7 Voice of the Customer pitfalls you must avoid

Over the past ten years we've been involved in developing and implementing hundreds of Voice of the Customer (VoC) surveys for our customers. In that time we've learned (often through bitter experience) what works and what doesn't. As with life it's often the things you least expect to go wrong that cause the biggest problems. In an attempt to ensure you don't slip up we've put together our list of the most frequent pitfalls made by VoC programmes...and offer some advice on how to avoid them.

  1. Setting out without a clear set of objectives - If you're not absolutely certain about what you're trying to achieve then it's going to be tough to build the right survey. Having a clear set of objectives will influence the methodology you use, the way you structure the questionnaire and the actions you take as a result. Our clients use VoC surveys for a variety of reasons - customer recovery, service improvement, agent performance management, proposition development, brand and culture change - but they all have a clear goal in mind.
  2. Using the wrong methodology - Real-time feedback can be delivered via any communication channel (telephone, SMS, email, web, webchat, in-app, social media) but your channel choice will have an impact on the outcome of the surveys. Our rule of thumb is to use the channel through which the customer contacted you in the first place.
  3. Asking too many questions - VoC surveys are suitable for a specific purpose (see item 1 above). They work best when you limit the number of questions to those that really matter. For IVR surveys the optimum length is 6-8 questions, for SMS 3-4, for email or web 8-12. VoC surveys are all about getting real-time feedback about a particular experience the customer has had. They should never be used to probe the innermost thoughts of your customer about every aspect of the brand. Short and to the point is key.
  4. Changing your question set too frequently - Part 2 of the point above. Because VoC surveys tend to run continuously (as opposed to research which is one-off) the temptation is to change questions every so often to expand learning. One of the primary benefits of VoC is its ability to identify trends over time. Maintain this strength by having a core (and unchanging) set of KPI questions - NPS, CSAT, Effort - and using other questions to explore different aspects of service.
  5. Worrying too much about the numbers - What all VoC metrics have in common is the goal to reduce the totality of customer experience to a single number. There is clearly benefit in a ‘one-number’ solution (easier for business-wide communication, employee engagement, board reporting) but there is also inherent risk. In particular from executive boards who tend to see things only in terms of numbers going up or down. The key to getting the most out of any metric is to see it as a signpost, an indicator of how your brand, product, call centre team or call agent is performing over time. The score at any given point is not as crucial as understanding why it has gone up or down.
  6. Responding to trends that are not statistically significant - By the same token, when introducing a VoC survey to a new client we often find that team leaders or agents become fixated on the numbers, even though they may not be statistically significant. An agent spending time worrying that one of the last five responses did not give them the maximum score is an unnecessary distraction. To avoid this we spend time bedding in new VoC programmes, training team leaders and ensuring staff understand and are engaged with what is happening
  7. Not taking action - Perhaps the most surprising pitfall is the one we have left till last. The only reason for running a VoC programme is to address whatever objective you have set (see 1 above). If you don't take action as a result of the feedback your customers are freely giving you will never realise a return on investment. In 10 years I have never seen a VoC programme that did not throw up multiple opportunities to improve customer experience. But I have seen clients who did not act on the findings of their surveys.

Bill Bernbach, voted the most influential advertising executive of the 20th Century once said, "Logic and over-analysis can immobilise and sterilise an idea. It's like love - the more you analyse it the faster it disappears." So it is with VoC; it's effect is only ever measurable by the action you take.

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