A Winning Approach to Customer Listening

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Voice of the customer initiatives at Adobe Systems, Fidelity Investments, and JetBlue Airways transform insight into actions that deliver measureable business benefits.

Basic customer feedback management is going the way of the rotary dial telephone. Today a winning approach to customer listening is a closed-loop, enterprisewide voice of the customer program. In fact, VoC initiatives are becoming increasingly comprehensive and sophisticated. Just ask Adobe Systems, Fidelity Investments, and JetBlue Airways, winners of the Forrester Research 2011 Voice of the Customer Awards. These three organizations' multipronged, multichannel VOC methods start with listening to customers through direct and indirect means and end with taking action on issues that improve both customer satisfaction and business performance.

In the three years that Forrester Research has conducted its Voice of the Customer Awards, "we have seen an impressive amount of progress from all of the nominees," reports Forrester Analyst Andrew McInnes. This year's 40-plus nominees and winners "incorporate more customer data, influence more internal stakeholders, and deliver more value to their customers and their bottom lines" compared to previous years' nominees.

The awards recognize organizations that excel in collecting, analyzing, and acting on feedback from their customers. Nominees were judged across five categories: clarity of approach, business value to the organization, positive impact on customer experience, innovation, and potential for other companies to repeat the practice. McInnes identifies three areas in which Adobe, Fidelity, and JetBlue's VOC efforts shine:

1) Scope: This year's award winners collect and analyze customer feedback from a many different channels and then use those insights to drive actions (e.g., customer experience improvements and other business benefits) in many different areas of the business.

2) Scale: The winners also "look at huge amounts of customer feedback and influence many, many people throughout their companies," McInnes reports.

3) Quality: Adobe, Fidelity, and JetBlue's VOC programs produce specific customer experience improvements, as well as measureable business benefits.

Here's at closer look at select elements of Adobe, Fidelity, and JetBlue's comprehensive VOC efforts that helped them lead the field:

Adobe: Innovation starts with listening

Adobe's mission is sweeping and straightforward: to change the world through digital experiences. Yet, the company's success in acquiring and satisfying such a broad range of customers provides its share of challenges.

Adobe counts consumers, small businesses, medium-size companies, and large global enterprises as customers, and it uses numerous channels to engage with the many different segments within each of these customer groupings. "The diversity of our customer ecosystem directly influences our voice of the customer programs, as it's critical that we're able to recognize and respond to [each customer's] unique needs and perspectives,"" says Molly Nedom, director of customer advocacy at Adobe.

The company responds to this wide range of needs and perspectives by ensuring that each of its VOC programs (also referred to as listening initiatives) shares the same core objective: "Gain greater insight into the voice of our customers, internalize customers' ideas and feedback, then act on those ideas to continuously improve customers' experiences and produce measurable business outcomes."

Adobe's extensive VOC efforts include the following elements:

  • Customer Immersion Program (CIP): Adobe's senior leaders participate in a structured one-day program on-site in one of Adobe's Customer Care contact centers. There, they act as a customer engaging with Adobe, discuss opportunities for improvement with customer-facing teams, and engage real time with customers through live chats.
  • Customer Listening Post: The Customer Listening Post is an actual facility located in Adobe's San Jose, CA, corporate headquarters. It brings together information from a wide variety of customer touchpoints, including social media and the contact center. Live video and data feeds into the facility show Adobe what customers are saying in real time and how those discussions align with the information customers have provided through traditional surveys and other channels.
  • Customer Advocacy Council: This cross-functional team identifies the top issues affecting customers, from an end-to-end experiential perspective, to drive "systematic resolution of root-cause issues," Nedom explains. The council creates and distributes a monthly summary of top issues uncovered through customer listening initiatives and organized by customer segment, which is reviewed by Adobe's senior executives.

Other VOC programs include social-media listening and collaboration, ongoing analysis of market research, and prerelease programs designed to shape product development. The progress and success of these initiatives, Nedom adds, are measured at the program level (e.g., did we achieve our specific customer experience improvement objectives?) and also at the business-benefit level. Through VOC, Adobe has seen myriad benefits so far, including increased customer value among loyal customers, an improved customer care experience, and gains in customer satisfaction levels.

