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 PHOTO: BRENT OZAR

We have the technology to listen to customers, but we’re still not getting customer experience right. According to the State of Customer Experience 2017report from business process services company Conduent, brands fail to provide 80 percent of customers with first-step resolutions. Further, 75 percent don’t provide enough support to encourage successful self-help.

Some brands have turned to Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs to help inform the experiences they provide. Wikipedia defines VoC programs as marketing techniques designed to understand and facilitate the wants and needs of customers by organizing them into a prioritized hierarchal structure. The goal of the program is to gain an understanding of what your customers expect from your business and what they prefer, as well as the things that get in their way or cause frustration.

In order for customer experience (CX) professionals to get buy-in for their VOC programs, they must avoid some common missteps. We caught up with some experts to discuss mistakes CX professionals should avoid when deploying their VOC programs:

Misalignment/Spotty Communication with Executives

Being in lockstep, as best you can, with executives goes a long way in getting the support you need, said Nichole Devolites, global director of voice of the customer for idea and innovation management software provider Spigit. People, she said, choose reaction over thought. CX professionals too often avoid putting together quarterly/annual plans in favor of being reactionary. They need to take time to create updates on their programs so everyone is aligned on the impact. “The constant flow of communication/re-alignment is important and certainly creates the collaborative environment needed to fully let your programs thrive,” Devolites said.

Make time for periodic presentations for your executives, Devolites added.

“Even if your programs are thriving, your execs need to understand the investment they are making in you and your programs,” she added. “Chase after them to give them updates, not the other way around.”

Related Article: Voice of the Customer: 8 Tips to Win Executive Buy-in

Fear of Negative Feedback

Oftentimes, fear gets in the way of a thriving VoC program, Devolites added. CX professionals fear executives will discover something they are doing with their VoC is wrong: it doesn’t align with business objectives; it goes against company policies; executives will see them and their programs as a failure, thereby threatening their job.

“The reality is, when you come in armed with data about your programs, what you’d like to do, and the ‘why,’ chances are, the conversation is steered in more of a supportive/collaborative direction, and less of a ‘playing defense’ situation,” Devolites said.

Asking the Wrong Questions

Bill Walker, chief revenue officer for home ownership investment company Unison, said some companies unfortunately ask the wrong questions or ask questions that they can’t do anything about. “If the questions your company asks are not getting to the root of the issue,” Walker said, “then the responses you are collecting from your customers are not going to help you and you will end up devoting time and resources to no avail.”

Questions you’re asking customers need to be actionable and measurable. Gather specific information that will guide which practices to keep and which need to be altered and improved. “Questions that you already know the answer to should also be avoided unless you are using them to set a baseline and ensure survey accuracy,” Walker said. “Asking things you already know is a drain on your prospect’s time and willingness to provide their insights, does not help discover new strategies and ultimately hinders progress.”

Related Article: Put Voice of the Customer Feedback Into Action With the Usability Approach

Using Third-Parties as a Crutch

Some CX professionals rely too heavily on information from outside agencies. Those third-parties collect data on consumer preferences in the form of focus groups, Walker said. Focus groups are generally ineffective, he continued, because they represent too small a sample size to provide accurate, representative feedback.

“It is imperative that the direct voice of the customer be the primary guiding force in the decision-making process,” he said. “Taking a multi-channel approach creates a well-rounded, complete understanding of how consumers are interacting with your company and what their experience is like. The channels should be varied and the frequency consistent and regular, so trends reveal themselves over time and can be actioned accordingly.”

Having Executives Who Won’t Budge

Some executives care more about maintaining their processes and can’t admit there is a problem. Criticism, however, is far more helpful in terms of improvement than praise, Walker said.

“Prepping the executive team to hear negative feedback helps open them up to the criticism and allows them to better absorb and process the material,” Walker added. “From here, they are more equipped to adequately and effectively address the customers’ concerns.”

Not Turning Feedback Into Action

Celia Fleischaker, chief marketing officer for commerce solution provider PROS, said CX professionals sometimes ask for customer feedback without providing feedback in return. That, she said, can ultimately create dissatisfaction and friction in the relationship. “Customer feedback holds value for the company, and marketers must proactively communicate why disclosing information also holds value for respondents,” she said. Identify opportunities to proactively inform customers of actionable steps you plan to take to address their feedback, which will assure their responses aren’t going into a black box.

Related Article: Want to Hear the Voice of Customers? Listen to Your Employees

Lacking a Holistic Approach to VoC

Multiple groups across the organization share touchpoints with customers. Sales, IT, accounts payable and customer service regularly interact with customers, often on a daily basis, Fleischaker said. “It’s critical to convene managers across the lines of business to make sure messaging is aligned and to identify areas where messages might be consolidated to avoid excessive touchpoints,” she said. “This approach can minimize unnecessary communications that simply aggravate customers and ensure that all engagements bring value, which ultimately increases customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.”

Not Asking Enough Whys and Whats

Devolites of Spigit said not enough CX professionals focus on their VoC objectives with the right amount of “why” and “what” questions. She is constantly asking questions like:

  • “Why” is this an objective?
  • “What” led to it becoming an objective?
  • “What” can I do to support said objective?
  • “Why” are the execs not warming up to my suggested way of supporting said objectives?
  • “What” would they prefer to see instead, and “why?”
  • How do I create the right program that satisfies this “why” that will impact the greatest number of customers, thereby not wasting resources?

“The list can go on and repeat from there,” she said, “but these are questions I am constantly asking to make sure I’m not only in-line with (executives’) thinking, but am in lock-step with them. Asking these questions actually answers your question around what they need to know about business objectives, which is everything.”

Related Article: Is Your Voice of the Customer Program All Talk and No Action

Not Being Proactive in Sharing Customer Feedback

One of the biggest mistakes is sitting on information that could help other areas of the business today. According to Devolites, this is broken down into two types of feedback: semi-annual feedback, via traditional (solicited) methods of feedback gathering; and immediate, unsolicited customer feedback.

Semi-annual feedback can include:

  • Overall customer sentiment: What a company’s overall NPS score is, and how it fared bi-annually over the last couple of years.
  • Strengths: Which teams, within the organization, are doing well and what made a positive impact. What programs have resonated greatly with our customers? What has improved, bi-annually, over the last couple of years? Include great customer quotes.
  • Weaknesses: Which teams may need more support? What has declined, and what is the cause of that decline? What do we need to do more/less of? If there’s a decline in program participation/or sentiment, how do we turn that around? Include actual customer feedback.

Immediate feedback can include glowing reviews (keeps sentiments up) and “red flag” feedback that could lead to a non-renewal/loss of contract.

Focusing on the Wrong Programs

When CX professionals feel they’ve become the “glorified punching bag” with customers’ demands becoming increasingly louder, they tend to develop programs out of an innate reaction to immediately satisfy a customer. Instead, take feedback, thank customers for it, and then work with your teams, including execs, to understand if they are seeing this specific feedback from multiple customers. If so, then build a program that satisfies this need/potential need for all.

“It’s also important to look at any other gathered data as well to see not just the overall health of this particular customer, but also trends in the marketplace,” Devolites said. “Sometimes that can have an impact. But, if no such program needs to be developed, there are ways to gracefully work with a customer on a specific need that doesn’t eat into resources needed for other programs.”