Last year was an exciting one for the voice of the customer (VoC) world. We saw significant advancements in a number of key areas, including process, culture, and technology. Ultimately, these moves led to better experiences for customers and better financials for companies.
To continue this momentum in the year ahead, VoC practitioners and their vendor partners need to pursue three things:
Deeper insight into the customer journey. Many VoC programs already do a good job of monitoring customers’ experiences at specific moments of truth and making operational changes accordingly. That’s valuable, but it doesn’t address the actual customer experience (CX), which exists across touchpoints over time. In 2012, firms need to start examining and optimizing entire customer journeys, not just individual interactions. This will help uncover interdependencies between touchpoints and enable firms to create smoother handoffs. It will also be hard to do, especially for companies that can’t currently tell which customers have provided feedback.
Deeper penetration into the CX ecosystem. Every employee in a company impacts the CX, whether directly or indirectly. Partners and vendors also play important roles. However, today’s VoC programs focus mainly on driving change among frontline employees and generating small numbers of systemic improvement projects. In 2012, VoC leaders need to increase their day-to-day influence among employees at multiple tiers, including in the back office as well as among third parties. How? By empowering these players with the insight they need to understand and actively manage their CX performance. This will require better insight into each player’s goals and processes.
Net Promoter is both popular and controversial, so naturally we in Forrester’s customer experience (CX) research practice get lots of questions about it from CX leaders whose companies have adopted it or plan to adopt it in the future. Overall, we know that Net Promoter can effectively support CX efforts when companies implement it correctly. But we also know that correct implementation from a CX perspective is in no way a given.
Here’s what CX pros in particular should do to make sure that they ( . . . and their companies, and their customers . . . ) get the most out of the Net Promoter methodology:
Use the Net Promoter language to explain customer experience efforts. Perhaps the most valuable thing that Net Promoter provides is a clear language with which to discuss customer loyalty. CX pros can capitalize on any momentum around Net Promoter at the corporate level by connecting planned experience improvements to it. Wherever possible, explain how a change to the experience will help reduce Detractors or increase Promoters.
Focus on the system more than on the score. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is only valuable if it helps an organization improve customer loyalty. CX pros must ensure that they have a system in place to examine the drivers and root causes of NPS determination, identify the ones that are related to the customer experience, and initiate improvement efforts accordingly.
I recently had a discussion with my colleague Richard Evensen about how customer experience (CX) pros draw on the work done by market insights (MI) departments. Our conclusion: In most cases, they don’t. Instead, we often find CX teams doing their own research to understand and improve the experience. This represents a broader phenomenon that we call shadow MI — research commissioned or executed inside of a company without the approval or involvement of MI professionals.
Why do CX leaders rely on shadow MI rather than engage their MI departments for help? Based on our conversations with clients, it’s because MI departments are seen as:
Not fast enough. CX pros need quick and continuous feedback from customers in order to actively manage the experience. MI teams aren’t traditionally built to operate at that tempo, and many aren’t comfortable doing so.
Not focused on the experience itself. Naturally, CX leaders care most about customers’ interactions with their organizations, but MI teams often focus on other areas, like product development and marketing.
Not action-oriented. Due to the previous two points, CX pros often see MI as unable to drive action. In a recent discussion in our online customer experience community, one contributor said, “Customer experience feedback is more operational and immediate than market research.” This perspective leads many CX leaders to treat the two areas as fundamentally different.
I just added up the time that I spent last week having frustrating interactions with companies as a customer: 1 hour and 10 minutes (roughly). I owe most of that to my wireless carrier, but a few other companies also made generous contributions. In each case, I ended the interaction feeling worse than when I’d started — edgier, tenser, and more negative in general. It’s not as if I could turn those emotions off either. Petty though they were, they lasted awhile. How did this affect my subsequent interactions with co-workers, friends, and family? I don’t know exactly, but I’m sure it made them at least somewhat worse. And the impact rippled out from there.
Not surprisingly, I’m not the only one feeling the social effects of bad customer experience. In a recent poll from the UK’s Universal Channel, Brits reported spending an average of 1 hour and 19 minutes per day feeling angry.* The most frequently cited reason was bad customer service. Actually, many of the top 10 reasons relate to customer experience — some, like the last one, are just funny. Take a look:
I don’t advise organizations to invest in improving customer experience because it’s the right thing to do socially. I advise that they do so because it will drive long-term financial success. But what really helps me sleep at night is the knowledge that improving customers’ experiences is actually improving customers’ lives. It’s creating less irritation and more happiness. No rationalizing required — it’s just true (or else you’re not doing it right).
Enterprise feedback management (EFM) solutions help voice of the customer (VoC) programs scale up. They enable customer experience professionals to gather customer feedback from a range of sources, make that feedback relevant and usable for a range of employees, and distribute the insight out to drive customer-centric decisions — without relying on excessive manual analysis and reporting.
Despite EFM’s value, the space has been difficult to navigate because of its dozens of small vendors, evolving market segments, and frequent mergers-and-acquisitions (M&A) activity. This has left customer experience pros with a lot of detective work to do. Even educated buyers have had a hard time coming up with logical shortlists, and vendors have regularly avoided going head to head with competitors.
