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As we wrap up 2012 and think about how we’re going to do things better or differently in 2013, I thought I’d summarize some of the challenges those listening to the voice of the customer continue to face. You’re listening, right?

As technology and the flow (flood? influx?) of data evolve, so must your VOC efforts. These and other aspects of a changing business world create challenges that must be addressed, and adaptations that must be made, in order to stay on the cutting edge. Pay attention to these items to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your customer feedback.

Unless you have 100% customer satisfaction…you must improve. -Horst Schulz

Timeliness of surveys: In this day and age, it’s hard to believe that companies still don’t ask for feedback in a timely manner, i.e., sending survey invites days or weeks after a transaction.
Length of surveys: Gone are the days of the 50-page surveys; today’s surveys must be very short and relevant, i.e., asking about the specific topic at hand, not five other things because you have the customer’s attention.
Preferred listening method: Companies must offer a way for customers to provide feedback through their preferred channels. Don’t ignore mobile; it’s not going away.
Other listening posts: Surveys are no longer the only way to listen to the voice of the customer; consider customer advisory boards, social media, frontline employees, product reviews, etc.
Other voices: Listening to the voice of the customer is critical, but so is listening to and incorporating the voices of your employees, partners, market, and business.
Silos: Do you have too many hands in the surveying pot, i.e., every department wants to survey, but there is no central management of survey campaigns, communication, etc.?
Checking the box: Companies are still conducting feedback to “check the box” rather than for meaningful listening and acting.

Accuracy: A lot of customer contact information is still incorrect or outdated. You can’t solicit feedback or follow up with customers if you can’t contact them.
Large volumes, social media/unsolicited, and unstructured: I’ll lump these three together because they tend to require the same solution, i.e., the right tools in place to handle, manage, synthesize, and analyze.
Disparate sources and silos: These challenges tend to go together, too, as they require not only tools to facilitate breaking down silos, e.g., journey maps, but also tools to facilitate cross-silo compilation, communication, and sharing, in general. Cross-channel data must be funneled and combined in such a way that allows for a cohesive, consistent multichannel customer experience.

Tools: Organizations must have the right tools in place to analyze their mounds of data, but they also need…
Personnel: Software is not the only tool needed here; having the right skillset (person) in-house to know what to do with those tools is equally important. And these analytical minds must also deliver…
Insights: And while tools and people are part of this challenge, understanding their outputs and gleaning insights and stories to tell from those outputs are just as critical.

Silos: Feedback collected and analyzed in a silo’d manner is not shared or distributed to those who need to act on it.
Employee recognition or coaching: Feedback about outstanding customer experiences is not being tied to employee recognition; on the flipside, employees also need to hear the negative feedback and then be coached on aspects of their performance that hinder the experience.
Closing the loop: Companies are still not closing the loop with customers who provide feedback, whether through surveys or some other format, e.g., social media. If your customers take the time to tell you how you’re doing, you need to take the time to respond and to let them know they’ve been heard.
Communication: Many companies are still failing to communicate before, during, or after they send out surveys (or use other listening posts); let customers know why you’re collecting feedback and what the resultant improvements are.

Notice that “silos” is a common theme throughout. I know that breaking down silos is a hard thing to do, especially in large organizations. And some would argue that silos are a good thing. I don’t agree. The only common theme throughout the organization should be “a relentless, cohesive focus on the customer.” Now that’s a good thing.

These are the challenges that I continue to see with VOC initiatives today. Will they be tomorrow’s challenges, too? I know. It’s a tall order to fix all of these things. It’s not too early to start chipping away at them for a better outcome in 2013.

If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting. -Stephen Covey