Don’t Just Listen to the Customer, Act on What You Learn

When giving speeches, I often ask my audience to repeat this sentence multiple times: “Customer feedback is cheap, actionable insights may be valuable, but taking action on insights is precious.”  Here’s why:

Just about every company surveys its customers, and many implement voice-of-the-customer (VOC) programs. Unfortunately, many of these programs miss the point: Companies don’t gain value by listening to their customers; they succeed by acting on what they learn.

In the recently published Temkin Group report, “State of Voice-of-the-Customer Programs, 2014,” analysts found that only 30% of large companies consider themselves good at making business changes based on customer insights. What’s more, just 22% are good at reviewing implications that cut across organizations.

More than 200 large companies completed Temkin Group’s Voice of the Customer Competency and Maturity Assessment for this study. Given the lack of effectiveness in using insights, it’s not surprising that only 11% of participating companies have reached the top two levels of maturity.

Given these results, should companies just abandon their VOC programs? Probably not.

In the same study, companies reporting success from their VOC programs outnumber those who are unsuccessful by more than 13 to one. Clearly, even low-maturity VOC programs can help companies. Put simply: The act of focusing on the customer provides some value on its own.

Hopefully, you’re not one of those companies that are happy with modest VOC program success. Because if you want to thrive in the future, you’ll need to know more about your customers, use that information to respond more quickly to their changing needs, and recover in lightening speed to any mistakes. This requires a renovation to VOC programs.

My recommendation for marketers? Spend significantly more time taking action and less time collecting feedback. Here’s how to do that:

  • Bias collection of feedback to key moments with key customers; don’t treat every customer interaction the same.
  • Distribute feedback in the right format at the right time to fuel decisions across the company; don’t rely solely on deep analysis and polished presentations.
  • Reserve survey and research capacities to dig deeper into issues and opportunities; don’t try to answer every question within predefined surveys.
  • Prepare customer-facing organizations (Web, contact center, retail, etc.) to make ongoing customer experience enhancements; don’t fight for changes after every analysis cycle.

If you follow these suggestions, then you’ll head in the right direction. Now, please repeat after me: Customer feedback is cheap, actionable insights may be valuable, but taking action on insights is precious.

The bottom line: Customer insights are too valuable to waste.

Correction: This article was written by Bruce Temkin, managing partner and customer experience transformist for Temkin Group, not Elyse Dupre as previously listed. 

  Bruce Temkin, managing partner and customer experience transformist at Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting company. He is widely viewed as a leading expert in customer experience.
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