VOC Deconstructed: Connectivity


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?

When you think about customer satisfaction research or Voice of the Customer processes, most of us think of ratings, satisfaction scores, charts and debates of who the research company spoke to or how the survey missed things.  We rarely think about how information about the customer reaches all employees, from the executive suite through middle management all the way into the factory . 

Most companies do a poor job of communicating customer information.  Too often, customer data remains in the hands of the few rather than the masses.  This can be driven partially by fear, fear that this valuable information will fall into the hands of competitors.  It can also derive from a place of uncertainty regarding a company’s ability to impact change. 

Rather than a grand conspiracy, I think communication is done poorly due to a lack of planning, ownership, and a fundamental gap in understanding why it is in the best interests of executives to be excellent at communicating customer information throughout a company.

Here in 2015, it is hard to find a company that hasn’t implemented a variety of contemporary practices that were competitive advantages at the turn of the century.  Six Sigma and Lean are the norm.  Goal alignment and metrics have become so sophisticated and cumbersome that there are whole departments at HQ devoted to micromanaging these tools.  Employee Satisfaction surveys occur like clockwork.  The list goes on and on.

It is rare to find a company whose Corporate and Employee Communications and Management Processes are not infiltrated with a variety of customer-sounding buzzwords and phrases.  Yet why is there such a big gap between executive aspirations of customer focus and the actual performance, the reflection of the company’s culture?  I believe it starts at the end, with how customer intelligence reaches employees.

When companies were simpler, there was real-time connectivity with the customer.  Think about the latest niche acquisition your company made as an example.  Why did customers appreciate this company so much?  Sometimes it was a unique product, but even that masks the real reasons:

  1. Constancy of Connection between supplier and customer
  2. Extreme Responsiveness in everything, not just emergencies
  3. Lasting Predictability

A unique set of products didn’t happen out of thin air; it was built and refined through a scarcity of internal resources, time, and energy.  When you have a small line of credit and few talented employees, you can’t spread your energies and focus.  You have to excel at turning your attentiveness into revenues that are not fleeting at a good margin.  And everyone in the company is riveted to the customer at all times.

During almost all of my VOC Workshops, I ask executives around the world the following question:  Does Employee Satisfaction drive Customer Satisfaction?  Invariably, I have head nods and resounding agreement that it does.  In consumer and heavy service industries, there is a good bit of research that points to high Employee Satisfaction impacting Customer Satisfaction.  For manufacturing companies, it is a murkier picture. 

It is important to have strong employee satisfaction in customer-facing employees and to understand how executives support these associates.  In the early 1990’s, I was involved in a study that showed a strong correlation between Customer Focus within employees and two key areas:  Quality of Work Life and Work Process Improvement.  If there was a high degree of Customer Focus as perceived by employees, there was an intrinsic value that they placed on bringing ideas forward to improve their work processes.  For any other reason, there was either a negligible effect or these efforts at improvement actually degraded morale. 

Quality of Work Life was even more interesting to me.  Employees would work longer hours and extra days; if there was a connection to the Customer then it had a lifting impact on their overall morale and satisfaction.  Again, for other reasons it either had little effect or caused dissatisfaction with their company, supervisors, and executives. 

For industrial companies, there are so many processes, tasks, meetings, communication, energy that turn focus internally.  Transforming a company to one focused on and driven by the customer is challenging.  And how do you build a culture of Customer Focus?  By continually sharing the customer with all executives and employees. 

And how do you do build a culture where all employees will work effectively not only to jump through hoops for customer emergencies but for systemically tackling harder challenges that impact customer retention and margin decisions?  By relentlessly communicating customer information. 

Relentless communicating customer information.  Is that a fair description of your company’s VOC process?

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