Three Ways to Jump-Start Your Voice of Customer Program

"How can my company accelerate its Voice of Customer program to meet rapidly changing customer needs, constant innovation and diminishing resources?"

It's encouraging to see increased attention paid to Voice of Customer (VoC) programs. Asked where marketing and sales collaboration most needed to improve, more attendees at a recent Global BMA Conference selected "customer and competitor insights" than any other issue—including traditional marketing stalwarts such as branding and value proposition.

As organizations strive to become more customer-centric, they recognize that real customer orientation requires active listening to (and anticipating future needs of) the marketplace. Yet if I look at many of the high-tech companies we work and speak with, a common set of challenges impede their VoC efforts.

• Information Overload: Big Data is all the buzz, but bigger is not necessarily better. Insights, not data, drive customer-centricity. Quoting Tom Davenport in a recent HBR post, "Too many managers are, with the help of their analyst colleagues, simply compiling vast databases of information that never see the light of day."

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• In Search of the Silver Bullet: Searching for the 100%, perfect VoC insight will take away from your ability to quickly find an 80%, good enough insight. Truthfully, that silver bullet probably doesn't exist. But even if it does, how long would it take to find and how much would you miss in the process?

• Inability to Act: Customer insights are useless if they do not drive change within your organization. There must be alignment between the leaders/promoters of a VoC program and those who influence day-to-day operations. We recently explored this challenge with a technology company whose go-to-market strategy was not aligned to the customer experience it hoped to deliver.

Wherever you are in your VoC journey, if any of these issues sound familiar, here are three recommendations for how you can jump-start your program:

1. Begin with the business decisions

Why do you have a VoC program? What business decisions will the voice of your customer inform and influence? If you start with these decisions, you can focus on collecting the right data and performing the necessary analyses, thus limiting information overload. Starting with the business decisions also creates a compelling business case for your organization's stakeholders, to justify your resource requests and to elicit executive-level support. For example, many technology companies go to market through channel partners. However, most have limited insight to partner performance and the effectiveness of partner programs. To improve the return on partner program investment, tech companies use "Voice of Partner" programs to evaluate channel partner performance and to improve channel partner programs.

2. Align your VoC efforts to the customer journey

Well-crafted VoC programs are designed around the most important aspects of the customer journey. Identify the leverage points that allow you to foster customer loyalty and create customer value. Understand the barriers in the customer journey where you lose loyalty and destroy value. Focus your VoC program in those areas. For example, we have seen a global online retailer develop a multilayer VoC program that collects the customer "voice" at an overall relationship level, in addition to high priority journeys (such as the first-time buying experience and problem resolution) and specific customer touch points (customer-company interactions).

3. Integrate your VoC program across your organization

VoC programs should not serve the needs of just one department or functional area. These efforts must be integrated across your marketing, sales and operations teams so that everyone knows how they can benefit from customer insights. While it won't be a quick process to get your entire organization to care about VoC, here are a few ideas to kick-start this process.

• Create customized dashboards to serve the specific needs of different stakeholders.

• Include various stakeholders in shaping the vision for your VoC program.

• Celebrate "quick wins" of the VoC program.

• Leverage best-in-class partners to help optimize day-to-day operations of your VoC program.

What is your company doing to accelerate its Voice of Customer program? Are you struggling with some of the common challenges mentioned above? We would love to hear more about your organization's VoC story, challenges you're facing and examples of how you've overcome these obstacles.

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