27 Feb 13 Perils of conducting a ‘Voice of Customer’ Study In-house
Recently when I purchased a new car, the service executive at the shop asked me to sign a blank customer feedback form, that too before I got the delivery of the car! Being a research analyst and knowing the importance of the voice of customer, I was shocked and refused to sign it. After I got the delivery of the car, finally when I was filling up the feedback form, the same executive sat in front of me and tried very hard to influence my feedback. Obviously he wanted a good feedback which could have given him better incentives. But the big question here is – was the purpose of the feedback survey served in this case?
Rationale of doing a Voice of Customer (VOC) Survey
A voice of customer survey is usually undertaken to understand customer’s perception about the quality of individual transactions or the overall relationship. Smart businesses need to check the pulse of their customers on a regular basis. Its way easier to augment sales with existing customers than to find new ones, and a VOC study helps an organization to sow the seeds for an inexpensive, organic growth. Waiting for your customers to make contact with you means most likely you’re not going to hear from the “quiet majority” in the center of the satisfaction arc. VOC studies help an organization to touch base with all its customers and at the same time shows customers that it values their feedback.
Customers whose feedback is considered during VOCs for specific products are certain to be supporters and advocates of that product. Because of which word of mouth increases, as does the probability to refer or recommend that product. Companies can even use VOC to determine influencers among their customers and engage them more. Conducting a VOC Is also a very important requirement in the ISO 9001-2000 standard.
Perils of doing a VOC in house
Most organizations unfortunately look at VOC studies as an added expense and an ISO requirement, and want to just get over with them. Though conducting a VOC survey doesn’t really sound very complicated, most organizations struggle to get an unbiased and effective VOC when they do it in-house.
The primary challenge of doing a VOC in-house is the preconceived notions organizations have about their customers which eventually infect the quality of the customer feedback. When a VOC is done in-house, it’s mostly the sales executives who conduct the surveys. The biggest gaffe that can come out of such in-house surveys is that these sales executives could be more concerned about validating their own preconceived notions rather than getting actual customer opinions and feedback.
Some major biases that an in-house VOC study can invite are:
- Executives could filter customer feedback while highlighting statements that back their agendas and ignoring statements that clash with them
- If a statement contradicts pre-conceived notions, executives have the tendency to argue that it echoes a minority opinion, and does not represent the larger consumer judgment
- Executives could ignore feedback which is not common or is out of the mainstream in their industry while only accepting feedback which is typical industry thinking
- Customers might not be totally comfortable giving frank feedback to the executives with whom they deal on a regular basis
- Executives might not be adept at conducting VOC studies and interpreting the customer feedback correctly
The main question that organizations need to ask themselves is why are we really conducting VOC studies? Do we really want to understand our customers or are we listening to customers to simply validate our pre-determined beliefs?
Unbiased external VOC studies
It takes time to listen to your customers and figure out what they really want you to understand. A VOC study requires time and patience. If organizations face trouble listening to their customers, it’s crucial to look for assistance through unbiased and independent third party research agencies who have rich experience in facilitating successful VOC studies. There is a view that VOC should be done by someone “not too close” i.e. the sales people but also not by someone who is “too far” i.e. people who don’t understand the product at all (particularly if it is technical in nature). So organizations need to make sure that they use a third party partner, who understands (or is willing to take the time to understand) their product/technology/industry. Working with competent third party agencies can definitely help organizations identify internal biases and conduct a successful unbiased and constructive VOC study.
And finally my two cents . .
I think it is very important for organizations today, to take VOC studies seriously as they can translate to much more than just improvements in products, services or processes. An effective VOC study can actually develop into an extension of an organization’s marketing, sales and service strategy or even complement their R&D initiatives. Organizations need to decide whether they want to conduct a VOC just for compliance or they want a really unbiased understanding of their customer needs. I think to get an unbiased and accurate VOC study done, it’s essential to involve a competent third party agency who can always present a correct and honest picture of the customer feedback.
Please feel free to share your experiences if you have conducted a VOC study in-house or through a third party agency. What were the challenges that you faced and how did you overcome them? We would love to hear about it.