Want to Know What Your Customer is REALLY Thinking? Voice of the Customer Can Be a Game Changer
We are committed to helping clients make progress and develop new strategies for our new reality. Voice of the Customer (VOC) analysis is a valuable tool to deploy to stay connected to customers, demonstrate commitment to serving them well, and gain valuable insight into how to best (re)shape your business strategies (which are probably in flux). Download our Voice of the Customer brochure here for further information on services offered.
Do you know what your customer thinks of your firm?
No, I mean what they really think.
Do you wonder how to get honest feedback from your customers? Do you worry that your preconceived notions or conventional wisdom gets in the way of understanding your customers’ real priorities?
We all know understanding our customers is key to business success and yet, the pace of day-to-day operations and the span of stakeholders across most organizations can force managers to make assumptions about priorities and even customer satisfaction.
This may be because traditional feedback loops are more prescriptive and formal or because there is a natural hesitancy to probe too deeply into customer satisfaction. Whatever the reason, a Voice of the Customer (VOC) study can provide an additional channel for customer communication and insight.
To get you started, Audacia Strategies CEO, Katy Herr, sat down with VOC strategist and Audacia Strategies partner, Robin Kogelnik, to talk about the what, the why, and best practices for a Voice of the Customer strategy.
Robin brings to the table over 20 years of experience in business strategy, market and competitive analysis, and business development operations. She has led Voice of the Customer and Voice of the Employee studies in classified and unclassified environments for a wide range of clients from large aerospace firms to small businesses and nonprofits.
To find out how your firm can benefit from VOC, check out these highlights from Katy’s interview with Robin.
Q | Can you talk about what a Voice of the Customer is? What is a Voice of the Customer survey?
A Voice of the Customer study is a very positive and effective way to connect with and get unfiltered feedback from your clients. It’s a structured set of interviews conducted by a third party to gauge how things are going beyond formal communications and normal day-to-day interactions.
Why do we recommend a third party? Honestly, it makes the process credible and limits the second-guessing! Someone who isn’t directly involved with your day-to-day work and isn’t involved directly with the customer can ask the questions and record the answers objectively. There are no filters, agendas, or assumptions that can interpret a customer’s response or skew the results.
In my experience, doing a Voice of the Customer study is a discriminator—it shows that you genuinely want their feedback and it really underlines your commitment to their success.
Think of it as one more powerful tool to add to your customer relationship management and business development arsenal.
Q | Can you explain how the process typically works?
First, you and your account and business development teams know the customer best. You select the individuals to include in the study and provide all the contact details. We’ll help you prioritize the information you need and craft a set of interview questions that will provide the kind of insight that you can act upon.
Obviously, the number of interview questions has to be realistic and respectful of your customers’ time. We never ask for more than 30 minutes. Sometimes interviews take less time, and sometimes people talk and talk (which is wonderful!). But if the initial ask is too much, they’ll say no. So be disciplined and keep it to a manageable number of questions that focus on the information that you truly need.
Now, the goal is always to get unfiltered feedback, so you want to give customers the opportunity to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly. You can get that kind of honesty when any and all feedback is on a non-attribution basis (AKA anonymous).
Anonymity is key because it gives people the opportunity to open up in a way they’re not afforded on a daily basis (particularly for those who work within the government).
There are a lot of different ways to conduct the interviews and capture the customer’s feedback, but you want to make it as easy as possible for them to participate. What I’ve found to be the most effective is having the conversation over the phone. The calls are scheduled whenever it’s most convenient for the customer.
“I’ve had interviews with customers at 11:00 pm and 5:00 am, and I jump at the chance. It reinforces how important they are, how much you value them, and how much you value their opinion.”
Phone interviews give customers the most schedule-flexibility, but in an interesting and subtle way, they reinforce the fact that their feedback is on a non-attribution basis. It creates an environment that gives them the freedom to relax and answer questions in an unguarded and thoughtful way. “I always joke that it must be like going to confession!”
“All joking aside, we take the non-attribution structure very seriously—from beginning to end. In our reporting, we summarize the feedback by topic to ensure there’s no traceability back to any one individual. We do capture everything verbatim, and we include direct quotes to provide the right amount of emphasis (i.e. the customer’s emphasis) when it makes sense and when it helps to highlight the importance of any particular feedback.”
Q | How do you see clients using this information once they have it?
Well, that really depends on where they are in their business development cycle—whether they are concerned about a particular account or they have a big recompete on the horizon or if they’re interested in branching out into other areas within the customer organization.
It’s also been a great way to check in with customers after a big internal reorganization or after a merger. There are times when things are moving so quickly that you decide you need to call a timeout: How is everything going? What are we doing well? What’s not working?
This is a way to get clear on how you’re doing and the customer’s priorities.
“Ultimately, though—and this is key—this information helps clients prioritize how to spend their time, how to spend their resources, whether they need to make personnel changes, whether they need to shore up a particular service or support they provide, or even whether they need to change partners or bring on a new partner.”
