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Today I am pleased to present another guest post by Sarah Simon.

In the greater VoC/CX industry, we talk all the time about using the Voice of the Customer to drive action that results in a superior customer experience.  I want to talk about turning this idea on its head: Use your customer experience goals and best practices to shape your VoC program.
We are so used to talking about Customer Experience as an outcome of VoC that we easily forget that how a customer experiences our VoC program indeed impacts, or is part of, their experience with our company.  By getting both of these elements aligned, you purposely improve the impression you make on your customer through your feedback initiative.

Here’s how.

1. Design  a Comprehensive Fatigue Management Plan
All of us, as consumers and as B2B clients, are bombarded with requests for our input.  Survey invites lurk in our inboxes; messages on the bottom of our store receipts implore us to “share our feedback;” and kind voices on the telephone ask us to “participate in a short consumer study.”

While VoC practitioners cannot control the behavior of other companies, we can control how and when we survey our own customers. Be mindful of how often you request the opinions of your customers. Evaluate your feedback program as a whole, considering all solicited listening channels across your entire organization, and a design a purposeful cadence for soliciting customer feedback.  Put the customer’s need for peace and quiet above your need to drive higher response rates. Commit to limiting the number of times you contact a customer per time period and make no exceptions, adhering to a customer-respecting cadence appropriate to your service delivery model.

2. Open Your Ears to Customer-Centric Multi-Channel Feedback
Think outside the survey; open your eyes and ears to other forms of collecting input from your customers. Let go and let customers share their opinions with you on their terms: when and how they wish.  Allow for unsolicited feedback opportunities, including social media, client forums, electronic “comment cards” on your website, or QR codes. Go mobile and encourage customers to share feedback from their smartphones. And don’t forget passive listening channels, such as customer call or chat data capture.

Sure, this data is a little “messy,” but text analytics technology makes it realistic to garner insights from raw, unstructured customer feedback. You benefit from honest, off-the-cuff customer ideas not penned in by radio buttons and rating scales, while your customer enjoys the freedom of sharing opinions on his own terms.

3. Customer-Friendly Survey Design
Volumes have been written on optimal survey design, but here is a basic summary of practices to make your surveys customer-friendly:

Keep surveys short! Strive for a one-page form. You would not want to answer a 20-question survey, and neither does your customer. Not sure if your survey is the right length? Ask your colleagues to test-take the survey and afterward probe for when they tuned out or got frustrated. This doesn’t take as long as you think!

Make survey content targeted and pertinent to your respondent. The survey should focus on one targeted element of the customer’s experience with your company: a specific touchpoint, one particular lifecycle stage, or a high-level relationship evaluation. Resist the temptation to sneak “extra” questions into your survey, forcing the survey – and the respondent – to cover too much ground. Ensure the survey questions are pertinent to the respondent and the way that she interacts with your company.

Build consistency into the program. Standardize branding, look and feel, rating scales, and tone across all feedback gathering initiatives to ensure a predictable customer experience across your VoC program.

4. Tactical and Strategic Closed-Circuit, 360-Degree Feedback Loops
Customers invest their time when they provide their feedback, yet too many companies demand feedback from their customers and offer the customer no return on this investment. Tactical service recovery opportunities occur when customers bring an issue to your attention. An “unhappy customer” survey alert can be generated, giving a business unit the chance to reach out to that customer and resolve a bad situation.

Longer term, you owe it to your customers to shed some light on the strategic changes being made in response to their input. In response to customer input, maybe you’ve streamlined your support desk IVR process, expanded the shuttle bus service from your hotel, increased the gluten-free offerings at your restaurant, or added a new feature to your SaaS solution. Tell your customers about these improvements and let them know they have been heard!

A VoC initiative that is company-focused and not customer-focused risks driving a wedge between your company and your customers. The goal of a VoC initiative is to generate insights that improve the customer experience for improved business performance.  What a shame, then, that many organizations run VoC programs that actually damage the relationship with the customer!

Evaluate your VoC program today against the four points above, and carefully consider the impact it has upon the customer experience. Your listening program is, after all, part of the overarching customer experience and must be aligned with your CX accordingly. Take actions to reduce survey fatigue, offer multichannel feedback options, make your surveys customer-friendly, and close the feedback loop.

Sarah Simon is a career insights professional with 16 years of experience in the feedback industry. Specialties include VoC architecture, journey mapping, developing linkages to business performance, reduction of customer defection, results analysis and communication, with expert survey design skills.  She is the survivor of a botched early-generation “big data mining” operation and is happy to live to tell about it.