July 18, 2019 | Point of View

7 mindsets to revive your voice of customer (VOC) program

Today’s voice of the customer (VoC) programs and related capabilities generate a wealth of data and insights about customer activities, preferences, and needs

Executive Summary

  • Many companies aren’t realizing the value that they could from voice of the customer (VoC) programs. While these programs are essential to success in a rapidly evolving marketplace, less than a quarter of VoC program leaders consider themselves good at driving change based on their insights, and many companies are not actively improving their programs. 
  • There are many reasons why VoC programs get “stuck.” It is not enough to collect data and convert it into insight. To realize value, companies must be able to apply it to make changes that improve customer experience relationships, increase sales, and strengthen competitive positioning. VoC programs face many of the same change management challeges as other large organizational initiatives: lack of executive or other stakeholder support, insufficient resources, overwhelming amounts of analysis that make it hard to prioritize actions, and lack of understanding among the masses. 
  • VoC program leaders can break out of the rut—but they will need to take the initiative to do so. To elevate the importance and impact of a VoC program, leaders must shift their focus from delivering data and insight to bringing the organization along on a journey. 
  • There are seven things that VoC program leaders can do to shift their—and their organizations’—mindset: Adopt an internal service provider perspective, understand that less (data) is sometimes more, build an internal brand, educate internal stakeholders, cultivate change champions in the organization, approach VoC as a product rather than a service, and use guerilla tactics (inexpensive but wide-reaching activities such as webinars) to circumnavigate a limited budget. 

Introduction

Today’s voice of the customer (VoC) programs and related capabilities generate a wealth of data and insights about customer activities, preferences, and needs. As you well know, however, this data is only as valuable as the organization’s ability to convert it into positive product, service, and operational changes that enhance customer experience. Unfortunately, this is where many VoC programs stall. Market research finds that most companies need to become more adept at converting VoC insights into better customer relationships, increased revenue, and competitive strength. 

Like any organizational change initiative, becoming a customer-centric business involves navigating barriers that range from lack of executive support to limited resources. If you want to unlock the full potential of your program and customer insight, you will need to get your organization thinking differently about the voice of its customers. And to do that, you—as leader of your organization’s customer experience or VoC program—must change your own mindset and transform your role into a services business within your company. 

Mindset 1: You’re here to serve internal clients 

Challenge:

Losing sight of your purpose in the company 

Solution:

As the VoC leader, you are an internal service provider to internal clients. You should be just as client-centric as your company should be customer-centric. So, what are your client segments? You’ve got executives running business units. You’ve got functional area leaders who want to produce better journeys for customers and achieve personal success. You’ve also got middle management, typically the hardest segment to serve and frequently the roles with ultimate responsibility for CX. Finally, you’ve got customer-facing, front line staff who need your guidance in driving customer-centricity.

You should be just as client-centric as your company should be customer-centric. ”

Now ask yourself how your clients feel about your service. Are they getting data and insights in formats they can understand to improve the customer journey? Do you understand their wants and needs and how you can deliver data, insights, dashboards, and reports that meet or exceed those needs (realizing they may not know what they want and need until they see it)? Codesign with your internal clients to develop a program not for the sake of the VoC program needs, but to address your clients’ needs. 

Mindset 2: Focus is your friend 

Challenge:

Overwhelming internal clients with too much data and too many KPIs 

Solution:

Most VoC programs have enough data to drown their internal clients. Many VoC owners find it hard to strike a balance between how much data their internal clients can consume and how much they can understand. 

The data seems simple when you’re close to it, but for your business stakeholders who see it infrequently, or those who lack a quantitative mindset, the prospect of processing that amount of information can be overwhelming. They might even act like they completely grasp what you’re sharing because their insecurities prevent them from admitting they don’t. 

To make the data accessible for them you need a one- page (preferably PowerPoint) dashboard containing only the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that correlate to the business outcomes they care about. Keep in mind that your initial dashboard may be based on a hypothesis that has yet to be proven. A streamlined dashboard should contain only your “hallway metrics.” Hallway metrics are the KPIs that you could communicate to describe 

Mindset 3: Own and manage your brand 

Challenge:

Employees really don’t know what you do or why you do it 

Solution:

Like a brand, you and your VoC program have recognition, perceptions, image, and a promise. And like any good brand manager, you need to actively manage those brand dimensions. Starting with awareness, how many of the right people know what your program does? If they know what your program does, are their perceptions accurate? Are they positive? Make sure your internal clients understand what you do and why you do it. 

Whatever brand image you intend, make sure it doesn’t limit your success. Don’t let yourself be known as the “survey person,” the “customer data person,” or the “market researcher.” Become known as the person responsible for helping the company improve all aspects of CX to achieve a differentiated experience and gain more loyal customers. Create and execute 

a communication plan to promote education and awareness while creating excitement about the program. To prevent getting lost in the noise of other ongoing efforts, find creative ways to incorporate your message into existing channels. Ask for guest spotlights in town hall meetings, inquire about incorporating messaging in existing team updates or meetings, work with marketing to create print materials of personas and journey maps for your break areas. Develop an actionable approach to spread the message of the VoC brand and a channel for people to communicate interest or share feedback. 

Don’t let yourself be known as the “survey person,” the “customer data person,” or the “market researcher.” Become known as the person responsible for helping the company improve all aspects of CX to achieve a differentiated experience and gain more loyal customers. ”

Mindset 4: Sell it 

Challenge:

Stakeholders don’t understand how VoC connects to their role

Solution:

If you want change to happen, you’ve got to sell your service, particularly to your leaders (CXOs and department heads). There are two key concepts that these stakeholders need to understand before they’ll buy into your CX vision. First, they need to understand what CX is, and then they need objective, financially focused evidence to convince them it’s important. 