I’ve also worked with companies that are interested in developing their value propositions and trying to understand what differentiates them from their competitors. I think this is a valuable insight: Why did they choose you? What do you do that separates you from everybody else?
And your value proposition is another one of those things that can very easily be subsumed by company dogma and generic corporate-ese. You might assume, as most companies do, that you know what differentiates you from your competitors. But hearing it from the people that are evaluating you against your competitors will either confirm the messages you’ve always relied on or provide you something more. Insights that can guide how you position for the next program, how you qualify and quantify your value in a proposal, and how you compete for business.
Q | It sounds like it’s helpful across the customer life cycle. It’s helpful when you’re in business development and for your positioning. It’s helpful for taking the pulse of the customer once they’re on board operationally. And it’s helpful for keeping that pulse throughout the customer service journey—showing “we care, we want to know, and we listen.”
Absolutely. I think going beyond just making sure that you’re on the right track with deliverables, it’s important and it shows that you want to invest in doing all the right things for your clients. For many clients, the Voice of the Customer study becomes a real value add. Even if you don’t always like the feedback, it’s such a positive process and experience.
An extremely high percentage of customers I’ve interviewed (I won’t say 100%, but a very high percentage) are very glad they’ve been asked to participate. They say things like, “Thank you. This is a good thing to do. I really appreciate that they included me in this process.” They feel good about your company because you’re going above and beyond. They feel good because you chose them, you respect their opinion, and you want their feedback.
Q | Are there best practices in conducting a Voice of the Customer study that companies should think about when they’re embarking on their planning or thinking about how they might utilize the information?
Yes. First, when you’re planning your VOC, in order to get relevant feedback, you want to get a representative sample of the people that your company, i.e., your personnel, are interfacing with. So you want to contact customers working at different levels and in different functions—not just manager to manager, but a 360-degree evaluation.
Also, ask questions that get at the information you need, like: How has it been going contractually? Or on the financial and business management side? How has it been going in terms of service delivery or technical deliverables? How are we doing from a program management perspective? How are we doing on subcontractor management, partners, and bringing on the right people and skill sets?
Finally, if you decide to do a voice of the customer study, you need to plan to follow up with them afterwards. You certainly want to acknowledge and thank them for participating, and you don’t want them to think that it was a waste of their time. So you can use the results to continue to build those relationships.
It’s important to say, “Hey, this was a big help. We really appreciate the feedback. It gave us a lot to think about (or it gave us a lot of good ideas on how we can improve).” It doesn’t mean you have to throw a lot of money at anything and it doesn’t force you to commit to anything. It does give you another opportunity to have follow-up conversations, to continue to build trust, to get direct feedback on how you can move forward and how you’re doing, and to show that you’re always focused on helping them succeed.
Q | Is there any one thing that you wish your customers would know about Voice of the Customer, either to get a better outcome or something that would make the process easier for them to make a decision on or to get more people to participate?
Yes, I think it helps to set the tone for the whole exercise if you introduce the idea to your customer informally. If it seems too formal and strict, they’re going to be reluctant simply because the formality makes people wary.
“And don’t be afraid of being straightforward about why you’re doing a VOC. Maybe the company’s in the midst of a change, maybe it’s spinning off, maybe it has just been acquired, maybe there have been layoffs in other parts of the company, etc. Some big change is happening at the company, and you want to check in and see how things are going. We always want to keep it positive right from the beginning. So I encourage people to just bring it up during a regular meeting or give them a call and let them know your plans.”
For instance, say your business development lead has a great relationship with one of her counterparts onsite. Ask her to bring up the idea the next time she’s onsite or mention it on a call, “Hey, we’re thinking about doing this study, and we’d really love it if you can participate. Would you mind if our consultant gave you a call and asked a few questions? It’ll be quick, and just think, you can really let us have it if you want to!”
Sometimes people are concerned about why the study is being done, but it’s a very positive experience all around and it’s never about trying to disrupt anything or to get “dirt.” Customers feel very good about being asked to participate.
And you can set the tone at the very beginning for what this experience is going to be like—you want your customer to know that it’s going to be very positive, it’s going to be very easy, and say, “we’re only asking a very select group of people, the ones whose opinion we value the most.” That might sound like hyperbole, but it’s true.
Q | This has been hugely helpful, Robin. Thank you so much!
So, there you have it: a Voice of the Customer study can be a game changer for your business strategy, your business approach, and your customer relationships. Consider the opportunities investing in unfiltered customer feedback could open up for you. (And, by the way, this works for getting employee feedback too! We call this…wait for it…Voice of the Employee (VOE).)
Audacia Strategies now offers VOC and VOE services. Download our Voice of the Customer brochure for further information. If you’re looking to “get under the hood” and get an unfiltered read on your customers’ or employees’ experiences, we’re ready. Book your consultation session today!
Photo credit: HONGQI ZHANG
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