Organizations around the world tout their desire to listen to and capture customer feedback and suggestions. Listening to the “voice of the customer” is widely regarded as the de facto standard for ensuring that the customers individual or collective voice is heard. While organizations continue to chant this mantra they often don’t have the appropriate mechanics in place to fully enable this approach.
To systematically incorporate the voice of the customer organizations have to minimally do three things well:
- Channel the various sources of the voice of the customer into the organization
- Effectively acknowledge receipt of the customers feedback and suggestions
- Centralize the inputs in a manner that makes for efficient decision-making
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
When it comes to channeling the various sources of voice of the customer into the organization product teams can become too dependent upon a single source – for example the sales organization. A myopic approach can yield beneficial input but it’s important to realize that the sales team is not the only or even the best source of customer feedback.
To illustrate this point let’s do a quick exercise. If we had 20 people in a room and I whispered a phrase in the closest person’s ear, and I asked that person to continue to whisper in the next person’s ear until all 20 people had been whispered to, do you think that the phrase I whispered would be the same one after passing through all 20 people? The answer is no, that’s highly unlikely. Each whisper of the phrase degrades the quality of the initial information until it’s no longer accurate or recognizable.
So when it comes to channeling the voice of the customer product managers need to really question if what they’re hearing from sales, or any other intermediary, is actually an accurate representation of customer needs. The more direct the conversation – the higher the likelihood of its value. A better approach is to triangulate multiple sources of (primary and secondary) information rather then relying upon any single source as this allows you to check and challenge what you’re being told.
Which leads us to point two – acknowledgement. With so many inputs available handling the actual acknowledgement of these requests is often problematic. While organizations continuously ask for customer feedback few are exceptional at telling individuals thank you for the input and more importantly how they plan to use or not use this information in their decision-making process. Asking for feedback, and not acknowledging receipt, (other than in an automated way which the customer likely perceives as a black hole) only compounds the problem in the eyes of the customer. However, organizations do this time and again.
Finally, centralizing these inputs into a repository of some type – whether paper-based or automated – is required to effectively rank and prioritize product opportunities. Most organizations tend to rely upon paper or spreadsheet-based processes with varying degrees of success. There are also a growing number of SaaS solutions that offer the opportunity to automate this process. Over the last five years vendor capabilities have continued to improve and they are becoming easier to use and therefore more effective.
Organizations that utilize a voice of the customer approach need to take a hard look in the mirror to see how well they’re handling all three phases of the process: input collection, acknowledgement and centralization. Acknowledgement continues to be the weakest link in the chain but all three areas are ripe with opportunity for improvement.
Not acknowledging incoming suggestions on how your products can be improved can make your customers think you aren’t listening or don’t care — neither of which is good for your business.
How well does your organization handle the acknowledgement process?