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The Pitfalls of Traditional Voice of Customer Programs

Aug 12, 2020 2:00:00 PM

Used correctly, Voice of Customer is one of the most impactful ways you can improve your company's customer experience. According to a recent HBR Salesforce report, companies agree that customer-sourced "data has a clear role to play in developing a superior customer experience." Yet only 23% actually act on the customer feedback they receive. 

Your customers know what they need, and they often go out of their way to tell you. Actively listening to the customer voice strengthens your value as a partner, which increases renewals and referrals of your business. Voice of Customer feedback is an incredibly valuable enterprise data asset, but is most valuable when used in a timely fashion. 

It sounds so simple: Voice of Customer is what your customers are saying. So why do so many organizations struggle to use VoC data effectively to drive measurably better customer experience? 

In short: Without the right tools and technology, a VoC strategy can be hard to implement. Using traditional methods, high-quality feedback is hard to collect, difficult to analyze, and even harder to action while it’s still relevant. Traditional methods can actually become an obstacle and distort effort vs. outcome dynamics, often involving a great deal of hard work when you’re actually making less progress. 

What do we mean by traditional methods? Surveys, on one end of the spectrum, fail to consider the feedback that matters most. Alternatively, some companies rely on manual processes that are no match for the volume of critical feedback under consideration.  

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In this article, we will explore why traditional VoC methods are failing your organization and your customer relationships, and offer some tips to make your efforts more impactful going forward. 

Traditional Surveys Don’t Give You the Data You Need to Take Action 

 

Survey Design

Surveys have long been the industry standard. It is now commonplace that after a support ticket is closed, an online purchase is completed, or while using an app, customers are asked to rate their experience. But survey design is hard; the right questions worded incorrectly will lead to poor quality responses, and the wrong questions will serve up answers that are not actionable. When you’re already removed from the insights customers are volunteering in the channels available to them, it’s even more difficult to know which questions to ask.  

There is also a tendency to over-index on numerical and closed selection-based questions. When trying to find correlations and trends in any dataset, we rely on numbers and spreadsheets to guide our direction. However, the most useful VoC feedback comes in the form of free-form text and conversations. Unstructured data coming in the form of text or voice is more descriptive than any ratings-based survey question. This data is more useful because it is unfiltered and uninfluenced by pre-selected options or leading questions, and it’s readily available in much greater quantities for meaningful analysis. 

Collating, processing, and prioritizing this unstructured data is difficult without the right tools and technology. Most organizations aren’t equipped to do much with the data. HBR found that "less than 1% of [any organization’s] unstructured data is analyzed or used at all." Numbers are simple to collate and look beautiful on a graph for leadership, but ultimately, they are less likely to drive meaningful outcomes.

Bad Timing

Companies often ask for feedback when convenient for them, not the customer. For example, surveys frequently go out one week after a purchase or when a user clicks a sequence of buttons in-app for the first time. Software automation makes these pre-written surveys easy to surface to the user, but we know that no one is ever excited to give a vendor feedback. 

Your customers are busy. So when pop-ups or emails catch them off guard, they are seen as interruptions at best and a nuisance at worst. A study by Customer Thermometer found that only 9% of survey respondents answered thoughtfully and 45% just ignore the request. Pre-written, standardized questions are often too narrowly focused to solicit meaningful feedback. Perhaps today’s interaction was fine, but your customer is still seething about a frustrating, yet-to-be rectified experience last week. Timing the ask based on your requirements removes the personalized nature of feedback.  

In a well-intentioned effort to increase the number of customer touchpoints, many companies bombard their customers with far too many surveys which can lead to survey fatigue. Survey fatigue is not only problematic because it reduces the likelihood that customers will engage with future surveys, but it also chips away at your relationship equity, and especially when delivered in-app, surveys can come between a customer and their efforts to realize value from your product. It’s likely that from the customer’s perspective, they have plenty of touchpoints with you already — if only you would listen where they are already speaking. 

Second Guessing

Surveys often leave you with more questions than answers. Once responses start trickling in, many CX leaders end up confronting questions such as whether the small group of respondents constitutes a representative sample, whether a question could have been worded more effectively, or whether the survey itself actually irritated the customer and influenced their response. These questions distract from the important answers you sought in the first place, about what drives positive and negative customer experiences. What should you do more of, and less of, where, when, and why? Second guessing consumes even more internal resources, and worse, reduces organizational acceptance of VoC insights. 

Manual Processes are No Match for the Highest-Impact Feedback 

 

Unstructured Data is Critical, but Difficult to Analyze

The most robust VoC initiatives prioritize unstructured data, which is rich with customer verbatims that pinpoint critical CX elements in context. Sources of unstructured data include email and support case conversations, comments made in Slack channels shared with customers, in your customer community, or on social media. The customer effort and initiative required for these interactions makes them especially meaningful data generators, and missing these opportunities, when customers are ready to be heard, can be highly detrimental to your relationships. 

Unfortunately, it is not always easy to capture these details. Not only is unstructured data hard to analyze, but, most teams don’t have the bandwidth to actively listen for the important parts. Rather than pull in-house data teams off of projects that directly add material value to customers, many well-meaning CX organizations rely on manual processes to characterize the unstructured customer voice. 

Attempting to manually listen to everything customers say in every channel, is like getting stuck in a nightmarish fun house. Imagine meandering room to room and seeing larger than life depictions of your freemium customers berating you for your inability to control the weather, meanwhile your best customers are stuck in a freeze-frame behind a wind tunnel, and you can’t hear what they’re saying.

