In a recent conversation with a chief technology officer, he asserted all digital technology changes in his organisation were being led by IT and not by marketing. It made me wonder: How long a marketing function like this could survive?
While most organisations understand the significance of a voice of the customer (VoC) program, many are still struggling to execute their strategy effectively.
Here are six fatal mistakes marketers are making and how to avoid them.
1. Lack of direction or clear objectives
If your voice of customer program is unmeasured and without objectives, it just becomes a research piece, Bastion Collective’s head of brand strategy, Kristen Boschma, claims.
“You have to link every stage to business outcomes,” she stressed. “Don’t just make it a marketing piece. The CMO should sponsor the program, but there should be key team members in the working group. Every single department in the organisation should be affected and invested in the VoC program.”
To do this, acting general manager of research firm Forethought, Dave Burton, said marketers need to target and align the program to key objectives of the business and ensuring it does what it’s designed to do.
“If the purpose is retention or to improve advocacy, then ensure the program is designed to do this,” he said. “It must also be user friendly as it will make up the toolkit to be used by the entire business, plus be actionable, not just used for the sake of measurement, but rather be a tool for solving for the objectives of the program.”
At Forethought, Burton said his team often sees clients look at their VoC programs, but narrow their focus and identify initiatives they want to act on to improve customer experience.
“To launch such initiatives, they need funds, which are often in the remit of the COO, who has a cost reduction mindset," he said. "There exists a risk that VoC initiatives may get deprioritised against cost reduction initiatives, which have no linkage to retention objectives."
One example of a company getting it right and connecting the VoC program to clear business objectives and outcomes for Burton is Forethought’s client, Queensland-based semi-government owned energy provider, Ergon Energy, which implemented a VoC program as part of efforts to transform its customer engagement strategy.
“Ergon is committed to change, has set customer-focused KPIs, attained buy-in top-down from the executive leadership team and stand by the idea that nothing is sacred; everything is on the table for discussion,” Burton said. “The outcome of this will be cultural and commercial improvements for their business.”
2. Mismanaged expectations
One of the biggest issues when rolling out a VoC program is trying to manage an organisation’s expectations, said Forethought CEO, Ken Roberts.
“If the marketer has made a commitment to growth, they need to help the organisation understand that growth arising from VoC is a medium to long-term prospect,” he explained. “The good news is the average duration of the CMO is increasing and organisations are becoming more patient in waiting for programs to bring about meaningful change."
Accompanying a successful VoC program must be business analytics, which Roberts said helps produce models with high explanatory power that identify one or two primary business drivers.
“Having identified those one or two drivers, the CEO then needs to be involved in the program to address those drivers in singular and enduring way,” he said.
3. Struggling to surpass the foundational stage
One of the problems director of research at CX consultancy firm Fifth Quadrant, Steve Nuttall, has seen with VoC programs is they don’t go past the foundational stage.
“Essentially what they’re producing are pretty standard reports of long questionnaires and then simply trying to answer the question – what happened,” he said.
According to Nuttall, there’s a big difference between those at the foundational stage and those really integrating a program throughout the business. The more evolved programs start to reduce the burden on the customer in terms of capturing the right feedback.
“They’re leaner and more agile in their methodologies, and they’re really starting to drill down on the issues,” he said. “They’re looking at what’s happened, and answer the question why is it happening, what’s going to happen next and how can we manage all of the touch points to get the best outcomes and experiences in the future for the customer. So good programs focus on the forecasting, predictive and utilising that insight to then optimise the experience.
“You also to have a real focus on actions. Programs that fail have a lack of action in relation to the core issues that are being picked up in a VOC program.”
4. Rushing in
According to marketing survey provider Qualtrics' APAC managing director, Bill McMurray, often people building a VoC program rush into it, without aligning all the necessary factors to move forward with creating a customer-centric organisation.
“Putting in a VOC program is a journey, you don’t just put it in day one, you need to put it in, learn, iterate, and then expand to do more things as you get more sophisticated with it,” he said. “And all of it takes effort – you need to build a culture around and explain why it’s important internally to do these things.”
