How To Give Your Customers A Voice In Growth Planning

When you can attribute a 20% revenue gain to a customer centric culture or program, you get noticed. And that's exactly what happened to several Voice of the Customer thought leaders during the annual Allegiance Engage Summit 2011 in Deer Valley, Utah.

Jim Bampos, VP of Customer Quality at EMC Corporation, was one of the show stealers--and for good reason. Unlike many companies who talk a good game about putting customers first, EMC can prove it.

EMC dances on the leading edge of the Voice of the Customer (VoC) movement.

VoC programs emerged from the market research milieu. This term describes the in-depth process of capturing a customer's expectations, preferences and aversions. Specifically, VoC systems produce a detailed set of customer wants and needs and prioritizes them in terms of relative importance and satisfaction with current alternatives. Highly evolved VOC program leaders also analyze and act upon free form customer comments from multiple sources, including call centers, salespeople, Twitter, etc.

VoC solution providers such as Allegiance, based in South Jordan, Utah, have flourished in response to the VoC movement. EMC became one of their early adopters out of necessity.

Although EMC was enjoying double digit growth, it was facing intense competition. They needed to think differently about the customer experience. Says Bampos, "We really did not understand the full customer life cycle from the time that they were made aware of our solutions to the end of life of our products. The professional services organization was the first to launch a pilot VOC program to bridge the gaps between the customers and the internal support organization."

EMC's VoC pilot program gained traction within two years. Since launching the VOC program, they have witnessed a 30 point Net Promoter Score improvement and over 20% revenue increase--representing hundreds of millions of top line revenue.

Other competitive industries are following suit. During her Summit keynote presentation, Bonny Simi of JetBlue also shared details about their Voice of the Customer program. "Our mission is to bring humanity back to travel. How can you know how you are doing without asking your customers?" Simi, an accomplished business strategist, Olympian and airline captain, described their palpable two year VOC journey. Simi and her team juggle 50,000 survey responses per month and 1.6 million Twitter followers. Gathering and analyzing customer data is a small piece of the VoC puzzle. She spends a great deal of time demonstrating the value and ROI of their program, as well as gaining sponsors across departments and locations.

The right survey tools can help smooth out the VoC journey, but should not precede solid branding, a customer-obsessed culture, and strong executive sponsorship. Bruce Temkin, founder of Temkin Group in Boston Massachusetts, emphasizes that companies need to master four customer experience competencies in order to become truly customer-centric: purposeful leadership, compelling brand Values, employee engagement, and customer connectedness. Temkin posits that "It turns out that companies are only as strong as their weakest link. VoC Programs are often an important tool in building the Customer Connectedness competency. We recently had more than 200 large companies complete our competency assessment and only 3% ended up at the highest level of customer experience management maturity, what we call a Customer-Centric Organization."

After spending three days with over 300 VoC zealots, these statistics do not surprise me. The majority of companies attending the Engage Summit are still in the early stages of determining the ideal data collection and validation methods. VoC leaders still spend most of their time discussing the right listening posts, choosing the questions to ask, and debating ideal metrics to use.

Clearly, most B2B companies have a long way to go towards becoming truly customer-centric. Allegiance is clever enough to create an annual event that attracts fervent customer evangelists--half of whom are not yet their customers--to accelerate industry adoption.

If your company is considering a VoC program launch, beware of the rush to select a technology solution. First, invest the time in defining the purpose of your program. Executive support will take time. Tell people why you are embarking on the program, and how you will use the customer data once you have collected it. VoC programs typically provide these benefits:

  1. A detailed understanding of the customer's requirements
  2. A common language for the sales, marketing and product development teams going forward
  3. Valuable, real time input to set appropriate design specifications for the new product or service
  4. A springboard for innovation.

VoC evangelists Bonny Simi and Jim Bampos have their work cut out for them. With only two years of VoC under their belts, the journey ahead will be met with some resistance. Let's hope they focus their energies on the art of enchantment and influence, and leave the community building and tool making to market leaders such as Allegiance.

Lisa Nirell is the Chief Energy Officer of EnergizeGrowth®. She helps companies grow customer mind share and market share. Since 1983, Lisa has worked with Trend Micro, Zappos, BMC Software, Microsoft, IBM, and hundreds of entrepreneurs in nine countries. Lisa is also an award-winning expert speaker, business columnist and the author of "EnergizeGrowth® NOW: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company." To download your five complimentary educational bonuses and sample chapter, visit www.energizegrowth.com and register for EnergizeNews.

Copyright 2011, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

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