Most companies today, 62 percent according to Forrester Research, have a voice of the customer (VOC) program. The real opportunity, however, is adopting a more sophisticated approach to enterprise customer feedback-one that helps translates the customer voice into action.
American Express, CDW, and Dell are three companies doing just that. In fact, these firms are so adept at VOC, they were selected as the winners of the Forrester Research 2010 Voice of the Customer Awards. Judging was based on five criteria: clarity of approach, business results, customer experience results, innovation, and lessons learned (i.e., the ability for other firms to learn from their approach). According to Andrew McInnes, an analyst in Forrester's customer experience practice, the winning companies stood out for their outstanding ability to tie results directly to their customer feedback efforts, as well as for their innovative VOC practices.
"Companies need to understand customers to design experiences that satisfy them. Then they need to continuously find out what's working and what's not in order to improve," McInnes says. "Without customer insight, even well-meaning firms end up making decisions based on their internal ideas about customers."
American Express, CDW, and Dell share their approaches to capturing the voice of the customer and translating it into customer experience success:
American Express has a vision to become the world's most respected service brand. An essential part of the journey is leveraging the company's most valuable asset: its thousands of customer care professionals (CCPs), who speak with customers daily.
According to Jim Bush, executive vice president of world service for American Express, company leadership knows that great service is all about what customers think after every interaction. So the firm began to more closely link feedback with service interactions. For example, along with tracking customer satisfaction, it introduced a Net Promoter Score-type metric called Recommend a Friend.
"We've taken our CCPs off the clock, allowing the customer to decide how long they want to spend on the phone and empowering CCPs to really connect with customers," Bush says. "We can now tie a customer's satisfaction with a specific call back to the customer care professional who took that call. This approach creates a constant feedback loop so CCPs continue to improve their game."
The company also launched a service approach called Relationship Care. The strategy guides CCPs to consider their interactions with customers not as transactions, but instead as a way to deepen the company's relationship with customers. Bush says relationship care is unique in that it not only helps customers get more out of their cards and their relationship with American Express, but also builds value for the company and its shareholders. For example, a customer who is a frequent traveler calls to ask a question about his bill; the CCP can see that this customer often purchases airline tickets using the card. Once the CCP answers the question, she may explain that the card offers access to airport lounges, which the customer may not have known was an available benefit.
In support of Relationship Care, American Express is coaching its CCPs to "hug customers over the phone." In the past, training time was focused 70 percent on technical and 30 percent on personal skills. Today, 70 percent of training time is focused on teaching employees to actively listen, assess the mood of the customer, and describe the incremental value customers can get from their American Express relationship. "American Express trains customer service representatives in active listening, gives them a formal career path, and ties their performance assessments directly to customer feedback scores," Forrester's McInnis says.
"Part of what's unique about our strategy is that we now tie the voice of the customer directly to CCP compensation and coaching, with 85 percent of performance assessments linked to customer feedback," Bush adds. "This strategy allows us to continually improve the customer experience, because in the end it's not about what we think about our performance, it's what the customer thinks that truly matters."
Ultimately, great service starts with the people who deliver it, Bush says. "We have focused on the voice of the customer, training our customer care professionals to actively listen, connect emotionally with customers, and let the customer decide how long they want to spend on the phone with us," he says. "For a company to implement a successful voice of the customer initiative, they need to hire frontline employees who are passionate about serving people, provide training that will allow them to truly build relationships with customers, and create an environment for their employees to empower and motivate them to provide extraordinary care."
The guiding business philosophy at CDW is that everything the company does revolves around meeting the needs of its customers. In fact, the B2B technology solutions provider attributes much of its success to its vigilance in listening and responding to the voice of the customer.
CDW's customer strategy is encapsulated within its Customer Loyalty and Experience Program. The comprehensive approach includes such elements as multiple feedback channels, closed-loop responses, staying close to active customers, unearthing sales leads, and tracking loyalty as a key metric.
