Starting a Voice of Customer (VOC) program

I’m a big fan of KISS. The acronym, not the band. And for those of you who have met me, you know how I feel about acronyms!

KISS – Keep it Super Simple (I like this definition way better than the original) is what I think the mantra for starting a VOC program should be. VOC programs are core components of successful customer experience programs.  I’ve been talking to a ton of people lately and there seems to be a few really big boulders that I see out there for Voice of Customer program leaders and analysts.

Number 1. People are over engineering the crap out of their voice of customer programs. There is a huge group of analysts who are measuring everything! But they seem to be spending so much time on measuring that they aren’t taking the time to see. What I mean by that is that all the surveys and quantitative and qualitative and post transactional and relational and and and research won’t actually let you see what your customers are telling you if aren’t taking the time to look.

I work with a ton of really, really bright statisticians and market research folks. What I always tell them is that they are perfect for looking at data and for figuring out how to build it correctly and pull it apart over and over. What they aren’t as naturally good at is laying out all the data, looking for patters and listening to the unspoken or unstated needs of their customers. You have to take the time to be willing to suspend your reality from the data a little bit – and trust your instincts.

Some of the biggest voice of customer wins I’ve had in my 20+ years of doing this were things that were NOWHERE in the data. We never had a customer ask for a single fund that would be managed for them and that all they’d have to do is tell us the year they wanted to retire. We never had a single customer tell us that they wanted us open for them 24/7 because emergencies don’t always happen during business hours. Those are two things that were purely a result of looking beyond what the data was literally saying and listening to what the underlying needs were.

Number 2. People get paralyzed because they can’t get the funding to buy the million dollar listening platform. Stop. Shake yourself out of it.

Of course the million (or multi million) dollar listening platform is awesome. We’d all LOVE to have all that data at our fingertips. But if you’re at the beginning of building your program out, you may not yet have the credibility to ask for and get that much money. Start small.

At one of my employers, I took a junior market research analyst and told her she was going to be my voice of customer person. She literally went and googled “job description for voice of customer analyst” (she admitted this to me months later). We started really, really small  – because we didn’t have a huge budget.

We gathered people from all over the organization that had data on our customer interactions and started meeting with them to learn from them. We figured out how to extract the tidbits that mattered, and how to use their survey mechanisms for the greater good! We literally managed everything on an excel spreadsheet!

As time went on, we were able to expand and invest – but the original strategy that we set forth was all based on that excel based voice of customer program. It can be done.

The common theme of both of these current issues I’m seeing is that people are searching for complexity and for the gold solution.. Sometimes, the simple one (which is generally pretty cheap) is a great place to start.