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Naysayers have been shouting "Surveys are dead!" from rooftops for a couple of years now. Well, they're not dead (yet), but companies are certainly looking for alternative approaches to customer and employee listening in light of the fact that survey burnout is a real problem.
As a result, there's been a greater focus on qualitative research and listening approaches lately. Which ones, you ask? Here are a few options.
Customer Advisory Boards
Advisory boards offer benefits to both customers and to your company. You get feedback and can shore up relationships, while customers are heard, get face time with your executives, and are viewed as thought leaders. CABs typically meet semi-annually, hopefully giving you enough time to act on what you heard and to then come back six months later with improvements in hand.
Employee Advisory Boards
Employee advisory boards typically meet on a monthly basis to provide feedback to employers about the employee experience, benefits, culture, and more. Employees get their voices heard, and employers can be more agile when it comes to addressing emerging trends that could lead to dissatisfaction and attrition.
This is definitely a traditional qualitative listening approach. The format is different from CABs, but focus groups are still a great way to get customers in a room and delve deeper into various topics, get product insights, etc. Focus groups typically required skilled moderators to keep the group on task and to make sure everyone gets a chance to share thoughts.
This approach is unique and often used by B2B companies to probe for feedback on relationship health and more. Managers use these with employees as well; those discussions are often referred to as stay interviews. There's no better way to let a customer or an employee know that you care than to have a 1-on-1 discussion, except to have a follow-up chat to let the customer or the employee know what you did with the feedback!
Voice of the Customer Through Employees
VoCE includes feedback and insights about your customers that have been gathered by your frontline staff (call center, sales, account management, etc.), the folks who interact with - and talk to - them the most. Formalize the process for employees to capture the pain points and sources of frustration that they hear about from your customers. This is a rich source of information, without a doubt.
I wrote about online communities before, but at that time it was more about using them for support, i.e., customers helping each other solve product issues. Online communities are also a great way to test product concepts and to get feedback about the customer (or the employee) experience.
In this category, I'll include not only Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., but also online review sites like Yelp, OpenTable, GlassDoor, and TripAdvisor. There is a ton of feedback on these sites; the real challenge is wrangling it, making sense of it, responding to it, and doing something about it.
Walking in customers’ shoes has become a cliché in our world, but that’s what customer immersion programs are all about. They allow executives to experience what customers experience when they (try to) do business with you. Company executives embed themselves into their customers’ lives to gain a better understanding of how they live, work, and do the jobs they need to do - with your products.
If you don't think of journey mapping sessions as a way to capture customer or employee feedback, unfortunately, you're wrong. When you map or validate current state maps with customers - and when you co-create and develop future state journeys with them, you are about as close to the customer and the customer experience as you can get without actually being there yourself. And the customer is right there in front of you, telling you about the experience. It's a moment of clarity, and it puts the experience and the feedback side by side, allowing you to immediately take it and design something better.
The next time someone in your organization groans at the thought of doing more surveys, consider one or more of these options. You'll come away with some rich data - straight from the horse's mouth - that can be put to good use immediately!
If you don't get feedback from your performers and your audience, you're going to be working in a vacuum. - Peter Maxwell Davies