Listen (to the voice of your customers)
Last year, when we talked to the senior leaders of a manufacturing firm with a large footprint in a niche market, we sensed concern, even a little despair. The brands they were selling to businesses were well known and recognized as quality products. But customers were pressing them on price and turning to competitors, often with white label products, at alarming numbers. Commoditization threatened their business and their growth was stagnating.
We jumped in to help them figure out what was happening and what they could do to regain momentum and return to growth. First, we conducted the Valcort ROI Survey, which measured internal health and confidence related to the Valcort 35 Keys to Growth, to identify the areas that merited immediate attention. We began working with the leadership team to define vision and shared values (the start of a comprehensive VALCORT strategic marketing process), and we completed a company-wide employee survey, to feel the pulse and monitor the attitudes of the staff.
These were helpful and provided direction. What came next was a surprise to company leaders and it pointed them toward dramatic changes in management, marketing and product development.
We became the ears of the company, listening to their customers in a confidential Voice of the Customer project. This comprehensive and confidential project tapped into insights and perceived gaps, brought to our attention with great clarity. We conducted in-person and phone interviews, online and paper surveys, and focus groups—with quantitative and qualitative aspects of each method. All to help our client listen to the voice of their customers.
With this company, as usual, we got an earful. A little ranting, but mostly constructive, heartfelt responses about what our client could do to better serve them, be a better partner, and boost growth. We heard concerns about product differentiation and innovation. We heard customer desire to have a business relationship beyond sales transactions.
The result of this research was remarkable, because the company used this customer feedback as the basis of major structural, policy, product and marketing changes.
They listened and took action. Not surprisingly, their business is looking up.
The process we used for this project was much like many others that we conducted for clients over the years, helping companies address the important Valcort Key to Growth—listening to and understanding customer needs and frustrations. Although every project is unique, most include the following steps:
1. Identify sources at every point of contact: Identify every customer touch point that the company has where feedback could be collected and evaluated. Determine where you will receive quality, representative data across the range of customers, from those who are active and apparently satisfied, to those who have lapsed, and some on the fence. This may include distributors, end-users, partners and vendors. Phone, retail and online customers. Your largest and smallest customers.
2. Design the research: Two important considerations in designing the research instrument:
- Avoiding leading questions that pre-determine or slant the answers and produce misleading results.
- Finding the foundational factors, the drivers, of customer attitudes; causes rather than symptoms.
Every survey project has different needs and purposes, and to be most effective the project should be specially designed, rather than an off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all solution. We find that in most cases we are looking primarily at customer frustrations, aspirations and fears, as well as testing fundamental trust factors.
3. Collect voice prints: The most enjoyable part of a Voice of the Customer project is actually talking to the customers, or listening to their voices in a variety of ways, and realizing that many voices are coming together to speak in singular, helpful, directional ways. That’s when it is clear that the research will, indeed, be helpful to the company.
Execution of the surveys and collection of date often includes many methods. These usually fall into three categories:
- Customer-initiated responses, such as customer complaints, feedback, wiki forums, online comments. Field teams are often (or should be) collecting information and responses to their company and products,which can be factored into the results.
- Company-invited responses, the core data collection of Voice of the Customer research, including in-person and phone interviews, online and paper surveys.
- Customer-focused engagement, such as focus groups, beta tests and customer feedback portals.
4. Trust your Data: There is nothing better in this line of work than to be able to trust the results that you’ve collected from customers. And you can trust your data if you are diligent and careful in the collection of qualitative and quantitative responses, and if you take the time for the laborious task of number-crunching and the compilation of responses, and if you commit to thoughtful analysis. You will havevalidation of recommendations that might otherwise be weeded out in the decision-making process. You can remind executives and other stakeholders that your recommendations are based on what customers asked for.
5. Act: The final steps are largely out of the hands of researchers and in the hands of company decision-makers. The customer has spoken and it is up to corporate and organizational leaders to listen, understand and act—in order to grasp opportunities, correct deficiencies, refine and launch products and services, and create new relationships.
Let us help you listen. Learn more about our Voice of the Customer services and other marketing diagnostics.
The Valcort 35 Keys to Business Growth
Over many years and hundreds of client relationships and strategic marketing opportunities, we have established the Valcort 35 Keys to Business Growth, best practices that build trust, align values with products and practices, and create organic growth. We are exploring these 35 practices, one at a time, on these pages. Find them all, as they’re introduced, here.