McMurray suggested marketers to be patient and take ownership of the program instead of outsourcing it.
“If you really want to have a world-class program you need to take ownership of your VoC program,” he said. “You can use third parties to help you – but you need to make sure you own the program and the data it delivers, so you can better evolve your VOC program as required to adapt to your organisational needs.”
5. Failing to listen
It doesn’t matter whether you are a startup company, like ShareRoot, or a huge brand like MacDonald’s, you should always listen to your customer because they’re the ones who know best, co-founder and CEO of software company ShareRoot, Noah Abelson, said.
“Otherwise you can make huge mistakes,” he explained. “Take a look at Victoria’s Secret’s campaign on what it dubbed ‘The Perfect Body’. The problem with the execution was the photos used depicted models under 100 pounds. It was just so wildly inaccurate, offensive and out of touch with reality – not only to the average person but to the majority of people who use the products and wear the brand’s clothing.
“Another example is a leading Pizza brand called DiGiorno, which decided to get involved with a hashtag campaign that was going on Twitter called #whyistayed created by survivors of domestic abuse. It was a very serious topic and was about creating a support network. But instead of taking it seriously, the pizza brand posted from its international handle ‘#whyistayed - you had pizza.”
If these brands had stopped and listened to their customers prior implementing these campaigns, the marketing disasters wouldn’t have happened, Abelson said.
“They could have thought, well so many people love our brands, why not run this by them before we do it, and see what they say,” he added. “If the brands had listened to their customers, neither of these scenarios would have ever happened.”
A good VOC program starts with the desire to truly listen to your customer and what they are signalling to you in their feedback, according to founder and head of experience design at customer-centred design consultancy Proto Partners, Damian Kernahan.
“Marketers are great at making promises – they’ve been trained to make a lot of promises and they have a lot of budget, time and effort spend on making them. The problem with that is we don’t see the same amount of energy, rigour and resources into keeping promises,” he said. “Part of keeping promises is listening to your customers to understand what they do and don’t value or like.”
6. Survey fatigue
Customers like to be heard, and many will engage in your VoC programs. However, experts agreed consuming their time with surveys and collecting feedback and then failing to act on their input will simply infuriate them.
"According to Gartner, while 95 per cent of companies surveyed collect customer feedback, fewer than half of those bother to alert staff, much less inform their customers as to how their feedback was used,” software company SugarCRM’s chief customer officer, Remy Malan, said. “You must also be prepared to take action. If you ask for customers’ opinion and then don’t act on what they’ve said, you might even give them more cause to be annoyed with you or go with a competitor.”
Holla Agency CEO and author of Customer Experience is the Brand, Alex Allwood, believed one of the major challenges marketers have when implementing a VoC program is simply managing customer surveys.
“With more brands valuing customer feedback, customers are increasingly being requested to participate in more and more surveys,” she said. “This coupled with surveys that ask too many questions and take too long to complete, leads to survey response fatigue, which negatively impacts response rates.”
Kernahan advised keeping it short and sweet, and then taking on-board the feedback to add further value to the customer experience.
“Customers don’t want to spend a lot of time giving you feedback, maybe 20 or 30 seconds of their time at best to give you very quick feedback to get something off their chest,” he said. “The important thing is to actually take on-board the feedback and then prioritise it in terms of what will have the most impact and add value for your customers."
Another weakness Kernahan said the firm has seen in VoC programs is transactional, closed-loop feedback.
“You need to have a broader view than just the transactional and look more at the entire customer journey,” he said. “And yes, it can be overwhelming. We often see a gap between what the organisation thinks it is delivering compared to what it is actually delivering, - and this can lead to a lot of shock."
Check out the rest of our series of running success VoC programs:
- Tackling the customer feedback data minefield
- Is your Voice of Customer program disruptive enough?
- How Bendigo and Adelaide Bank is responding to voice of customer data