Taking VoC Programs To The Next Level

A few weeks ago, I described the sobering fact that most voice of the customer (VoC) programs don’t deliver business results. I recently dug into the responses to Forrester’s Q1 2011 Global Customer Experience Peer Research Panel Survey to find out why. Here’s some of what I found (full results will be available in my new report titled, “Voice Of The Customer Programs Don’t Deliver Enough Value,” due out later this week):  

  • Lack of processes for taking action. Sixty-five percent of respondents admitted that their VoC programs don’t systematically take action based on customer insights. Without clear processes in place, it’s no surprise that VoC programs don’t drive enough value-generating activities.
  • Lack of accessible, relevant insights. Sixty-five percent of respondents also admitted that their VoC programs don’t make customer insights easy to access, and 52% said that they don’t tailor insights for different internal groups. That means many potential participants within companies don’t get the information they need to take action — even if they’re inclined to do so. As a result, VoC leaders are left to personally move actions forward, and that approach doesn’t scale.

Of course, not all VoC programs suffer from these kinds of problems. Here are just three examples of companies that have taken their programs to the next level:

  • Avnet proved the link between VoC and financials. Avnet combined its customer feedback with its operational and financial data to evaluate the relationship between customer perceptions and customer behaviors. It found that perceptions and intentions of loyalty do indeed equate to serious financial gains. In doing so, it validated its loyalty index as a predictor of financials, which created additional justification for executives and employees to engage in improving the index score.  
  • Cisco made VoC actionable for engineers. General customer perceptions are difficult for some employees to digest and act upon. Cisco made it easy for its engineers to optimize product experiences by isolating software defects per million hours of usage (SWDPMH) as the single most important driver of perceived product quality.
  • ExactTarget used communities to get specific product ideas. Like Avnet and Cisco, ExactTarget had gone beyond just collecting customer feedback through surveys. It started engaging customers in online communities and live user groups as part of its VoC efforts. This approach has generated hundreds of specific improvement and innovation ideas, more than 100 of which have already been implemented. 

If you’re interested in learning more, we’ll be talking to the VoC leaders at each of these firms during a panel discussion at our Customer Experience Forum in New York on June 22nd. We’ll also be celebrating leading VoC programs during our third annual Voice Of The Customer Awards ceremony on the evening of June 21st, with in-depth coverage from 1to1 Media and Forrester to follow.


VOC, Six Sigma, Lean and Agile: Lessons for IT managers

I'm puzzled why your finding don't support the value of listening to the customer. In my career as an executive consultant and coach, I meet many CIOs who are out of touch with the reality of their business and their customer. Hello! Who is paying for the IT budget anyways? IT is not just about technology but managing that technology. Management is a major ingredient of CIO and IT success. Listening to the voice of the customer, when followed through with the right processes, does wonders in identifying the real needs of the organization.

VOC is one of the key components of Six Sigma design and Lean methodology. It's time that we learn from other industries who have successfuly applied these methods and made significant improvements in customer satisfaction. IT is a service business and customer satisfaction must be one of its measurements.

As startes, I wish you and every CIO would read this book on Lean, Agile and Six Sigma IT Management. It's time that we bring new management processes into IT:


Many companies lack those processes

Thanks, John. My point here is not that listening to customers isn't valuable. It's that companies need to do more than just listen. It seems we're actually in agreement on that. Our data shows that many companies lack the capabilities to drive action, and that's the negative side of my findings.

Lean, Agile and Six Sigma IT Management

Hi Andrew,

Agree with your point. A study has shown that 50%-60% of new ideas that successful companies develop come from their customers. So, clearly listening to the VOC is a start. Perhaps learning from customers is the next step as they often have great ideas. Finally, a true partnership to co-develop products or services would be actually more rewarding to both sides. These are mentioned in the book that I referenced above. Thanks.

Communication, training too!


Totally agree with your two key points - having system or infrastructure for taking action as well as making customer insights relevant and accessible are key obstacles that companies grapple with. I'm sure your study will reveal more, but I'll add a couple areas that seem to make a real difference.

Communication - with so many initiative taking place in a company, the VoC program can get buried. It seems the best customer strategists do a good job of marketing their program internally so that it rises above the clutter.

Training - while companies are getting better at delivering insights, sometimes people just don't know how to interpret it or know how to act on it. Short, department-specific training sessions often go a long way.

Good examples too - we work with all three companies and I think they will have great things to share at Forrester's upcoming Customer Experience Forum.

Agreed, Pat

Thanks, Pat. I totally agree that communication and training are essential, which I've highlighted in much of my past research. Those areas just weren't addressed in this data. Thanks for adding the wider context.

This is very current and

This is very current and interesting. I think the main challenge is how to utilize VoC results in real time, using insights to improve both at the on-going customer facing level (tactical) and at the more strategic running the company level.
The VoC results are the most critical analysis one can get in order to gauge loyalty, lower customer churn, improve operational excellence and influence bottom line revenue results.
When prices and products are not true differentiation causes anymore, what will make the big difference is the ability to ignite and keep customers experience high on an on-going basis!