Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How's the Customer Experience of Your VOC Program?

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Today I am pleased to present another guest post by Sarah Simon.

In the greater VoC/CX industry, we talk all the time about using the Voice of the Customer to drive action that results in a superior customer experience.  I want to talk about turning this idea on its head: Use your customer experience goals and best practices to shape your VoC program.
We are so used to talking about Customer Experience as an outcome of VoC that we easily forget that how a customer experiences our VoC program indeed impacts, or is part of, their experience with our company.  By getting both of these elements aligned, you purposely improve the impression you make on your customer through your feedback initiative.

Here’s how.

1. Design  a Comprehensive Fatigue Management Plan
All of us, as consumers and as B2B clients, are bombarded with requests for our input.  Survey invites lurk in our inboxes; messages on the bottom of our store receipts implore us to “share our feedback;” and kind voices on the telephone ask us to “participate in a short consumer study.”

While VoC practitioners cannot control the behavior of other companies, we can control how and when we survey our own customers. Be mindful of how often you request the opinions of your customers. Evaluate your feedback program as a whole, considering all solicited listening channels across your entire organization, and a design a purposeful cadence for soliciting customer feedback.  Put the customer’s need for peace and quiet above your need to drive higher response rates. Commit to limiting the number of times you contact a customer per time period and make no exceptions, adhering to a customer-respecting cadence appropriate to your service delivery model.

2. Open Your Ears to Customer-Centric Multi-Channel Feedback
Think outside the survey; open your eyes and ears to other forms of collecting input from your customers. Let go and let customers share their opinions with you on their terms: when and how they wish.  Allow for unsolicited feedback opportunities, including social media, client forums, electronic “comment cards” on your website, or QR codes. Go mobile and encourage customers to share feedback from their smartphones. And don’t forget passive listening channels, such as customer call or chat data capture.

Sure, this data is a little “messy,” but text analytics technology makes it realistic to garner insights from raw, unstructured customer feedback. You benefit from honest, off-the-cuff customer ideas not penned in by radio buttons and rating scales, while your customer enjoys the freedom of sharing opinions on his own terms.

3. Customer-Friendly Survey Design
Volumes have been written on optimal survey design, but here is a basic summary of practices to make your surveys customer-friendly:

Keep surveys short! Strive for a one-page form. You would not want to answer a 20-question survey, and neither does your customer. Not sure if your survey is the right length? Ask your colleagues to test-take the survey and afterward probe for when they tuned out or got frustrated. This doesn’t take as long as you think!

Make survey content targeted and pertinent to your respondent. The survey should focus on one targeted element of the customer’s experience with your company: a specific touchpoint, one particular lifecycle stage, or a high-level relationship evaluation. Resist the temptation to sneak “extra” questions into your survey, forcing the survey – and the respondent - to cover too much ground. Ensure the survey questions are pertinent to the respondent and the way that she interacts with your company.

Build consistency into the program. Standardize branding, look and feel, rating scales, and tone across all feedback gathering initiatives to ensure a predictable customer experience across your VoC program.

4. Tactical and Strategic Closed-Circuit, 360-Degree Feedback Loops
Customers invest their time when they provide their feedback, yet too many companies demand feedback from their customers and offer the customer no return on this investment. Tactical service recovery opportunities occur when customers bring an issue to your attention. An “unhappy customer” survey alert can be generated, giving a business unit the chance to reach out to that customer and resolve a bad situation.

Longer term, you owe it to your customers to shed some light on the strategic changes being made in response to their input. In response to customer input, maybe you’ve streamlined your support desk IVR process, expanded the shuttle bus service from your hotel, increased the gluten-free offerings at your restaurant, or added a new feature to your SaaS solution. Tell your customers about these improvements and let them know they have been heard!

A VoC initiative that is company-focused and not customer-focused risks driving a wedge between your company and your customers. The goal of a VoC initiative is to generate insights that improve the customer experience for improved business performance.  What a shame, then, that many organizations run VoC programs that actually damage the relationship with the customer!

