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Establishing a customer-centric culture at your company

When is the right time to establish a customer experience - or voice of customer - programme for your company?

I advocate for immediate action in this space. Whether your company is just getting started, or already well established, a voice of customer programme is essential.

Lots of companies collect feedback. Even more claim they’re customer first. But unless they have a system in place to translate real user experiences into action, then at best they’re wasting effort, and at worst they’re just paying lip service.

In this article, I’ll outline how you can get started with a voice of customer program, including choosing the right time to survey customers and ensuring true understanding of their issues. I’ll also explain the importance of closing the loop with customers that have provided valuable feedback.

Getting started with VOC

The ideal time to start a voice of customer programme is from ground zero. You’ve already done all the research and user testing to ensure your product or service has market fit. A voice of customer programme is a natural extension of this work.

At its core, a VOC means staying in touch with what your customers want and responding to their needs. These needs will change over time. Your VOC will help ensure you’re listening and acting on these changes, and even better, anticipating them!

If you haven’t got any insight into what your customers think about your product, then what are you doing? Behavioral data provides limited perspective. You might be able to see what your users are doing, but that’s not the same as knowing why they’re doing it. Context from surveys and user interviews completely opens up your perspective, so you can make fully informed decisions.

The accounting software QuickBooks was built because the founder, Scott Cook, observed his wife do her accounts for her small business at their kitchen table. He could see how difficult the process was, and decided there had to be a better way, which led to the advent of QuickBooks.

It’s around 45 years old now, and a multi-global success. Scott’s actual kitchen table is in the head office, in Mountain View in Silicon Valley. People sit and have meetings at that table because it's so central to the company culture and values. There is a focus on empathy for and listening to customers. They marry customer perspective with product and user analytics to get the full picture, and are truly ‘customer first’.

When you’re just getting started, it’s easy to know who your customers are, and to capture their feedback. You can easily track the type and frequency of this feedback.

For example, if you only have 10 customers, and all 10 are providing the same feedback on a regular basis, then you know it’s really important!

And if you build this customer monitoring into your company’s DNA from that point on, that’s your voice of the customer programme. As you start to scale, you’ll naturally start thinking about how to automate and capture your growing volume of customer feedback.

Maybe you start with JIRA, or just use spreadsheets. As long as you’re able to easily understand how your customers are thinking and feeling about your product and service model, then your voice of the customer programme is on track.

Things like type, frequency and defined driver models will evolve over time. At a certain point, when manual analysis becomes unmanageable, feedback analytics software like Thematic can help close the gap and keep you close to your customers. Combine your feedback analytics with a CX platform and you’ll be able to capture specific data at defined points in your customers’ journeys.

If you’re already well established, and you don’t have any way of getting inside your customers’ heads, then there’s no better time to start than right now. You can even start with a Google form and pull the data into a spreadsheet. If you iterate on and use the data, then that’s still a VOC.

Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes

Collecting and acting on feedback is just one element of an effective voice of the customer program. Put this together with operational data, behavioral analytics and user interviews, and you transform your VOC into a solid customer-led strategy.

If you have a large percentage of customers complaining about a particular issue in text feedback, this should be easy to validate in your behavioral analytics. You can more accurately quantify the issue, and then target appropriate customers for user interviews, to truly understand the issue and the best possible problem to solve (the root cause).

One of the companies I’ve worked for had a fantastic process that helped gain understanding of their customers’ real problems and challenges with their product. They’d organize to watch a customer use the product in their day to day work, and ask questions based on their observations. They didn’t bring predefined questions that they wanted to validate

For example, if a customer was uploading receipts within an accounting platform, and not following the expected or assumed process, the observer could find out why. On demonstrating the ‘usual’ process to the customer, they might learn that it’s not intuitive.

Straight away, they have data points that say they’re not teaching customers the fastest or best ways to use the product. Additionally, the workflow or UI is not intuitive enough, or else not designed in a way that customers actually do the work! Product and behavioral analytics would be able to validate these points, and spark necessary action.

A graphic of a man wearing a suit, he's on the phone and looks worried.

Another example is getting your executive leadership team to call detractors. One of my previous CEOs was a big advocate for this approach. We had our NPS scores feeding into a Slack channel, and when the CEO saw a zero, he’d follow up directly with the customer.

Afterward, he’d talk to the customer success team about his learnings. The feedback would go into our voice of customer channel, and we’d synthesize that against all of the other points on what we needed to do for service related issues, product related issues, pricing, etc. It's about keeping it real, and keeping a real connection to customers.

Choosing when to survey customers

How well do you know your customer journey? While any feedback is better than no feedback, choosing when to survey customers is important. It’ll affect the volume and type of feedback you receive, and very often the score.

