Asking customers for feedback is one of the most direct ways to understand their experiences and needs across touchpoints. However, we’ve all experienced an organization’s attempt to execute this . . . usually poorly.
Surveys are too long. Callbacks are interruptive. What are they going to do with my feedback anyway?
Combatting these types of complaints is core to recent conversations with organizations who are establishing voice of the customer (VoC) programs. Some questions include: How do you ensure you are engaging with customers at the right time in the right channels, what is the main metric you are asking to ensure consistent data collection, and what is the best way to ask the question to encourage participation?
Recently I used Forrester's internal collaboration platform — Chatter — to collect stories about when colleagues were asked for feedback. I received a litany of the good, the bad, and the ugly of customer feedback designs. Below are the main takeaways from my internal and external conversations along with examples to consider as you think about the best way to collect information from your customers.
1. Make It Easy
Uber and a local food delivery service Peach make it easy to give direct feedback on a specific experience. They provide visual cues to remind customers what they are giving feedback on and a simple mechanism for providing it (a star rating). There are various ways of executing, including emojis (think Facebook’s recent updates) and scales (e.g., 1 to 5, 1 to 10). Any of these tactics work, as long as they align with your brand and are asked consistently across touchpoints. Both of these examples also provide an opportunity to give more feedback afterward to provide context to the rating.
2014 wasn’t a good year to be average. Since 2007, the average customer experience in the industries that Forrester tracks has gone up across the board, and the number of truly awful experiences has dropped like a rock. So if your CX is average, it’s just not good enough to win, serve and retain customers. And it won’t get any easier next year: With companies investing more than ever to differentiate their customer experience, your average offering will soon be considered poor.
In 2015, the race from good to great CX will hit the gas pedal. Smart CX teams will increasingly use customer data from diverse sources like social listening platforms, campaign management platforms, mobile apps and loyalty programs – to personalize and tailor experiences in real time so that they inherently adapt to the needs, wants, and behaviors of individual customers. And as companies strive to break from the pack and gain a competitive edge through the quality of the CX they provide, we’ll see the battleground shift to new areas like emotional experiences and extended CX ecosystems, and into laggard industries like health insurance and TV service providers, and even the Federal government.
As we do every year, we’ve just published our Predictions report for CX. I want to share a couple of those predictions with you:
In response to recent tragedies, many commentators have suggested requiring every police officer to wear a video camera and microphone at all times. Some activists even suggest that these videos be publicly live-streamed for maximum accountability. That’s not necessarily a bad idea, despite some technical, budgetary, and legal hurdles.
Other commentators have pointed out that videos aren’t as objective as people think. They are open to interpretation, and risk inflaming opinions on both sides without solving anything. But that’s not the biggest problem with videos. Their biggest weakness is this:
Videos can’t provide the systematic, standardized, quantifiable feedback that we need to understand people’s own perspectives on their everyday experiences with the police.
That’s why police departments should start acting more like the best companies, and measure their customers’ experiences. There are several key tools for doing this, and one of the most important is a customer experience survey. We all get these surveys – they ask about how well the company met our needs, how easy it was to work with, how we felt during the process, how likely we are to say positive things about it, etc.
Retailers use these surveys, as do investment firms, hotels, nonprofits, and every other organization that wants to understand what its customers think and feel, and uncover the drivers of great experiences. If we can easily rate the people who deliver food, sell cars, and hook up TVs, why can’t we do the same for the people who carry guns, write tickets, and make arrests?
Are you looking for a vendor or vendors to support your voice of the customer (VoC) program? Or are you reviewing your current VoC vendor(s)?
Selecting the right vendor or vendors can be hard! Why? The VoC vendor landscape is hard to decipher. There are many but relatively small vendors, and they rely on an interconnected network of partners, acquire each other at an impressive rate, and regularly expand into new spaces. And companies often already have a number of vendors they work with. In my recent webinar about VoC, most of the attendees had from three to five vendors that supported their VoC program in some shape or form.
But there are a few beacons to help orient you in your quest:
The VoC vendor market is an ecosystem. What vendors are the right “lid” for your “VoC program pot” depends entirely on your internal capabilities and the characteristics of your VoC program. We identified customer feedback management (CFM) platforms and VoC specialist vendors. CFM platforms support VoC programs with a robust set of capabilities that include feedback collection, integration of feedback with other data in a centralized data hub, analysis, reporting, and closed-loop action management. VoC specialists offer a subset of VoC platform vendor capabilities. Their areas of expertise range from surveying customers in order to generate measurement data to mining your unstructured feedback with text analytics, monitoring social media data, and consulting to help establish or evolve a VoC program.
Voice of the customer (VoC) data is alluring. Once you start to collect customer feedback, there's always something more you could be gathering. You think: What else can I learn? What else are customers saying and thinking? Where else are they saying it? You want to know more.
But collecting the data — listening — isn't enough.
