Before you embark on VoC program you might want to ponder this question
If you are embarking upon or in the midst of a VoC program then you might be wondering what it takes to get value out of this investment, this effort. If your are not wondering this then I advise you to wonder—deeply and seriously—Why? Because soliciting and collecting customer feedback is the easy bit. Turning that into a coherent course of action that creates value for the customer and for the enterprise is a signficant challenge, especially for large organisations. Don’t believe me? Here is what Bruce Temkin is quoted as saying:
“Customer feedback is cheap, actionable insight may be valuable, but taking action on insight is precious. VoC programs are useless unless you act on what you find.”
Read that last sentence again. Do you notice a particular word? The word is USELESS. Unless there is the will and the associated mechanisms in place to turn feedback into a coherent action plan, embraced by the people within your organisation who are going to have to change what they do and how they do it, you will find your VoC program a fool’s errand.
What does it take to get value out of VoC programs?
Here is what I have noticed based on my experience of all kinds of organisational change programs. It is not a recipe. Yes, I know that you are looking for / addicted to recipes and solutions. I don't provide recipes and solutions. Why? Because the real world does not work that way. What I can do is provide pointers, pillars, foundations that you can use to make your VoC 'pay' – create value. These pointers are:
1. VoC feedback has to matter
Something matters if and only if its presence contributes to / enhances the 'workability' and 'performance' of a system or if its absence degrades the 'workability' and 'performance' of the system at hand. Think about the wheels on a car. If one of the tyres gets a puncture then what happens to the 'workability' and 'performance' of the system? And when you replace that tyre? You get the idea.
For VoC to matter it has to provide information that contributes to design and execution of the organisations purpose, mission and strategy. Sounds right, sound like what you would read in a textbook? Well its wrong! For VoC to matter it has to provide actionable insights that meet the needs of the Tops (CEO, VPs, Directors) and Middles (middle managers). Specifically, these VoC insights must enable the Tops and Middles to better / more easily achieve their desired outcomes. If the Tops and Middles can attain their desired outcomes without VoC then that it exactly what they will do. If the effort involved in making sense of and using VoC is too much then the Tops and Middles will not use it: organisational life is hard enough no need to adding extra weight and stress!
Put succinctly, VoC feedback will be used if and only if "It is the difference that makes the difference (to the Tops) and it is easy to use this difference!"
2. Reward the people who use / act on VoC insights
As human beings we excel at actions that result in immediate rewards. If we take an action or a series of actions (like say eating better/healthier) and the expected results don't show up pretty quickly we quit taking the action. Put differently, results have to be visible and noticeable for us to persist in the actions that generated these results. Therefore, the design of every VoC program has to grapple with how to feedback meaningful results to the people who are expected to take action based on the VoC insights. And that includes altering the relationship people in your organisation have with time – particularly timescales. One of the easiest ways to provide this kind of rewarding feedback (my actions are making an impact) is look for, feedback and celebrate small wins as well as big wins.
3. Create a safe space—a learning and execution laboratory
How likely are you to walk the tightrope if it is 100 feet high and there is no net underneath to support / cushion your fall and assure your safety? How likely are you to attempt that feat if the net is there and you know that if you struggle and/or fail you will be laughed at, criticised, condemned, sent to live with the lepers or simply lose your job? Not that likely right?
Please get the VoC is the stimulus/trigger for personal and organisational change. Change that is imposed is NEVER welcomed – it is scary, it is frightening, it threatens our safety even our existence. So if you want people and groups to behave differently then you have to create a safe environment. An environment where people and groups are acknowledged and rewarded for taking the right course of action irrespective of the actual results. If someone / some group takes the right action, plays in the spirit of the game, then they must not be blamed, criticised, condemned.
One other factor that you should bear in mind. We overestimate what we can do in the short term say 0 -6 months and underestimate what we can do in the longer term say 12 – 36 months. Therefore one aspect of creating this safe space is to ask a lot of people in the organisation over the long term (stretch goals) and be much less demanding so as to build in success and allow for learning over the shorter term. Yes, I am asking you to do the opposite of what is the default setting in most organisations.
The closest management concepts to what I am talking about here are "drive out fear" as espoused by Deming or "The Learning Organisation" espoused by Senge.
4. Turn data and information into engaging/actionable stories and tell these vividly and dramatically
I once took over the responsibility of a failing planning & budgeting team. The first action I took was to ask the team to stop sending their standard reports out to the many managers in the organisation. Guess what happened? Only 10% of the managers rang up to ask where their reports were! Please get present to this: we, human beings, suck at relating to and making sense of data. Our naturally way of being is such that data and reports require effort – conscious effort – to understand, to interpret, to make sense of. Most of us are simply not willing to make the effort. Yes, pretty graphs help but not that much.
If you want you VoC customer feedback to be acted upon then tell actionable stories. Stories work because they work they way we work. There are heroes, there are villains, there is plot, there is cause and effect and they provide lessons / pointers towards how to live, what do do, how to do it differently…. That means that having a team of business savvy people who can turn data into actionable stories is a must. When I ran a Customer Analytics practice I played this role – to complement the work done by the staticians and data miners; they were great at data mining (I sucked) and I was great at using their data to tell stories (they sucked at telling stories).
5. The CEO must own the play, be committed to the play and be in the play with both feet
Did you read my last post? Kristin Zhivago has been involved in this game for 20+ years and this is what she says:
“If the CEO isn’t speaking up for your customers, there’s nothing that anyone else can do—regardless of their position—that will turn the company into a customer-centric organisation.”
Disclosure: Whilst i have been tracking Mindshare and have spoken to several people there (who I like) I have NO financial relationship with Mindshare. Put differently, I am not getting paid to advertise this nor do I get a fee or any other reward if you attend. Incidentally, the seminars are FREE.