Image  courtesy of Pixabay

Today I’m pleased to share another guest post by Sarah Simon.

An Interesting Conversation with a Neighbor

Neighbor: So what do you do for a living again?

Me: <Begins to summarize my career calling as succinctly as possible, which as those of us in the industry know, is not always easy…>

Neighbor: <Interrupting> Oh, no, you don’t do that NPS bull$**t, do you?

Uh oh.

I smile, explaining that yes, in fact, designing, deploying, and analyzing Net Promoter Score and customer satisfaction survey programs is indeed part of what I do. “But why do you call this BS?

My neighbor goes on to tell me about his job commissioning, trouble-shooting and servicing industrial cooling systems and how his customers “don’t understand half of what I do, so how can they rate my performance?” Worse, he explains, some customers bear a grievance with his company or a company they acquired and “take this out on him” in his NPS – even if this grievance dates back several months, years…or even decades. Sometimes the customer concern that impacts the NPS is far out of the technician’s control – for instance, the company is too big, the client doesn’t like a product, or the account is a business “Hostage” trapped by a high cost of changing vendors. The client resents the technician’s employer – and this resentment manifests itself in the NPS given in response to the technician’s visit. “How is it fair that I’m held accountable for whether or not a customer is willing to recommend a company with tens of thousands of employees?


What else bothers you about this program?” I ask, the researcher in me kicking into high gear.

How can you tell me an 8 isn’t a good score? For some customers, an 8 is a good score, yet I get dinged by my management if the customer rates me lower than a 9.” He explains that the customer will even write glowing commentary about his demeanor and technical skills in the verbatim box, yet a score of 8 still doesn’t satisfy the suits in corporate.

I look away from my neighbor and think: Boy, his company’s VoC/CX team has a problem. Then I wonder: How many of my clients have a program that suffers from a bad reputation among their frontline staff? The startling answer spinning in my head is: Probably most of them (at least to some extent).

Ouch again.

So, What’s a Customer Experience Management Team to Do?

There’s a good chance that, despite your best efforts, at least some of your frontline staff hate your VoC/CX initiative, and frontline animosity can limit the efficacy of your efforts. What steps can you take to overcome negative perceptions of your program and win the support of customer-facing teammates?

Step out of corporate la la land

One of the things that stunned me about this conversation with my neighbor was this image of all of my MBA/MS/MA wielding cohorts sitting behind laptops in business casual deciding people’s compensation and performance review fates with the click of a keyboard while people in workpants and a name badge suffer “taxation without representation.”  The word “hubris” wafted around my head like a bad smell.

I thought about high-skilled trades persons like my neighbor. I thought about the staff at the cell phone store. I thought about the cashier at the grocery – people getting their hands dirty welding pipes, fixing broken mobile devices, and bagging groceries.  One thing they have in common relative to our VoC and CX programs is this – most of them are impacted by the program without getting to provide any direct input.  The program is something done “to” them, not “by” them and sure as heck not “for” them.

Change your mindset

My neighbor has spent almost 30 years in his field; he’s only 47 years old.  He started his career as an apprentice right out of high school and has worked the same industry ever since. I love customer intelligence, data analysis, and insights and value their place in the business world.  But don’t think for one minute that your 4 or 6 years in college and a well-designed VoC dashboard trump three decades with a tool box on client sites. My neighbor runs face-to-face with clients and their chilling systems every day. Your frontline is the same – day in and day out, they know the people who pay your bills and the challenges those customers face. They watch the client interact with your products and services and know the gaps in your service model by heart.  Remember this – your frontline embodies the customer-facing expertise of your brand.  Respect this fact.

Shut up and listen
Stop talking at your frontline staff long enough to pause and listen to them and hear what they have to say instead.  Go and meet these people face-to-face, if at all possible, and get to know them on a human level. That’s right. Don’t just send them a survey via email. Get on a plane or hop in your car  and go meet face-to-face with these folks, or at least pick up the phone and open a dialogue.  Ask them questions and hear them out.

  • What do they know about your VoC and CX initiatives?  How do they feel about it?  What do they like / dislike about your program?
  • How do they determine whether a customer interaction was successful?  How does their manager measure their performance?  And are these measures accurately reflected in your VoC program?
  • Who is the customer, in their own words?  How do they interact with the customer?
  • What challenges do they face day-to-day in their jobs delivering a quality experience to the customer?  What can management change to resolve known issues?
  • What challenges does the customer face using your company’s products / services and how can these be alleviated?
  • If they could tell you one thing about the customer they don’t think “corporate” knows, what is it?
  • As a VoC / CX practitioner, how can you be a better partner to the frontline staff?  What do they need from you to feel good about the initiative?

Note: To be sure, you’ll want to coordinate with department heads and team leads to facilitate these discussions, but make sure they don’t place themselves between you and the customer-facing representative as a block, as this can result in watered-down, filtered feedback.

Identify and neutralize the sources of resentment
All the corporate sponsorship on earth can’t force customer experience success if your frontline folks loathe the initiative.  To paraphrase Dennis Leary, you can have a big executive sponsorship cake walk right through the middle of corporate square and your program efforts will be dead on arrival if the frontline resents them.&nbs
p; Your customer-facing colleagues hold the power to execute on customer experience improvement efforts on a daily basis. Your program can’t afford to be the object of their resentment.

Keep the lines of communication open

Once you’ve listened to your customer-facing teammates, make sure to follow through with closed-loop communication. Summarize what they told you – and what you’re doing to be a better partner and make the VoC/CX program work better for them.

Then, make sure they know their opinions are desired and respected in an ongoing fashion.  Let them know who to contact if they have questions, suggestions or concerns about your initiative.

In Summary
After hearing out his grievances, I explained to my neighbor the benefits of his company’s customer listening system, including:

  • The opportunity to solicit feedback from customers who may not be inclined to draft a comment to management.
  • The systematic capturing, analyzing, and sharing of customer feedback that might otherwise get hidden and die at the middle management level, enabling “corporate” to make important changes that benefit the customer and maybe even make my neighbor’s job easier and more fulfilling.
  • The reality that some customers may provide him (my neighbor) with constructive criticism through a survey that they wouldn’t provide to his face, enabling him to improve his performance.
  • The good feeling that customers get from having their opinions actively solicited.

He conceded that the modern Voice of Customer listening system is ultimately better than the old “the client will call if they have a problem” non-system.  And I, in turn, promised to share his insights with you, the VoC/CX community.

I’m not telling you to stop quantifying customer sentiment. I’m not suggesting you design your VoC/CX program by a committee thousands strong. I’m not saying you need to make program adjustments every time someone’s feelings are hurts. I am suggesting, though, that you take a moment to consider the impact your program has on your frontline and think of ways to make your efforts work for them, not against them. Be an ally to your organization’s frontline troops, not a hindrance.

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.