3 phases of a Voice of the Customer programme

Following a recent discussion with a contact on how to get started with a Voice of the Customer programme, I realised that many businesses have still yet to initiate a major programme to engage customers in the evolution of products and services.

During the conversation, as I explained how (and why) a Voice of the Customer is important to modern businesses, we discussed the steps required to kick start this change and engage key stakeholders.  That’s when it struck me that a Voice of the Customer programme progresses through three stages.

This blog post focuses not just on the gathering of customer feedback and interpretation of data, but the medium through which decision-makers are engaged to review insight and take action around the customer experience.

Stage 1 – Looking back: In the early days of a Voice of the Customer programme, data may be in short supply or poorly-formatted; customer feedback might be patchy or limited; the number of things to fix can appear overwhelming – for the leader of the programme, it can feel difficult to know where to start.  Whilst some of the data and insight elements might take time to address, the first priority of a Voice of the Customer programme is to work back to the earliest stages in the customer journey where customers disengage (or fail to engage at all).  In this way, as you improve the experience and fix the early life blockers, you improve the number of customers progressing through your “funnel”.

Core task: Identify where the customer journey does not deliver what you expected and fix the early life blockers and “low-hanging fruit.”

Stage 2 – Looking now: Once the big barriers have been addressed (often leading to significant improvements in engagement), you’ll find it a lot easier to maintain buy-in to the Voice of the Customer programme.  The next stage becomes harder, but with a greater amount of data and more experience in interpreting and using the data, the next layer of changes and enhancements will become clear.  In this phase, the return on each action is often smaller, thus requiring better focus and insight on prioritisation of each change.  You need to be thinking with your head, and avoiding the temptation to waste money on “vanity projects” that won’t improve engagement, customer spend or loyalty and retention.

Core task: Learn the difference between small changes that improve customer engagement and those that don’t to maximise investment dollars in overall customer engagement.

Stage 3 – Looking forward: Once you have the first two stages in hand (and as leader of the Voice of the Customer programme, you’ll be using the data to regularly review that continuous improvements), it’s time to do the sexy stuff.  Throughout the previous two stages, you’ll be under pressure to predict the future, but you need to work with your data scientist / analyst to know when your data warehouse is in good enough shape to look forward and predict patterns and behaviours.

At this stage you’ll be able to use existing data to model future behaviour, and predict customer response and engagement with potential future developments and products.  This is the most powerful stage, where data-driven decisions can accurately predict revenue, cost and engagement.  This stage WILL require you to pay for specialist skills, because the amount of data you will be using needs a data scientist to manage in a data warehouse.

Core task: To use the historical subjective and objective data to interpret future  products and changes, ultimately modelling revenue impact against these plans.

So how long does it take to work through these three stages?  That very much depends on your company’s investment and commitment to the customer!  It’s important to be realistic – for most business, each phase may be a year or more, rather than weeks or months.

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