Siloed Raw Data Further Complicates Manual Processes

Most organizations engage customers via eight contact channels, yet two-thirds have no cross-channel contact management strategy. Analyzing unstructured data is difficult enough already, so when it's spread across multiple siloed systems, it’s no wonder that so many teams struggle to get a handle on their holistic CX. Less than one third of companies said they’re able to perform analysis that considers data relationships across CX touchpoints. This makes it really difficult to identify the most impactful, needle-moving elements of your customer experience. 

Different Teams Require Tailored Perspectives on the Same Truth

Where Voice of Customer once meant surveys were delivered with a single objective, best-in-class CX organizations know that several different cross-functional teams all have a vested interest in the customer voice. 

Imagine you’ve made it out of the fun house, and have successfully digested your unstructured customer voice and pulled out the important stuff. Congratulations! Now, you need to repeat that process several times, through the lens of every other cross-functional team accountable for customer experience. Upping the ante, you’ll need to do that in near-real-time to reap any benefits from your hard work — oh, and you’ll need to generate some snazzy looking reports that communicate your findings as neatly as the survey reporting you once relied on. 

Whoever First Said ‘Better Late Than Never’ Wasn’t Running a High Performance CX Team   

Like many high-value assets, your customer voice depreciates quickly, and if you’ve set your sights on an actionable VoC strategy, it’s essential to work with timely data. Unfortunately, many CX teams relying on traditional VoC methods have been stung by the realization that customers aren’t going to wait around while their voice falls on deaf ears. 

Let’s go back to the fun house, where the concept of time doesn’t exist — to you, you’ve been reading and digesting everything as fast as you can, and time is standing still. Your customers, though, have been waiting on the status of their new report format, for weeks. Your Product team has been waiting nearly a full quarter for sufficiently detailed survey responses about a new feature to roll in. With all of that investment of time and resources, nothing has measurably changed. 

Operationalizing VoC Requires a New Approach

Truly operationalizing the customer voice is how organizations with best-in-class CX are upgrading their old-school VoC programs to VoC strategies with measurable impact. 

 

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Unify Customer Voice Data 

Your customers probably give you feedback via many channels — but it’s easy to play whack-a-mole with one source at a time instead of looking at the big picture. Aligning feedback across channels might sound like a difficult target, but it’s possible to set a “North Star” of collecting customer feedback in one place, and work towards it incrementally. Putting in place the right tools and practices to stitch all of the data together will give you much better insight into your customer experience. Without the holistic context offered by a complete picture, it’s very easy to work with skewed data and overinvest in the wrong direction — the urgency and importance of each feedback snippet must be gauged across the breadth of all feedback, regardless of which team or tool collects it.

Include Every Stakeholder 

It is equally critical to make sure the unified customer voice is accessible to all teams. 72% of companies surveyed said that customer feedback insights never or hardly reach the relevant business units. While cross-functional teams are ultimately accountable to the customer voice, they live in different systems of record with access to different data. Customer Support has case management, phone and chat software, Customer Success has account health and product adoption management software, Operations uses Business Intelligence software,Sales works within a CRM, Engineering uses incident management software, and Product uses roadmapping tools. But if the customer' voice lives in Salesforce and Slack, and the CX Operations team lives in Looker, the right data may not be visible to the right audience at the right time. 

Continuous vs. Quarterly VoC Reporting 

Working with timely data maximizes your chances of having a positive, measurable impact on your customer experience. Back in the fun house, your customers are repeating themselves over and over again in as many channels as are available to them, but you’re still playing catch-up and trying to hear what they said the first time. Not only will an always-on VoC strategy build relationship equity, but it will make your teams feel proactive and empowered, rather than reactive and powerless, when collaborating cross-functionally. 

Of course, it’s unlikely that you can actually implement what customers are asking for in real-time, but a timely acknowledgement of their feedback and incorporating timely data internally will save you lots of headaches and avoidable disappointment, internally and externally. 

Listening Efficiently Means More Resources to Take Action 

Feedback is ever-evolving. With every feature release, bug fix, or process change, the customers' needs shift. Listening to everything is good practice, but you can’t and shouldn’t act on everything. From a product perspective, do you focus on enhancing a heavily used legacy feature or the new shiny market differentiator that has little uptake at this moment? There is no right answer to that question, and traditional methods make it nearly impossible to take comfort in a sound hypothesis. An Operational VoC strategy can improve decision-making in two ways: first, by pulling quantitative signals from unstructured data to help prioritize next steps, and second, by collating verbatim customer comments that bring customer needs to life. 

With the right tools and technology, VoC should be an always-on practice that frees up CX leaders to focus on the next action required, not on the critical, but low-ROI data gathering, reading and manual processing part of the cycle. In fact, data and analytics ranked the #1 CX investment priority for CX practitioners in a CX Network study. Machine learning greatly reduces the effort of collating customer data, and makes insight available in real-time, allowing you to spend more time providing value to your customers. Priorities will always change, but continually scaling what customers love about your CX and limiting the impact of what they don’t is always going to be a win for you, your customers and your organization. 

You made it out of the fun house — you can hear and see clearly, and you can easily discern what is urgent vs. what is important, neither, or both. You’re free to spend time on the things that matter, and can rest assured that you aren’t going to miss anything. Your VoC strategy is no longer a guessing game, nor a fun house captive, but a well-oiled machine that allows all teams to be proud stewards of your customer voice, and ensures your CX is measurably best-in-class. 

Frame AI is the Voice of Customer solution that drives company-wide action. Delivering a unified view of your customer voice in any channel, Frame AI surfaces the themes, verbatims, and hard data your organization needs to drive a measurably better CX. 

Mary Cleary

Written by Mary Cleary