VOC Deconstructed: Cascading Communication


Part 3 in a series on the Voice of the Customer process, deconstructed.  I’m starting at the end of the VOC Process, Communication.   We’ll look at a few aspects of VOC Communication over the next few posts:

  1. Why Communicate customer information?
  2. Who are the audiences?
  3. What is the content?

Part 1 of this series explored the importance of communicating customer information in the first place.  Part 2 explored communication back to customers and to Executives.  Part 3 will focus on other key audiences for VOC Communication.

Sales, Marketing, and Service

Whenever I conduct on-site, in-person interviews with customers, one of the more common things I hear from disgruntled customers is “I tell my sales person/CSR everything you need to do, but you don’t do a good job of listening to these people.” 

Sales and Service professionals are on the frontline, hearing multiple complaints and issues each day, often under-supported by their firm.  Often, these are the employees who can be the biggest skeptics of VOC data.  Some companies use customer satisfaction data as a metric to measure and compensate Sales and Service organizations. 

Buyer Beware!  Have you ever purchased a new car where your sales rep or the dealer’s sales manager coached you on the survey questions that you’d receive?  I remember a manager once walking me to the Repair office and saying, “Here is where the Repair Manager works.  He isn’t here now, but please remember that I tried to introduce you to our Repair Manager.” 

Remember, when you are interpreting VOC data and see differentiation and shortcomings in a certain region or Sales organization, it reflects customer perception of current state. Here are some tips when sharing VOC data with Sales & Service professionals:

  • Dig deep in the Data for positives that the people serving customers need to hear. 
  • Prepare Improvement Actions that the company will be working on to ensure the Frontend is confident that the customer is being heard
  • Share what the company will  not be doing; deciding what not to do can be one of the most important outcomes of an effective VOC Workshop and a refreshing change for executives. 
  • Prepare Summary Results as well as a specific report relevant to the Sales/Service audience; e.g., by segment/product/region
  • Invest the Time to go to the sales force, spending four-eight hours with these vital employees.  Be ready to share the data then work on next steps that can be owned by the frontend or that will impact their ability to serve customers.

Middle Management

After sharing VOC data with senior leadership, it’s time to cascade the data throughout the company.  Moving the message and information into middle management can be trying at times. 

“The key difference I see between those two audiences is receptivity,” said Kaye Veazey, Vice President of Corporate and Marketing Communications at Hexcel Corporation.  “Senior management seems to intuitively understand the need for change and will support it; middle management is more suspect of change so the messaging is generally crafted more carefully to ensure that we make a good business case for any new initiatives and explain in depth what it means to you.”

Here are a  few recommendations to improve the effectiveness of cascading customer information to your company’s key lieutenants:

  • Involve Senior Leadership  This is the customer we’re talking about.  Do you want buy-in from the key enablers of your strategies?  Then show then you are serious about listening to customers and acting on what you hear.  Become part of the workshops that you schedule with 2nd and 3rd tier management. 
  • Cross-functional Workshops  VOC data is a prime integrator and aligner of managers.  I’ve seen too many executives divvy up responsibility for fixing priorities that come from poor customer satisfaction results.  I’d much rather see Supply Chain, HR, Sales, and Manufacturing managers grapple with the tradeoffs required to fix big problems like poor delivery performance, lack of advanced technical support, me-too products.  It’s easy to say it’s someone else’s problem.  One of my favorite quotes that came from one of these sessions was from Dan Burnham, former CEO of Raytheon, when he was President of AlliedSignal Aerospace.  When asked by a VP whether to focus on building shareholder value or customer value, Dan said you must do both.  “Life is full of paradoxes, and that’s why managers get paid.”  
  • Be Prepared for Action  Give these key managers the support they need to drive change, and set expectations appropriately.  If there are restrictions that are placed on the business, then let these folks know them and understand them.

All Employees

The final audience I’ll call The Masses.  How do you create a customer-focused company?  By regularly collecting customer feedback and having it permeate all employees. 

Again, an overlooked part of VOC approaches is to leave out communication.  Bring your communication professionals into the mix to simplify the customer data into the critical few takeaway’s, as well as share what the company will be doing based on these priorities.

Kaye has some powerful thoughts on how dynamic corporate communication has become.

“Not surprisingly, the most significant change is in the channels we use as a result of ever-evolving technology. People get information from so many channels – websites, email, social media, mobile devices – that communicators have to be adept at filling them all with information. That makes consistency in messaging more difficult. In addition, millennials are changing the communication landscape. Until recently, the best way to reach any audience was face-to-face communication. Now, many younger employees prefer a more isolated, singular method of communication, such as a tweet or post. However, one thing remains evergreen—when there’s change, everyone wants to know from leadership, “What does this mean to me?”

Line of sight to the customer.  The Customer can become a primary motivator for the workforce, far surpassing a charismatic executive,  an inspirational message, or some horror stories about how difficult the market is.  One of the primary goals of conducting customer research should be to provide feedback to all employees on how they are doing in the eyes of the customer. 

In Part 4, I’ll give you some new ideas and tools to communicate customer information. 

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