Evaluate your VoC program today against the four points above, and carefully consider the impact it has upon the customer experience. Your listening program is, after all, part of the overarching customer experience and must be aligned with your CX accordingly. Take actions to reduce survey fatigue, offer multichannel feedback options, make your surveys customer-friendly, and close the feedback loop.

Sarah Simon is a career insights professional with 16 years of experience in the feedback industry. Specialties include VoC architecture, journey mapping, developing linkages to business performance, reduction of customer defection, results analysis and communication, with expert survey design skills.  She is the survivor of a botched early-generation "big data mining" operation and is happy to live to tell about it.


  1. Sarah,

    A fabulous point

    "Put the customer’s need for peace and quiet above your need to drive higher response rates"

    Today I was asked to do a survey for Apple, it went on and on and on.

    I gave up in the end.

    I don't suppose surveys like that do anything for them or me.


    1. James,

      "I don't suppose surveys like that do anything for them or me." Absolutely correctly! A dreadfully long survey burns out the customer, leaving them feeling exhausted and a little bitter toward the company. And the company has difficulty on their end making sense of results from a survey that's overly long, disjointed, and created by committee.

      Customer surveys are supposed to help improve the relationship between customer and company, not worsen it!


  2. I also thought that was a fabulous point! If you are going to ask for someone's opinion stick with the most important questions and move on. No one wants to spend 20 minutes answering questions about their latest purchase. Respect the fact that someone is giving you any time at all!

    1. Trish,

      Indeed, solid advice: "stick with the most important questions and move on."

      I am often in a position of pushing my clients to tighten and trim their survey content by prioritizing the core material, and doing away with the rest. But...trimming the fat of a bloated survey is difficult for many of my clients to do due to the fear of "letting go" of a particular concept (by not asking the customer about it in a survey format).

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  3. Hi Sarah,
    My bank, or rather a market research company that my bank had employed, called me up yesterday and asked me to participate in a survey. They said it would take about 15-20 mins. 15-20mins!!! I said: no thank you. Are they so in the dark that it will take 15-20 mins for them to find out the answers they need?

    Personally, I think the research industry needs to get better at selling their clients that less is more.


    1. Hi Adrian,

      "Are they so in the dark that it will take 15-20 mins for them to find out the answers they need?"

      15-20 minutes is an absolutely unacceptable amount of time for a survey. I agree - who on earth is going to agree to take 20 minutes of their day to be "interrogated"?

      I also concur that the research and customer intelligence industry needs to get better at encouraging "less is more." It is amazing, however, the arguments we come up against:
      * Our clients love us and don't mind a 20 minute survey. (Really?)
      * We only have budget for one survey, this is it, we need to "make it count."

      ...and so on.

      Thus, it seems most research consultants are convinced, and certainly The Customer is convinced - but there is work to be done convincing the business people paying the research bill that - as you put it - less is more.


  4. Want to ruin a great customer experience? Ask them to do a 20 minute survey on the customer experience! I am surprised at the length of some of the surveys I receive from the places I do business with. The points in this article are excellent and more companies should be paying attention to how they ask and get feedback.

    1. Hi Shep,

      More of my clients are getting on board with this concept - that VoC surveys are indeed part of the Customer Experience and need to be managed accordingly.

      Yet I still need to plead with others: This survey, also, reflects upon your company and makes an impression upon your customers, just like your marketing or your tech support or your sales team. Sometimes my message is heard; sometimes it's not!


  5. You've made some fantastic points, I think all of them come under the importance of attention to detail, if you get that right you're certainly off to a good start.

  6. Interesting article Sarah. Very good points. It would be instructive to see some hard data on the KPIs being improved through effective use of VoC programs e.g. churn, logistics cost, etc. I think of the many times I get the survey request that I never fill out yet I give feedback on so many interactions that seem to go nowhere (at least that is how it feels to me).

  7. Lots of organisations engage via surveys so it’s important to select the right time to use one and not to just go to survey by default.
    Survey Fatigue