As part of the program, CDW will invite about 75 percent of its customer contacts to participate in one of its various survey programs in 2010. Customers who are most engaged with CDW are invited quarterly, with the goal of hearing from each customer twice in one year. The survey aimed at these customers has several objectives, which include measuring customer loyalty, uncovering problems, and identifying sales opportunities.
"The size of the program [is considerable], but how it's integrated into many of our processes is what is really unique," says Calvin Vass, senior manager of research for CDW, adding that CDW uses customer feedback to improve operations and customer experience.
Taking immediate action on problems and issues, for example, is a top priority. The company promptly addresses any issue or request identified by a customer during a survey using what it calls "hot alerts," which automatically notify the appropriate CDW team to contact the customer. Surveys sent out in 2009 identified thousands of customer problems. Each was flagged to receive a personal follow-up from CDW's sales or quality assurance teams, and was tracked through to completion.
The company uses hot alerts for more than service follow-up. "One type of alert notifies salespeople of opportunities to enrich existing client relationships, which in 2009 drove hundreds of millions in additional revenue for the firm," says Forrester's McInnes.
CDW also uses customer feedback to track loyalty and it's relation to business performance. Through a series of questions developed by Walker Information, CDW's customers are grouped into one of four categories: truly loyal, trapped, accessible, and high risk. This methodology showed that in 2009 CDW's truly loyal customers had average annual sales that were two times than that of their high risk customers.
The company set a goal for 2010 to gather feedback from more customers, especially those that buy less frequently. To reach those customers CDW designed a special survey with only a few tailored questions. As of June, thousands of customers provided feedback who normally would not have been invited to do so.
"All of the feedback we're getting is so specific," says Vass, "[it] drives operational improvements."
Like the technology it sells, Dell's voice of the customer program has evolved over the years. This evolutionary program helps support one of the company's guiding principles: Everything Dell does is not only driven by customer needs, but measured in terms of customer outcomes. "It is the breath of what we do and the transparency of how we do it [that stands out]," says Gary Fox, director of Dell's global customer experience.
Dell's approach to voice of the customer helps guide the long-term direction of the company, as well as address tactical customer needs on a daily basis. Along with surveys and targeted research, Dell tracks Net Promoter Score (NPS) and customer experience results. Additionally, the company has two comprehensive online communities: IdeaStorm serves customers; EmployeeStorm serves Dell's 100,000 employees.
Dell gathers customer feedback through several means. Its loyalty survey measures satisfaction and loyalty. It's the main tool for measuring the company's NPS, as well as its Net Satisfaction with such areas of the customer experience as the purchase process, product quality, and customer service. Dell also uses touchpoint surveys to determine how to delight customers at key interaction points, such as the website experience, chat, and technical support. The results are reported weekly to the appropriate business units to help measure operational effectiveness; in some cases they're included in the compensation calculation for certain frontline staff.
IdeaStorm gives customers a direct voice and allows them to brainstorm and share ideas with other existing and potential customers. The goal is to learn what new products or services customers would like Dell to develop, as well as to gather suggestions on how to improve current ones. The IdeaStorm community has contributed more than 14,000 ideas so far; to date the company has implemented more than 400 of those ideas.
Based on the success of IdeaStorm, the company launched EmployeeStorm to give another voice to customer through the people who speak to them every day. "The voice of the employee is important," Fox says. "Ultimately, they're the ones that make the difference on a day-to-day basis." Employees have contributed more than 5,500 ideas so far; the company has adopted more than 200 of them.
Dell uses other online tools to track customer sentiment. "The firm also uses customer ratings and reviews to drive product enhancements, and challenges engineers to earn average ratings of 4.5 or 5 stars for new products," Forrester's McInnes says.
Dell's ability to innovate with customers is one area that company leadership feels makes its VOC program successful. The company attributes many recent customer experience improvements to customer feedback and input. For example, Dell is piloting 24/7 online chat for customer service; it completely redesign its online configurator, and streamlined the process for order cancelations and returns. Dell plans to add real-time feeds of unedited VOC data directly to its website in the near future.