At Forrester, we describe the continuous cycle of activities that make up VoC programs as: listen, interpret, react, and monitor. "Listen" is all the customer feedback you're collecting via listening posts like surveys, emails, calls, and comment cards. "Interpret" is the analysis you do on that feedback (and other related data) to understand what it all means. "React" is what you do to fix the experience based on the analysis you've done, and "monitor" is how you make sure that whatever you did to react is actually working.
It's critical to go through the full cycle with whatever data you're already collecting. Because here's the hard truth: You get no ROI from listening or interpreting. None. Zero. Zip. You only get business results from actually improving the experience.
There’s no question that executive support can make or break a voice of the customer (VoC) program. With an executive (or several) onboard, VoC teams can get the funding and tools that they need to succeed. And VoC leaders from Forrester’s 2012 Voice Of The Customer Awards almost unanimously gave others the advice to build executive support.
If you’re struggling to get your program off the ground, heed their wise advice. Appeal to executives with evidence (metrics, business results) and with compelling stories about what might be going wrong for customers and how they’ve been delighted by the experience. Ask for execs to support you in collecting feedback from customers, analyzing that feedback, taking on projects to improve the experience, and monitoring to make sure that those projects are working.
But executives aren’t the only key to a successful program. Top-down support is important, but it has to be balanced with bottom-up support, too. What happens when execs mandate that everyone cares about customer feedback? People don’t really care. It feels like a fad. Employees have to feel some ownership and control — or they just won’t buy in.
I was flipping through the 2012 Forrester Voice of the Customer Award nomination forms the other day, and I realized that I’ve been unwittingly holding on to an valuable resource — all the advice that we asked nominees to impart on other voice of the customer programs. The very last of the six questions on our nomination form is, “What advice would you give to other organizations to make their programs successful?” We got some great answers from the 40 or so nominated companies, so I pulled together the top 10 pieces of advice. If you’re looking for some inspiration for your own VoC program, look no further than the advice of your peers.
1. Build executive support. The majority of nominees offered this advice, and it’s consistent with Forrester’s own research showing that executive support builds a foundation for VoC success. Executive support helps CX pros put key building blocks in place, such as adequate tools to collect and analyze data and processes to systematically act on it. How do you build support? Prove the value of the program by demonstrating tangible business value. Track the results of service recovery efforts to save unhappy customers and aggregate the results of improvement projects initiated by VoC-collected data.
Allow us to paint a vision of the future for you: After interactions with your favorite companies, no one asks you how you liked those interactions. Your email inbox contains no requests for a few minutes of your time. No one asks you to wait on the phone line to answer a few questions. The word "survey" has vanished from your vocabulary.
You just bought something at your favorite store. You walk out with a skip in your step thinking about when you might wear this new purchase. You give into your compulsion to check your email on your smartphone, and there, waiting for you, is a survey from that very company asking about your experience. You groan, but you click on the link. The survey isn't formatted for your phone, so you have to pinch to zoom in and out. You don't understand the first question. Or the second one. Frankly, you don't really care. You close your browser window, curse the company and every other company that has ever asked you to complete a survey, and vow never to shop anywhere ever again.
I'm no doctor, but I'm confident in my diagnosis: You are suffering from survey fatigue.
You're not alone. Survey fatigue has even made it into pop-culture as a known malady, thanks to articles like this one in USA Today. It's no surprise that consumers are irked; most companies' customer experience measurement programs and voice of the customer programs rely on surveys for the necessary data. As a result, consumers are getting barraged with requests for feedback, and, really, it's just because companies have good intentions. They want to know how they're doing and how they can improve the experience.
If you're one of these survey-reliant companies, what can you do? I'm working on some research right now on that very topic with our new analyst, Maxie Schmidt-Subramanian. We're exploring indicators of survey fatigue to help you spot the problem as well as best practices for reducing any fatigue that does exist.
Many of the conversations I have with clients about voice of the customer (VoC) programs center on ways the programs can improve and best practices they can adopt. What I think is really underlying these discussions, though, is the question, "How does my program compare with all the others that are out there?" Or, more succinctly, "How am I doing?"
My anecdotal conversations, though frequent, do not make for a quantitative study. So I did just that: I surveyed our Global Customer Experience Peer Research Panel about their VoC programs. The results will be published shortly in a Forrester report called, "The State Of VoC Programs, 2012," but in the meantime, I'd like to give you a sneak peak.
Our most important finding was that customer experience professionals aren't getting the value they could be from their programs. Specifically, we asked how valuable their programs were in improving customers' experiences and how valuable they were in delivering financial results. It turns out that VoC programs help companies improve the customer experience; we saw more respondents getting that kind of value. But firms struggle to connect the dots to financial value.
So why the gap? It turns out that customer experience value is pretty easy to recognize. Respondents told us that the feedback data they collect helps them identify problems with the experience that need to be fixed. It also helps them prioritize what to fix because they can take the input from their customers into account when looking at all the various improvement project opportunities. The resulting projects make the experience better.