Forresters Andrew McInnes: Voice of the Customer Programs Need a Better Business Story

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Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
More than half of companies say that they have voice of the customer (VoC) programs in place today, and many others say they're planning to establish programs within the next year. That's a good thing, because collecting, analyzing, and acting on customer feedback is a recipe for success in financial as well as customer experience terms.

More than half of companies say that they have voice of the customer (VoC) programs in place today, and many others say they're planning to establish programs within the next year. That's a good thing, because collecting, analyzing, and acting on customer feedback is a recipe for success in financial as well as customer experience terms. The firms recognized in Forrester's 2010 Voice of the Customer Awards attributed impressive business results to their VoC efforts, ranging from increases in customer retention to increases in revenue per customer.Unfortunately, most companies still aren't feeling the business value of their VoC programs. We recently surveyed members of our Customer Experience Peer Research Panel Survey. The vast majority of respondents said their VoC programs were extremely or very valuable in improving customers' experiences. But less than half said they got the same financial value from their programs. This might not be a huge shocker, but it is a problem.

Companies that see gaps between the customer experience and financial benefits delivered by their VoC programs are likely:

  • Not doing the right things to drive business value. Most companies have dozens of opportunities to improve their customers' experiences, but not all of those opportunities are worth pursuing. Here's a hypothetical example: Imagine that E*Trade, primarily an online discount broker, heard suggestions through its VoC program to serve coffee in its branches. Acting on that suggestion might improve the branch experience to some extent, but would it really matter to customers? Would it cause them to trade more or transfer additional accounts to E*Trade? Would it make them any less likely to leave the company for a competitor? Probably not. It wouldn't be a meaningful improvement for customers (or align with the company's strategy), so it wouldn't change customers' behavior or ultimately drive business results.
  • Not measuring the right things to show business value. Other companies might be doing the right things based on VoC insights, but not be measuring the financial benefits they achieve. Imagine that E*Trade (again, hypothetically) also heard feedback that basic online transactions took too long for customers to complete. If the company invested in making those processes quicker, it would likely see major bumps in customer feedback scores. Over time, it would likely see changes in customer behavior, as well -- more frequent trading or more accounts per customer, for example (other things being equal). But if the relationship between customer perceptions and customer behaviors never gets measured, the financial value of the VoC program might never get the recognition it deserves.

Are these the only possible explanations for the reported gap between the customer experience and business value delivered by VoC programs? Of course not. Some companies might be too early in the process to see financial benefits. Others might not directly measure financial benefits but still believe (and thus report) that they exist. Nevertheless, VoC leaders who see this gap in their organizations should examine whether they are doing and measuring the right things to drive and demonstrate business benefits. Those are the levers they can pull to take their programs to next level. If they do nothing, they'll continue to see their efforts regarded as disconnected from -- or even antithetical to -- financial success, when that's actually far from the truth.

Forrester recognizes VoC programs that drive customer experience and business value in our annual Voice of the Customer Awards. The 2011 nomination period starts on March 25. Visit our VoC Awards home page for details about past winners and this year's process, and check out 1to1 Media's article on the 2010 winners -- American Express, CDW, and Dell -- "Using Voice of the Customer to Create Customer Experience Success."

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About the Author: Andrew McInnes is an analyst at Forrester Research serving Customer Experience professionals. He blogs at http://blogs.forrester.com/andrew_mcinnes

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