It’s time for a new paradigm to take hold: an action paradigm. A Voice of the Customer program should be wed to the following process:
1) VoC program identifies actionable items emerging from real-time, contextual feedback from engaged customers.
2) These actionable items pave the way for concrete fixes aimed at improving the customer experience.
3) These concrete fixes yield tangible business results (such as increased sales, lower churn, or lower support costs).
4) The VoC program proves its worth to the organization and becomes relied upon by multiple teams as a critical decision support tool.
Step 1 requires three critical elements: 1) the data has to be real-time; 2) the feedback has to emerge from engaged customers, opting-in to the process rather than being intercepted; 3) the data has to be married to rich contextual information–on which set of pages did the experience occur? What device was the user on? Which manager was on shift at the time of the experience?
But it’s at the end of Step 1 that the rubber meets the road. That’s where the Action Pledge comes in. Will the company take action and make the concrete fixes necessary to improve the experience and generate tangible results? Do they trust the data, do they believe in the findings enough to drive change? Are they confident enough to go from saying “Oh my, that feedback is interesting; let me file it away” to “Holy crap, I better do something about this now, otherwise we might be in serious trouble?”
The Action Pledge is a firm commitment to acting on the Voice of the Customer and not letting it fall on deaf ears. The Action Pledge is something OpinionLab clients commit to right upfront: it’s a sacred promise aimed at driving constant improvement to the customer experience. Sometimes these improvements are about closing the loop with customers: fixing support issues, website errors, poor customer service. Sometimes these improvements are much more fundamental: they might affect pricing strategy, brand positioning, even HR policies. Either way, the Action Pledge turn a VoC program from a passive feedback station into an active platform for transforming the company and re-orienting it around the customer.
When a company takes the Action Pledge, it’s impossible to turn around and say that the VoC program had no impact. From Day One, actionable insights are catalyzing meaningful improvements to the customer experience. That’s when Step 3 kicks in: our clients are keen to measure the impact of their fixes, capitalizing on those that produce recurring results and fine-tuning those that don’t always work the first time around. That’s how programs build momentum, changing the way stakeholders engage with customers and putting the Voice of the Customer firmly at the heart of the company’s decision-making procedures.