Three Essential Elements of the Voice of the Customer

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Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
"The voice of the customer is an untapped asset," Bruce Temkin said during his keynote as the 2010 Allegiance Engage Summit. According to Temkin, managing partner of Temkin Group, not many companies are using true voice of the customer programs, but those that do are at the forefront of customer engagement. He suggested three ways to use voice of the customer successfully to help improve the customer experience: keep the big picture, master best practices, and make a difference.

"The voice of the customer is an untapped asset," Bruce Temkin said during his keynote as the 2010 Allegiance Engage Summit.

According to Temkin, managing partner of Temkin Group, not many companies are using true voice of the customer programs, but those that do are at the forefront of customer engagement. He shared three essential elements for harnessing voice of the customer to help improve the customer experience: keep the big picture, master best practices, and make a difference.Keep the big picture
Gathering insight isn't new; it's just that companies are finally starting to take seriously the need not only to gather customer data, but also to act on it. Without VOC companies tend to operate from the company's point of view. There's no way an enterprise can deliver an optimal customer experience that way, Temkin said. "The role of the VOC program is to act as the switch that infuses the customer's voice into business decisions," he said.

Master best practices
VOC works best as a closed-loop program. This means listen, interpret, respond, and monitor. "Without this VOC will fail," Temkin said. Additionally, companies need governance, culture, and organizational alignment to act as the glue that will make VOC effective across the enterprise.

Temkin recommends focusing on five best practices:

  • Listening to customers
  • Analyzing unstructured data
  • Taking action at all levels
  • Monitoring projects, progress, and results
  • Establishing governance
  • Building a customer-centric culture to align employees' actions

Make a difference
According to Temkin, there are four stages in the evolution of voice of the customer:

Collectors - Organizations in the first stage focus on determining the best collection channels and how to get the data, as well as obsess over what to collect.
Analyzers - These firms collect data and conduct robust analysis, but haven't ensured that business partners can use that data.
Collaborators - Businesses here are sharing the data with employees and partners who can use it; this is where VOC starts adding value.
Transformers - In this stage organizations embed VOC data into core decision making.

It's essential to understand where you are now and create a plan that will help move your organization through the various stages.

"Voice of the customer is a journey that takes time," Temkin said. "Stay focused" and that journey will lead to a successful destination.

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Update (9/27/10):
Temkin Group recently released the study "The Evolution of Voice of the Customer Programs," which discusses listen, interpret, respond, and monitor, as well as the four stages in the VOC evolution. According to the report, nearly 60 percent of respondents have a formalized voice of the customer program, and more than 80 percent of respondents with VOC programs have seen a positive impact. This is especially noteworthy considering that 11 percent cited that their VOC programs are still in the early stages, so it's too soon to tell what the impact will be.

The top three VOC-related activities among respondents are getting feedback on how customers view their overall relationship with the company, developing a process for contacting some customers based on their feedback, getting feedback from customers immediately after their interactions with the company.

You can also read more about closed-loop VOC programs in Bruce Temkin's recent Expert Opinion column "Stop Just Listening To Your Customers."

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