To get these important stakeholders aligned, have them join you in a workshop to set a CX strategy. Developed in a visioning or “North Star” workshop, the strategy should ensure the organization knows how they should value data and how that will tie to the organizational priorities. The strategy development process will help bring these leaders along and align them to common goals, generating KPIs to measure internal success. 

Brainstorm ideas with cross-collaborative leadership teams and ask for their input on Vision and Value indicators, gather insight on existing initiatives, and then align your program goals. This makes buy-in easier as leaders encourage their teams to work toward the already defined success measures rather than providing employees with yet another goal to work towards. In the end, you need to provide value for internal clients by helping them reach their existing goals. If they’re interested in improving the customer onboarding process, for example, then so are you. 

Mindset 5: Cultivate change champions 

Challenge:

Your army doesn’t have enough stakeholders 

Solution:

Forrester has been telling us since 2014 that if VoC programs don’t leverage stakeholders they will fail. Keeping this in mind, we need to find our change champions. They may not necessarily be the people who solve problems, or do the work, but they need to be our advocates and advisees. This group of individuals should represent key business units impacted by the VoC program. They can assist with the integration of the changes into their own business units by representing needs, identifying specific areas and types of impacts, and providing two-way communication. By serving as liaisons between their business units and the program team, they communicate directly with their business units and bring back feedback, questions, and communication needs. The group helps to not only provide information, but also to build involvement within their organizations. 

This doesn’t require a full-time investment in the program, but instead provides an opportunity to reframe how users think about their ways of working. Change champions not only support a VoC initiative, but also increase adoption to show value in firm-wide investments that support your North Star. Ask yourself what change champions look like for your organization, where you can find them, and how you can enlist them. Who is adopting your service well today? Who is passive or resistant and might be converted to a VoC champion? What can be done to get more of their mindshare? 

Champions can also be created with HR by linking employee experience to customer experience. This linkage raises the strategic value of HR to the business—a win for them. Similarly, by developing employee personas, mapping the employee journey, and incorporating the Voice of the Employee (VoE) into your VoC, grass root champions should appear. 

Readiness will be key to the success of your VoC program. Measure internal readiness through informal discussions, co-design workshops with change agents, and consider supplementing that with formal internal surveys to test the temperature and acceptance of the program. ”

Mindset 6: Don’t just build it and expect them to come 

Challenge:

Thinking VoC is a product instead of a service 

Solution:

Many VoC managers who maintain an “inside-out” view of their internal services tend to be product-focused in what they deliver. They’re trying to make their data and insights better and better, thinking that the quality of what they produce alone will pull in demand for their internal services. However, you shouldn’t expect that you can just “build it, and they will come.” No matter how insightful and well-presented the data you produce for your internal clients, they still may not examine or act on it. Be prepared to push your business impact to your clients, finding root causes of customer pain and its impact on revenue or churn. 

Readiness will be key to the success of your VoC program. Measure internal readiness through informal discussions, co-design workshops with change agents, and consider supplementing that with formal internal surveys to test the temperature and acceptance of the program. While it’s valuable to measure readiness prior to launching a program to develop a baseline, make sure you continuously measure it to understand how it is working with your internal clients. Ask them along the way to validate your data presentation, direction, plan, and design. This also allows you to build awareness and excitement by pivoting based on feedback and by communicating to participants that they’ve been heard. Include your stakeholders in building the VoC program by letting them know “we built it for you, not for us.” 

Mindset 7: Resort to guerilla tactics 

Challenge:

Lack of resources or budge 

Solution:

No VoC program is going to get all the resources and budget that it would like to have, and many are left to survive on bare minimums. This might be why you’ve struggled to make an impact. If you don’t have the resources of a large VoC army, there’s another great and proven path to victory in the war for customer loyalty: guerilla tactics. By being pragmatic, scrappy, and taking “smart cuts,” a VoC leader can still create significant value and produce great results. You might have grand plans for your VoC program, but until the resources arrive, and to help justify their arrival, producing results on a shoestring budget will win you champions. 

One way to build your VoC brand, get additional buy- in, and generate champions is with an internal VoC newsletter. Need to generate more champions and make the whole company feel involvement and ownership in CX? Invite each functional group to contribute content to the newsletter. Can’t get what you need to understand your customers? Try informal focus groups with any customer you can recruit using the camera on your cell phone to take video and later share. Shift the culture even further towards customer-centricity by doing CX lunch-and-learns and internal webinars to educate on what CX is, why it’s important, and what your team does to improve it. Even though you might not have the resources you’d like, there are many ways to empower your VoC program. 

Conclusion 

Hopefully, you’re seeing your VoC role through a different lens. You understand that you’re running a services business within your company. In order for that business to succeed, it needs good brand awareness and image so you can effectively sell it to the internal clients you built it for. 

By taking these new approaches, bringing focus to your service, and developing champions, your success trajectory should rise as you start to walk-the-CX-walk and lead by example. Finally, try to keep a start-up mentality that deploys guerilla tactics whenever necessary, knowing that you’ll never likely have all the resources and budget that you’d like to have. 

VoC is a powerful program that substantially impacts your customer experience and overall business goals. With these new mindsets, I hope you’re able to get out of your VoC rut and make a mark in your organization. 

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