Voice of the customer (VoC) leaders are constantly on the hunt for better analytics to identify what customers are saying and doing and, in turn, where companies should focus their attention. For the most part, the hunt is worthwhile. Just think about the value that text mining has delivered during the past few years. However, this focus becomes a problem when it turns into tunnel vision, leading VoC pros to ignore other research tools that yield deep customer understanding.
Analytics based on customer feedback and interaction data can determine important things like which known experience attributes drive customer loyalty and where customers encounter problems, and these insights can lead to a variety of operational improvements. But big changes require deeper understanding. As we were all reminded recently, customers didn’t tell Steve Jobs to build an iPod, nor did any sophisticated analytics.
Fortunately, other customer understanding tools are well suited to fill gaps in traditional VoC activities. Qualitative research methods like ethnography and related tools like personas and customer journey maps dig into what customers really need on both emotional and functional levels. As a result, they can help VoC leaders figure out:
What to look for in feedback and interaction data. On the front end of VoC efforts, personas and journey maps can help identify the things that really matter to customers. VoC leaders can then ask about and look for those things in customer feedback and interaction data, leading to more relevant insights.
What to do based on the findings. On the back end of VoC efforts, these tools can help firms figure out what they should do in response to issues or trends identified through analytics, leading to more valuable solutions.
Every year, the Voice of the Customer (VoC) Awards process gives my fellow judges and me the opportunity to explore the inner workings of the day’s best VoC programs. I’ve already documented many of the best practices we’ve uncovered on my blog and in Forrester reports. Now I want to let you behind the curtain.
Here are the pieces of advice that this year’s nominees provided for other organizations to learn from, grouped into common themes. Straight from the horses’ mouths…
1) Do pursue executive sponsorship:
When the leader of the organization is paying attention to the customer and taking time to be educated by the customer, the rest of the company notices and emulates that behavior. – Mid-size B2C software maker
We believe involvement at the top executive level has been a main driver of our success so far. – Large retailer
Don’t wait for executive sponsorship to get started:
Don’t wait for executive sponsorship to begin your VoC measurement and insight program. Much of your program’s success will be driven by bringing tangible proof points to the table that serve to accelerate executives’ appetite for more. – Mid-size B2B services firm
Start small, and create advocates to helpexcite others throughout the organization. – Large retailer
(This post was co-authored by Megan Burns and Andrew McInnes so appears on both of their personal blogs.)
Customer experience management (CEM) has become a marketing buzzword for technology vendors as of late. While this isn’t surprising given the current energy around customer experience in general, it is a problem. Here’s why:
Customer experience management is a discipline, not a technology. To truly manage customers’ experiences, an organization must understand its customers’ needs, how it intends to meet those needs, and how it is currently performing. It must also have people, processes, and tools in place to use that insight in order to design and deliver the right experiences and continuously improve them over time. Vendors that currently claim the CEM name (Adobe, Medallia, RightNow, Tealeaf, and others) help clients with various aspects of the management process like experience insight and delivery. But they can’t replace the overall discipline and activities required for a company to get customer experience right.
Vendors are hungry to serve chief customer officers (CCOs). We all know that companies are taking customer experience more seriously these days, and many have established CCO positions accordingly. That has created a new target for the broad set of vendors playing in the customer experience space. Verint and Vovici are trying to meet this new buyer’s need for insight into customers’ end-to-end experiences by pulling together information from across channels, data sources, and data types. The press release even cites the rise of the CCO as a reason for the acquisition. Expect to see more companies go directly after CCOs this year.
There are many more EFM vendors on the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) menu. Like Vovici, most EFM vendors are relatively small tech companies with their eyes set on rapid growth. They’ve seen sales spike recently from companies embracing customer experience as a discipline and recognizing the need to use customer feedback more effectively. Now the vendors are pushing to enter the mainstream. To succeed, many will find suitors like Verint that have cash (not that much is needed here) and holes in their existing solutions to put EFM into a more complete package.
We just announced the winners of Forrester’s 2011 Voice Of The Customer Awards at our Customer Experience Forum this afternoon. We received more than 40 nominations, and the nominees really upped their games again this year — another sign that voice of the customer (VoC) programs are rapidly maturing.
To evaluate the submissions, each of our four judges graded each nomination based on five criteria: clarity of approach, impact on customers’ experiences, impact on business performance, degree of innovation, and lessons provided for other firms. The nominees with the 10 best scores were named finalists. The top three scorers were named winners.
And here are the results . . .
The 10 finalists (in alphabetical order) are:
The three winners (also in alphabetical order) are:
Adobe. The software provider stood out with its comprehensive approach and focus on executive engagement. In addition to other activities, the firm created a Customer Immersion Program where executives step into customers’ shoes for a day, attempt relevant customer scenarios, discuss opportunities for improvement with frontline employees, and engage with actual customers. This effort brings customer and employee experiences to life and keeps executives connected with the on-the-ground reality of Adobe’s business.