Before the industrial revolution, most businesses in the United States were sole proprietorships or small family run businesses. In those days, every member of the business was in direct contact with the customers and had the opportunity to passively or actively hear the voice of the customer.
The voice of the customer tells us what about our product or service that customers find valuable, and what they find annoying or useless. By focusing on what customers found valuable and removing or reducing what they found annoying, these small businesses could accumulate financial success and customer loyalty.
In today’s interconnected world, we are in the midst of a customer revolution. Today’s customer has unparalleled access to pricing and product information to enable a more informed and economic purchasing decision. Today’s customer benefits from marketing developments such as mass customization, mass personalization, and micro-segmentation. In addition, they have unrivaled access to communication channels to make their preferences known. But, who is really listening?
We live in a world of corporations and conglomerates, where most of the employee class has no direct access to the voice of the customer. The man or woman stitching up your clothing has no idea whether the stitching method worked well for you, or if you were happy with the product. They only know whether or not they made their daily quota and how much failed Quality Control. If the person stitching your clothing had access to the voice of the customer, would they do their job differently? Would they feel differently about their job?
In many of today’s companies, the job of listening to the customer falls to someone in the marketing department, possibly even someone who does nothing but focus on brand and customer research. This person usually works with product management and possibly research and development to inform product revisions and new product development. Often, very few people outside of that core team have access to the voice of the customer. But why restrict customer feedback to a select few?
While it may be important to control access to the customer in order to avoid inappropriate contact, restricting access can stifle innovation and success. One way to control access is to implement a managed research panel. In this scenario, the customer research people in the organization manage access to an opted-in sample of customers, allowing internal constituents from anywhere in the organization to “purchase” a percentage of a focus group. Therefore, no single group has to bear the cost or the burden of organizing a focus group, but instead can access customers to ask their specific queries as a portion of the focus group’s overall session. In this way, groups as disparate as user documentation, branding, and warranty service can seek to understand and ultimately improve their contribution to the overall quality of the product or service. But will this by itself lead to innovation?
As the innovation velocity of an organization becomes a more crucial competitive differentiator in the global marketplace, it is mandatory that innovation becomes everyone’s responsibility in the organization. In order for innovation to reliably happen at every level of the organization, it will be extremely useful for all members to have access to the voice of the customer. Making customer feedback available to all may include making focus group recordings and survey results available to all employees, or at least those who register an interest. Having access to the voice of the customer will enable all levels of the organization to submit more informed innovation project ideas and supporting justifications. But will this only lead to better products and services?
Making the voice of the customer more widely available is not only likely to result in new product or service ideas, but is also likely to spur innovative ideas about how the organization can operate more efficiently. In addition, it has the potential to create a more customer-centric organization, to increase employee mobility within the organization, and to make it easier for disparate parts of the organization to communicate. So why aren’t all companies already doing this?
Some companies may hesitate to share this information because of a perceived risk of leaking to competitors, but the incremental risk is minimal. Marketing people go to work for the competition all the time, and competitors have the same ability to research customer perceptions of your product as easily as their own. Organizations have so much to gain by granting access to the voice of the customer to all employees—and so little to lose. So what are you waiting for?
This is an excerpt of a white paper I published. Click to download the complete “Broadcasting the Voice of the Customer” white paper in PDF form.
Braden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, embeds innovation across the organization with innovation training, and builds B2B pull marketing strategies that drive increased revenue, visibility and inbound sales leads. He is the creator of the Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool and author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. He tweets from @innovate.