The move to customer centricity has amped up the pressure on understanding customers’ wants and needs. Big data has focused lots of attention on all of the new ways to access and quantitatively analyze the “voice of the customer”. And while all of this amazing information on customer behavior provides previously inaccessible insights, the race for quantitative answers may be distracting us from getting all of the value we can from good old-fashioned qualitative feedback.
At a recent forum of investors and marketing leaders, I heard an interesting set of comments about customer data and what seems to be two somewhat contradictory trends. On the one hand, it was no surprise that the group sees analytics and data as hugely significant to the future of marketing and the customer experience. However, I was surprised to hear several marketers talk about their equal focus on the need to get a handle on the qualitative aspects of what customers are saying. As one of the marketers explained, “We have relied historically on NPS and the quantitative side of that – the score – and there was all of this verbatim input that was completely ignored. Today we sit down with the product and engineering terms and review the verbatim comments to immerse ourselves in the data.” The same marketer has added a qualitative interview component to quantitative surveys to allow for individual follow up and employee connection to the customers giving feedback.
So what does this mean in the big data era? How do marketers find the balance with all of the different sources of insight and feedback as they build their voice of the customer programs? Here are a few suggestions.
If customers take the time to tell you, take the time to listen. Whether they are providing comments on online surveys, product reviews on your website, input on your help line, or in some other forum, if customers take the time to provide specific input to you directly, you need to devote the resources to review it, share it and respond so that customers know they are heard. Having stockpiles of comments sitting untouched over time in a database is the kiss of death. You are no doubt missing valuable nuggets and recommendations that cannot be found in closed-ended or multiple choice instruments, or by looking at overall trends. And you’ll find that nothing destroys customer trust quicker than making it crystal clear you do not care what your customers say. Even if you cannot act on certain areas of feedback, creating a culture of responsiveness will earn loyalty and a sense of partnership.
Don’t forget to talk to your customers. Great information about customers can be found by reading survey results, tracking buying patterns, and listening to chatter in social channels. But don’t forget the value of having an actual conversation – one on one – especially with your more strategic and senior executive clients. There is no substitute for getting someone talking to find out what they are thinking, and hear about priorities and concerns that have not even really entered their day to day agenda. This is not an “either-or” choice, but systematic interviews should be a core part of your voice of the customer program to complement the other channels if you really want to know what they think.
Compare what they say with what they do. One of the most valuable exercises made possible by a multi-faceted voice of the customer program that takes into account both qualitative and quantitative feedback channels is the ability to analyze and compare customers’ words with their actions. As a retail store marketer once pointed out to me, “We are constantly amazed at how our customers say they want to buy one type of goods, while their actual purchase behavior never matches up.” The analytics tools available provide a whole new array of ways to understand what customers say about their needs and priorities versus their behaviors when it comes to buying and recommending to others. You can uncover all sorts of interesting gaps in your products and services, as well as your customers’ motivations, if you look across the different types of data. And you can test some of the surprises with those you interview regularly, to further hone the implications.
Ultimately – there is no substitute for hearing the individual, actual voices of your customers, in their own words, so make sure you are not missing this opportunity as you build and enhance your program.