The voice of the customer (VOC) is a powerful tool to understand customer needs and expectations, and use that information to improve the customer experience; enhance processes; develop new products and services; and hone marketing and communication messaging. Companies that are adept at listening and leveraging VOC have a competitive advantage.
Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, recognized this, noting that “We (GE) have only two sources of competitive advantage: the ability to learn more about our customer faster than the competition, and the ability to turn that learning into action faster than the competition.”
This fourth article in the series exploring customer experience management (CXM), dives into a role of the VOC. CXM by design places great importance on thoughtfully engineering the best customer experience, then delivering on this experience every time, consistently in every channel. The voice of the customer is the foundation for CXM. Successful companies listen, act and measure VOC.
Success with VOC involves solid processes around the What, So What and Now What. The “˜What’ is the customer feedback and it is the first step. The “˜So What’ is how an organization analyzes and trends the data to develop insights. Organizations leveraging VOC use the insights to determine the “˜Now What,’ or the action steps, needed to improve the customer experience.
What — Gathering Voice of the Customer Data
Companies with mature VOC programs gather the voice of the customer from multiple sources. The traditional source of VOC is customer surveys or comment cards. However, companies are increasingly going beyond these and gathering feedback from customer panels or focus groups, customer experience data, and voice of the employee.
Surveys are used both to understand overall customer perception and to evaluate a customer’s transaction experience. Some utilities are investing in customer panels, customer user labs and focus groups that support a deeper exploration into the customer’s perception, such as of proposed new services or interactions. Gathering data on the customer’s experience is another important VOC touch point. For example, many utilities measure the number of times an estimated time of restoration is changed, recognizing that customers’ tolerance for multiple changes is limited. Our employees have amazing insight on our customers’ experience. Companies are developing ways to gain this insight using tools like employee focus groups.
So What — Analyzing Voice of the Customer Data
It is not enough to gather the customer data, it is vital to analyze the data for trends and insights. Data analysts provide an important role in this phase by sorting and presenting the trends. One of the best practices in this space is to bring together cross-functional teams to review these trends and discuss the implications for the business. The value in the cross-functional teams is that they look at the data through a variety of lenses, yielding meaningful business insights.
Now What — Action Steps
The real benefit from VOC is putting the insights into action. These actions are often tactical operational enhancements that address customer pain points. Increasingly, companies are using the insights more strategically. For example, companies use VOC insights to design new services that customers value. VOC is used to develop strategic customer communication campaigns, and is often also used to inform design requirements for new technology applications.
At Eversource, we find VOC to be a tremendous tool to identify and remedy operational issues, along with informing strategic initiatives. Case in point, customers using credit and debit cards expressed dissatisfaction with the convenience fee. From an operational perspective, we mitigated that concern by renegotiating with our service provider to lower the fee by 43 percent. Customer immediately responded positively and we saw a 31 percent increase in the usage of credit and debit cards. Strategically though, our customer feedback, along with societal trend analysis, indicates consumers are increasingly choosing cashless transactions. Hence, Eversource is requesting our regulators approve our offering of fee-free credit and debit card use.
Leveraging the voice of the customer provides utilities with timely insight to identify new products and services that are valued by customers, and to quickly address service gaps. It is not enough to simply collect customer survey data. Rather, the very best are opening many different kinds of listening posts, are analyzing the data to identify trends and most importantly are acting on these trends. The result is more customers have a better customer experience and overall satisfaction with the experience is improved.
About the Author: Penni McLean-Conner is chief customer officer at Eversource Energy, the largest energy delivery company in New England. She serves on several boards, including the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.