Organizations today only half-listen to their customers. Sort of like a teenager only half-listens when a parent asks him/her to take out the trash or walk the dog.
Sure organizations might hear a customer complaint or praise of a new product, but do they really understand these comments? Are they able to capture customer dialogue and then use the interactions to better inform the business?
According to a recent report from Hypatia Research, “Operationalizing Voice of the Customer (VOC): How Top Performers Create Actionable Insight,” only 4 percent of all companies surveyed have attained a visionary level of maturity in using VOC. (Download a free copy of the report here or register for an upcoming webinar on March 22 to learn more.)
The good thing is that organizations have an incredible opportunity ahead of them. And, the technology to enable successful VOC best practices. In fact, according to the report, IBM SPSS was ranked as the top vendor for providing VOC technologies.
I recently caught up with Leslie Ament, vice president, research and client advisory, at Hypatia Research to discuss the report, VOC best practices and measuring these programs:
What was the biggest surprise you uncovered from your research?
Companies seek to monitor both social media and capture survey data in order to track VOC and capture a 360-degree customer viewpoint. However, nearly all organizations lacked the maturity, expertise, processes, organizational structure, appropriate incentive programs and enabling technologies to do so. Most focused on either multi-channel survey capture for VOC or utilized social media for monitoring or listening without analysis or taking action on contextual VOC.
Given these findings, what is the best advice you'd give to organizations thinking about implementing a VOC solution?
Create one or two measurable goals and operational plans for execution. Don’t try to boil the entire ocean.
Establish standard performance metrics, benchmarks and processes to help improve consistency of VOC practices.
Improve the ability to collect, analyze and apply feedback more frequently targeting one or two business applications.
Hire expertise and train employees and/or create a Customer Intelligence Center of Excellence.
IBM talks about how customer intimacy/intelligence (CI) is an organization's new intellectual property. Would you agree with that?
While I agree building the capacity for customer intimacy / intelligence is a positive step and certainly a type of intellectual property, the ability to consistently operationalize this CI through standardized decision-support rules is what creates a true differential competitive advantage. As we foodies are fond of saying, “the proof is not in the pudding, but rather in the enjoyment derived from eating it.” An organization that operationalizes VOC via the creation of CI establishes a win-win scenario of customer intimacy that benefits both the customer as well as the company itself.
Almost 50 percent of those surveyed said a barrier of investment in VOC programs was management buy-in. Why doesn't management see the value in developing deeper customer intelligence?
Au contraire mon ami! Management absolutely realizes the value of VOC. However, getting management buy-in is a very different issue. Quoting from our research study, “Multiple views and diverse expectations exist as to which business processes, technologies, organizational structure and expertise are necessary to effectively leverage and operationalize VOC across a department, geographic region, product line or enterprise. Currently, corporate-level alignment in regards to the following seems hard to achieve:
· Have we identified a clear business case(s);
· Which customer touch points qualify for VOC capture;
· Which role or function is accountable for customer information management and analysis;
· Which VOC tool(s) do we have in-house and should we compliment, upgrade or augment our portfolio; and,
· How should we establish and standardize our customer insight processes.
Given this lack of alignment, it was not surprising to find that the top barrier to investment in VOC is management buy-in.”
What is the best way to measure if these VOC solutions are providing value?
Measure metrics aligned with the business application or objective! Case in point – don’t use Net Promoter Scores to measure agents’ call center performance! More than 430 end users said they seek VOC tools and services for four primary business applications, and yet most are uncertain as to which metrics should directly correlate to these VOC initiatives. Is it a wonder attaining management buy-in is such a challenge?
The research showed that only 4 percent of companies attained a visionary level of VOC processes. What makes them visionary?
Visionaries do the up-front strategic and operational planning before executing on closed-loop (continuous improvement techniques) VOC initiatives. Visionaries have addressed the granular issues (e.g., what data sources should we utilize or how should we organize for VOC initiatives) and are more rigorous in continuously refining how VOC insights are operationally applied.
In other words, visionaries design, embed and operationalize effective customer intelligence strategies with the goal of enhancing corporate performance and/or accelerating growth. And, VOC insights direct decision-support rules that operationally guide business processes. Oftentimes these rules are configured or embedded in enabling technologies.
When evaluating a vendor, what are the three most important questions an organization should ask?
Hypatia briefed more than 20 technology vendors and even more end-user organizations while researching this study. Regardless of which VOC vendor(s) a company considers, they should thoroughly understand:
· Software capabilities and functionality, consulting services and/or training offered.
· Terms of service.
· Underlying infrastructure and compatibility with existing architecture and systems.
We also urge potential purchasers to evaluate vendors against internal business requirements coupled with this checklist. Vendors that already have enabling VOC technologies in use by current customers should also be willing to provide multiple references for your specific industry, function or role-based application and similar volume and velocity of daily data.
What is VOC panacea?
Most companies, regardless of size or industry, have a sales cycle and concerns about customer retention, product or service quality and profitability. Structured VOC programs provide companies the opportunity to track their progress, using key performance indicators, with baselines and milestones in a way that may not have been possible in the past. Ultimately, the brass ring is for organizations to turn these customer insights into structured business processes – either manual or automated – designed to address customer issues rapidly.