Fidelity: A diverse portfolio of VOC investments

Fidelity pursues its long-term objective of providing the best customer experience in the financial services industry through a portfolio of cultural, procedural, and continuous improvement efforts. These activities embody the core value on which the company was founded 65 years ago: The customer is always first.

Living up to that value begins by addressing employee engagement. "Ultimately, we believe that engaged associates equals better experiences for customers over the long term," explains Parrish Arturi, senior vice president, customer experience, for Fidelity Investments.

Arturi identifies several programs and processes designed to engage associates in the customer experience dialogue. The firm's "Customer Ambassadors" are a team of 40 frontline associates selected based on their passion for the customer experience. These ambassadors serve as evangelists while helping to identify opportunities for services improvement, as well as new products and services, stemming from customer discussions. The team "ensures that we have the voice of customer embedded as far up in the strategic thinking and delivery process as possible," Arturi says.

Fidelity also appoints "process improvement managers" from its ranks of frontline service associates. These associates identify process-related customer experience improvement opportunities, derived from the customer conversations these managers hold on a daily basis. For example, one process improvement manager recommendation resulted in Fidelity adding new capabilities, including direct deposit, to its mobile app that customers can download to their smartphones.

The key to the success of cultural ambassadors, process improvement managers, and other elements of Fidelity's VOC strategy is the company's commitment to closed-loop feedback, for customers and associates. "We let them know that we've heard them and identify the actions that we performed in response," Arturi says. "Doing so drives engagement and longer-term loyalty."

McInnes recalls that in 2009, the first year Forrester held its Voice of the Customer Awards, closed-loop processes qualified as a clear differentiator among companies with VOC progams. This year, closing the loop is a given, which illustrates the rapid maturity of VOC capabilities. "Today, every company [in the awards competition] has closed-loop processes," McInnes adds. "Now, it's just a matter of scale."

JetBlue: A seat for customers

JetBlue Airlines was recognized by Forrester in large part for its success in improving customer experience at an operational level. The airlines' VOC team mines structured and unstructured feedback from numerous channels and then circulates those insights throughout all departments and at every echelon of the organization.

"Our goal is to reserve a chair at every leadership table for the voice of the customer," notes JetBlue Director of Customer Experience and Analysis Bonny Simi. "If anybody in the company wants to know what the customer perspective is on any issue, they know where to go and how to obtain it. Chances are, they already know how the customer feels about the issue because we put out so much voice-of-the-customer material."

What distinguishes JetBlue's VOC capabilities from the competition, Simi explains, is that "we integrate the customer feedback across multiple channels in a way that gives us a true snapshot of our customers at any point in time." These "listening touchpoints" include post-flight surveys, unsolicited email from customers, contact center feedback, social media comments, and website feedback.

Simi describes the post-flight survey, which the company sends to all passengers via email after each flight, as a VOC "workhorse." The company receives 50,000 responses to the 500,000 survey requests it sends out monthly. The tool determines key drivers of the customer experience, from reservations to airport check-in to in-flight experience.

Additionally, more than 30,000 customers send email via the "SpeakUp" link on the JetBlue site, and each email is individually answered by a "customer commitment agent." Comments that identify specific employees are relayed to supervisors, who use the insights as coaching, recognition, or practices-sharing opportunities.

Insights from all channels are quickly reported throughout the company, compared to departmental goals, and actively used by department heads for improvements and incentives. For example, JetBlue conducts regular analysis of its airport operations and uses NPS to track performance in different operational areas; it reports findings on a daily, week, monthly, and annual basis. In one case, one airport's relatively low Net Promoter Score pointed to issues with signage, the public address system, and long security lines as the root cause. The airport manager implemented an improvement program to address these specific issues and eight weeks later the airport's NPS ranking soared from 60th to 15th among the company's airport operations.

Simi's 20 years of experience in all of the company's operational departments, including airports, system operations, reservations, and flight operations, as well as having served as a JetBlue pilot, helps bolsters the program's credibility. This helps explain why the voice of JetBlue customers has been elevated to a seat at the company's senior decision-making tableand that seat's strategic placement is why JetBlue has placed atop J.D. Power & Associate's industry rankings for six straight years and boasts the industry's highest NPS.

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