Businesses need to stop taking decisions about their customers from 10,000 feet away and begin to take decisions that are as close to the customer as possible. How hard is that? Actually, it’s a really simple operation, if you’re a customer centric business. The problem is that many businesses are not even bothering to measure the distance.
When a business decides to be truly customer centric, every decision is driven by and taken with customer impact in mind. Proposed decisions are driven by questions that focus on how the customer’s life will be made simpler, easier and more convenient. Actual decisions are taken after having considered how the set of proposed decisions will land and the amount of value that will be added to the lives of customers.
Let’s take a live example. The latest Corona Virus just threw our world into chaos. Governments the world over were expected to make sensible moves to protect their citizens. The governments that demonstrated leadership were the ones that understood their customers (citizens) and put the best interests of their customers first. Those governments that didn’t, well, we have seen how those stories have been unfolding. The citizen-centred governments acted fast, listened to the scientists (who were also learning on the run), relied on time-tested playbooks, were guided by data analytics and focussed on flattening bureaucracy. The overwhelming result, (supported by a largely well-behaved citizenry), was a praiseworthy level of containment that threw a huge safety net over entire populations. All of this was accomplished by focussing on “what was best for the citizenry.”
The parallel to this citizen-centred story would be the customer-centric playbook. Slightly different in its application, but entirely the same in its intent to deliver the best value and the most outstanding level of service possible. The customer-centric playbook has one, all-important feature. The level of knowledge about the customers being served. The businesses that take the time to understand their customers intimately and to integrate these insights into their operations, tend to have a greater hit rate with service excellence.
There is no magic to getting to know rich details about your customers. Simply ask them, observe their patterns, engage them and make it easy for them to give your business feedback. Here’s where we come to an all-important feedback mechanism, the “Voice Of The Customer” system. I’m baffled, continuously, at how many businesses simply drag their feet on implementing a mechanism that is so simple, but which can and does yield such rich data about customers. Many businesses seem to prefer to play a hit and miss game of reading the minds of their customers, rather than activating mechanisms that provide fairly accurate data on the likes, preferences and dislikes of the individuals being served.
So, what exactly is a “Voice Of The Customer” (VOC) system? It’s a collection of feedback mechanisms that enable a business and its customers to communicate. The exchange enables the business to capture valuable insights that can inform decisions that will close the gap between customer expectations and actual service delivery. The mechanisms can be in operation either during business hours only, over extended hours, or on a 24 | 07 basis, depending on the options that suit the business. The important benefit of this two-way communication, is that a business can receive comments, complaints, compliments, information on customers’ likes, dislikes and preferences, through a dedicated mechanism.
The hallmarks of a credible VOC system are confidentiality, responsiveness and consistency. The collective experience with the system must be one where customers’ inputs attract almost immediate action. By far, the most important feature is consistency. As is often the case, many great initiatives are activated by businesses, but few remain in active duty and attract five star status.
Having an active VOC is a good idea whether your business is small, medium or large. If you are a solopreneur, then, you guessed it, you are the VOC channel. If your business is medium to large, a dedicated person or unit will be the more effective way to establish a system that is consistent and constantly accessible and activation of various engagement options.
It’s easy to see the opportunity provided by the VOC system to meet and exceed customers’ needs and resolve issues either on spot, or within a reasonable time frame. Any business that is truly committed to service excellence either should have or should be planning to activate such a mechanism.
Now that we have established the VOC system, the next critical element would be to establish a surveillance system. The goal of this next layer is quality control. In order to sustain credibility and consistency, all incoming information should be tracked, recorded and managed for quality control. It’s important to maintain expected standards and timelines for responses to customers, so that the system becomes trustworthy and credible.
The “Voice Of The Customer” system affords businesses the ideal opportunity to use valuable insights to perfect a keen understanding of their “customers’ buying personas.” These insights can then be used to build customer resonance and drive product or service decisions, in a way that generates loyalty and affords some insurance against competitive manoeuvres.
The pandemic has been an accelerant of the age of the customer and a natural expectation that businesses will be customer centric. The failure of one business to deliver to expectation, means the opportunity for another business to gain a customer. The marketplace beckons the smart players who are focussed on using available strategies such as the VOC system, to give themselves a competitive advantage.
If we look closely, we’ll see that the moving parts that control customer power are lining up and if we listen closely, we’ll hear the customer’s voice getting louder.
It’s now a question of which businesses are prepared to notice, to listen and to act accordingly.