If you’re not already in the know, then start by learning your customer journey. This is essential to your voice of customer program. Make sure you know the best times to survey your customers, and what to ask. Don’t just survey people for the hell of it.

You may end up with different surveys that are dependent on the type of customer or interaction, and that’s a good thing! For example, if you’re a B2C company, you’re likely to have short, transactional surveys that follow a purchase. Or surveys that follow up with people who have contacted customer support.

But if your customer is engaging in a larger process, like the implementation of a product, the number of times they speak to your team could easily be in the double digits. It doesn’t make sense to survey them (with the same survey) over and over. But the end of the implementation is perfect for a long form survey, asking about your brand, the price, the product and the service.

Think wider than Net Promoter Score surveys! NPS surveys aren’t always the best option to provide insights that will drive action. In my opinion, NPS should be saved for an annual strategic advocacy driven survey with defined question sets aligned to your driver models.

Your more tactical, high frequency surveys need to be insightful and relevant to the interaction that your customer has had with you. For example, is your survey geared to discover effort, ease or satisfaction?

Having different surveys and survey timings in play gives you a more holistic view. You’ll have different datasets linked to different types of customers, as well as different phases in the customer journey. With appropriate structure and the right technology, you’ll be able to route results from your feedback analysis directly to the teams that can act on the information.

Closing the loop with customers

The last thing I’m going to talk about in regards to establishing a customer-centric culture is closing the loop with customers. We’ve all seen the usual ‘thanks for your feedback’ message that pops up after a survey. But companies can do better.

If people are providing feedback, then you need to find ways to say not just “we’ve heard you” but also “we’ve fixed it.” Even “we acknowledge that this is a pain point for you, but it’s not a priority currently” has its place.

Be transparent and communicate that you’re making informed choices to benefit your customer base, not the company’s agenda.

When possible, tell your customers that you're doing something with their feedback. This is always the expectation. Customers provide feedback because they trust you to fix issues and improve the product. Broadcast what you’ve changed and why via your marketing channels, and within the product. Where possible, go back to individual customers and report the fix.

If someone’s reported that a button in the product is driving them crazy, because it’s hidden under a logo, make the fix, and then get in touch. Tell them you’ve moved the button, and thank them for bringing the issue to your attention. This level of service prompts the customer to continue to fill in your surveys, upping your response rates. And you can be sure they’ll spread the word about how responsive and on to it your company is.

I see the potential for a lot of evolution in customer experience, particularly in the personalization space. Customer Loyalty will be won through personal connections. According to the Qualtrics 2023 Global Consumer Trends Report, 37% of consumers reduce their spending or move to another brand after a poor customer experience.

But imagine reporting an issue, like the hidden or faulty button, and receiving an SMS a week later saying “Hey Scott, thanks for your feedback. The button’s moved - click this link and check it out.” It’s via SMS because the company knows that’s my preferred contact method.

If a company responded to my feedback this way, then it’ll turn me from a customer into an advocate. I’ll tell people about my experience at every barbeque I go to for the next six years.

But technology wise, I don’t think we’re there yet. There needs to be a better meshing of feedback analytics and customer intelligence platforms. Currently, one platform will have the details of contact methods, the other the details of my feedback. But I haven’t seen an instance where feedback - and importantly the action taken based on the feedback - is successfully communicated between platforms.

Final thoughts

To really be embedded in your company culture, being customer-centric is something that has to be demonstrated from the top down. But recognizing that customer feedback is a valuable asset is a good place to start.  

To get your voice of the customer program running well, find ways to make sure your customer feedback is used effectively and efficiently. Validate your findings with product analytics and user interviews, so you’re experiencing your customers’ reality. Learn where in your customer journeys is best to initiate surveys, and close the loop with customers by telling them about actions taken based on their feedback.

With a VOC program in place, companies create stronger relationships with customers. This leads to increased loyalty and satisfaction, and directly affects your bottom line.

This article was first published via GreenBook.

About the author:

Scott Downing is a Global Employee and Customer Experience strategist, and an advocate for Continuous Improvement. He has experience across the SaaS, Telco and Financial Service sectors in multiple regions and countries. He uses Human Centric Design methods in his work.

Recently, Scott helped a tech Unicorn kick off its CX Strategy and Transformation Program to ensure continued success. He has also led multiple International Teams for large organisations like Telstra and Intuit. In these roles Scott was renowned for focussing on Customer Support, Digital OMNI channel launches/optimization as well as driving a focus for quality and people development to move the needle.

Scott is originally from the UK and has been in Australia for 15 years. He is the proud Winner of the Customer Service Executive of the Year in Australia and Internationally.

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