Are you listening? Why customer voice is taking on a whole new meaning

Voice of the customer programs are giving companies a new lease on life, offering insights on customer expectations, preferences and aversions

How Bupa is striving to be ‘customer-obsessed’  

Health insurance provider, Bupa, has the ambition to be a large customer champion in healthcare. To help, it started designing a VoC program started a few years ago in the form of a NPS maturity model adopted across the company in 2013, chief marketing and customer officer, Jane Power, explains.  

“We felt that, like a lot of things, a strategy [or a plan or an execution] without a way to measure it is always really challenging. So what NPS brings to organisations, and certainly brought for Bupa, is that framework around measurements,” she says.   But it is only step one in a much larger VoC plan, Power acknowledges. “We needed to find a way that we could talk to people about how well we are doing, asking ‘is what we’re doing and the strategy we are deploying, and the experiences we’re creating for our customers, are they working?’” Today, Bupa has embraced a simpler customer excellence framework, ‘listen, learn and act’.

Among Power’s key learnings from the program is ensuring the company has support from the top, and making sure the approach is tailored for each business. It is also important to combine all cross-functional and cross-business insights together, and to include the voice of the employee in insights.  

“First and foremost, you have to have leadership endorsement and buy-in. Without that, it does become a metric,” Power claims. “You need this ‘whole of business’ support to drive a genuine shift towards customer centricity. You can’t do that with just a system or a framework in itself.”  

By understanding and using the insights, Bupa’s ambition is to fully understand its customers in order to “surprise and delight them” and deliver personalised experiences and communicate in a way that’s relevant and timely, Power says.  

“It’s about how we play that ‘real navigation’ and coordination role for customers, which may result in a product, but may also just be in navigating and helping customers muddle their way through this healthcare system, which customers tell us is incredibly fragmented and incredibly confusing,” she says.  

Suncorp’s CX ambitions  

Suncorp Group is another big brand investing in the VoC space. Brand and marketing lead, Kristi Woolrych, says the brand’s VoC approach has changed in the last 12 to 24 months, even in terms of how it’s defined and used.  

“When I think about financial services, customers have such a significant number of options to meet their needs. And having great VoC has to be clearly linked to solving a problem that is relevant to the customer and offered in the right way, at the right time,” Woolrych says. “Once upon a time, we relied on survey data that was often captured too late, if at all. And it was often too slow in being delivered so customers would be asked about their experience after they had been through the trial and tribulation and at that stage they are not particularly interested in giving you a lot of feedback. “Whereas these days what we’re able to do is listen through multiple channels, complaints, social media, real-time digital behaviour - as well as that survey data, which still has its role and place – and deliver at a more relevant time on the customer journey.”  

As a result, Suncorp is getting a better read on what customers ‘think and feel’ including their pain points, delight points, and how the company can respond to those, Woolrych says. “We can pick up on those things much faster and then respond to them through an ecosystem of products and services in a timely manner.”  

While the VoC program at Suncorp is not new, the company’s evolving ‘marketplace strategy’ will give the group a much broader footprint for listening to customers and many more options in the way in which it picks up those signals, Woolrych says.  

“That’s what’s really exciting. From a marketing perspective, it takes me from being able to think about the customer journey as being in five key steps to really understanding that every journey is different for every customer - and being able to personalise the experience based on what a customer needs at a particular point in time,” she says. The “step change” for marketing is being able to think about what the customer is doing in a sequential way instead of relying on batched style communications, where consumers get hit with the same ad multiple times and marketers hope that something sticks.  

“The difference for us in the way we’re deploying voice of customer is we’re able to understand how the customer is moving through a journey and adapt our messaging as they go through that journey. So it feels like a ‘connected’ conversation as opposed to push-based marketing,” Woolrych adds.  

Bendigo Bank’s VoC journey  

Bendigo Bank is also on the VoC journey and has been for some time, according to head of customer voice, Ian Jackman.  

“The way we think about VoC may well be a little bit different to some of the terminology used in market,” he says, explaining the company not only collates customer feedback, but also drives actions and responds to the insights internally. In this way, VoC encompasses everything from research to analytics and insights, to customer feedback, surveying, to customer experience.  

“It’s all of the aspects of what customers are telling us and it’s more than just a single channel - there’s a voice of customer that is coming through from multiple areas. The question is, how do we listen to that, share it, and respond to it, and drive action in response to the voice of customer.” Jackman says changes in the customer landscape, including the ever-evolving needs and demands of the consumer, are driving more uptake of VoC.  

“The expectations customers have around the way they deal with organisations, and the way they interact, is about ‘right time, right place, right context’,” he says. “I think on the back of customer expectations, organisations need to respond on how they listen to that, and how they respect those customer expectations and meet them.”    

Asked about specific VoC programs, Jackman says the company focuses on several areas in a bid to deliver seamless and relevant customer experiences. These include: Customer-led connections programs, designed to evolve capabilities to automate customer interactions using behavioural events and data models; the omni-context customer experience; miVoice, a collaborative online customer community to test ideas and seek input; and customer metrics, a revised customer-centred set of metrics and embedding this across the organisation.  

Other parts of the VoC program include a focus on the customer journey mapping and experience design through a framework and evolving capability around understanding and mapping the customer experience end-to-end as they seek to fulfil a need; and customer voice collection, or an evolving survey framework to collect customer feedback and metrics, both strategically and following an interaction.  

“A lot of what we’re using VOC for is as much around recognising and understanding the strength of our brand, customer experience and service delivery,” Jackman adds. “We’re making a lot of change internally in terms of VoC about how we service customers, how we respond to them, and how we deliver digital solutions.”

Seeking clarity:VoC challenges

While there are obvious benefits to adopting a VoC program, there are challenges, too. In the last seven years, Bowman has utilised VoC programs as part of a CX strategy and says the biggest problems typically relate to business clarity.  

“Organisations need to be very clear on why they want to be ‘customer-centric’ and it has to come from a place of higher purpose,” he says. “This will provide clarity to the business as to why you do things and having meaning, which empowers employees to want to achieve more as it fulfils a purpose and not just a score.” In that vein, any VoC program needs to be driven by the CEO and with the support of the board.  

“When organisations realise the benefits of talking to customers, only then do they realise just how much work is associated with doing simple things like closing feedback loops,” Bowman says. “You can get all the feedback you want, but doing something with it is the hard bit.  

“This means doing the basics really well, such as being transparent with customers. Letting customers know what you’ll do with their feedback and fulfilling that expectation. No customer likes providing feedback into a black box that never gets opened.” Utilising modern project approaches such as Agile and directly inputting customer feedback into user stories, also translate well into human-centric design, which feeds well into any innovation function, Bowman says.  

Woolrych’s top VoC challenge is that every customer is different. “Being able to create the platform, the tech stuff, the data capabilities that enable you to deliver an individualised experience at scale is a challenge, and that requires us to work differently together,” she says.  

“So more and more, you see inside this business is marketing people working alongside tech engineers, working alongside data analysts, and product managers, to make decisions about how they can deploy that customer experience for a particular brand.”    

Jackman says translating voice into action is the critical part - and that’s not always easy.  

“Like data and analytics, voice of customer is similar. You are only really utilising it to great effect if you’re actually doing something with it, and you’re driving some change or some action on the back of it,” he says. “On that basis, understanding and drawing out the insights of that voice of customer, and then determining how we can do things differently to respond to that is a constant challenge in terms of how you turn it into some degree of action.”  


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