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Voice of the Customer through the Employee

Release Date: April 14, 2020 • Episode #112

Companies are often hesitant to actively seek feedback during crisis situations and that can affect your customer listen programs. But there are ways in which employees can be a source of customer insights. Host Steve Walker welcomes back Dr. Troy Powell, vice president of strategy as Walker, to discuss how a voice of the customer through the employee program, or “VOCE,” can continue to provide a means to listen to customers without actively soliciting feedback from customers.

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Steve:
Voice of the customer programs are always an important part of your CX program. But how does that change in critical times of crisis?

Troy:
We're seeing a number of companies who are potentially pulling back from customer surveys a little bit, knowing that in certain cases their customer population is really scrambling. If we don't want to or can't get to the customers, the employees become a nice proxy for them.

Steve:
Voice of the customer through the employee and how it can especially be helpful in this time of the coronavirus pandemic. On this episode of The CX Leader Podcast.

Announcer:
The CX Leader Podcast with Steve Walker is a production of Walker, an experience management firm that helps companies accelerate their CX success. Find out more at walkerinfo.com.

Steve:
Hello, everyone. I'm Steve Walker, host for The CX Leader Podcast and thank you for listening. On The CX Leader Podcast, we explore topics and themes to help leaders like you leverage all the benefits of your customer experience and help your customers and prospects want to do more business with you. We're continuing with our discussions on how your company's CX program can be most effective in times of crisis. At the time of this recording, we're still observing our local stay at home order and recording the podcast in separate locations, so you may notice a difference in the sound quality. Today, we want to focus on how critical it is that you continue to listen to your employees and why voice of the customer through the employee, or "VOCE" might be particularly helpful to you. My guest on the episode is no stranger to the podcast. He is actually our most frequent guest over the course of our more than 100 episodes. Dr. Troy Powell is the vice president of strategy and analytics at Walker. He is a thought leader and always a pleasure to have a conversation with. So, Troy, thanks for being on The CX Leader Podcast.

Troy:
Thanks for having me back. Yeah, it is now too good to talk. We don't see each other at the office anymore.

Steve:
I know, but we've been seeing each other on Zoom a lot.

Troy:
We have, it's been very helpful.

Steve:
Well, the world has changed a whole lot. The last two weeks, Dr. Troy. And, you know, we're all sort of adapting to this new normal, as it were. But I really found this topic of VOCE to be a particularly interesting one, particularly because, you know, in a lot of businesses, you really delivered the value to your customers through your frontline employees. And so I wanted to just give our listeners a one on one on what VOCE is and how it fits into the overall customer listening activity.

Troy:
Yeah. So VOCE, your voice of the customer through the employee is basically what it says, right? The idea of understanding what customers are experiencing, what pain points they're running into, what needs they're expressing. Also opportunities, highlights and the experience it's getting and understanding of that through the employee vs. from the customer. And you know, obviously there is a view of getting it direct from the customer being maybe the most ideal way. But one of the biggest misses we have in CX is getting it through the employee as well, especially in cases where either it's difficult to get to the right customer, where maybe the employees actually might have a bigger picture view than some of the customer contacts that we're interviewing or where there's low participation. Right? So where it's maybe hard to get employee data. In those cases, getting information through the employee can be a good, maybe not substitute, but a good thing to supplement what we're hearing from customers and from other sources. It is just that idea of, you know, they know stuff, so let's get their information and they're usually quite willing to share it with what the organization.

Steve:
And specific to, sort of the crisis situation that we're in right now, why is VOCE so important right now?

Troy:
So I think it's very important right now because, you know, we're seeing a number of companies who are potentially pulling back from customer surveys a little bit, knowing that in certain cases their customer population is really scrambling. So we've seen that a lot in some health care areas, for instance, saying, OK, we're not going to be getting a lot of responses from hospital managers and other people who are struggling with this pandemic and the response to it. So either they're not surveying for a time or we're just seeing participation rates drop as organizations are struggling with the new normal here. So I think that's one reason why, you know, we can either back away and say, well, that's not important to hear from our customers. Well, that's if you think about it, obviously not true. This is a time where we really need to be able to understand what they're experiencing because it's often going to be quite different than what they have been experiencing. So if we don't want to or can't get to the customers, the employees become a nice proxy for them. And I really do hope voice of the customer through the employee is a area that we've talked about for a long time and the industry has as well. That still isn't something that's done very often. So there's a hope in me that, you know, again, a lot of very negative things are coming out of the current situation. But there's also the opportunity for some positive things to come out. And I hope this is one of them for CX that we kind of figure out this voice of customer through employee.

Steve:
Let's just for a minute, just put ourselves in the place of a CX pro who's never really thought about using VOCE, how would they start to consider implementing it in terms of like who are they employee groups that they want to talk to and what kinds of feedback or how would we structure that kind of collection?

Troy:
Another name that sometimes you'll hear this under is called frontline feedback, which is a nice way of thinking that the groups you're wanting to get to from an employee standpoint are those who are directly interacting with customers the most. And so your sales team, your account management, customer success managers, your call center employees, you know those are the ones you're wanting to get the feedback from the most – it can also be your retail employees, because they're the ones who are really getting the pulse of what's going on with customers, understanding that direct experience and the best way. Now, the downside is those are also in the current environment those are some of our busiest employees, right? They're struggling to respond to what customers need and want. So I think especially if you're just thinking about doing it, really have to think, you know, how can we do this in the simplest way? And in a way that's most enabling to our employees. OK. So you're going to employees right now with some big idea management system that you're going to try and put in place that's complex and have them answer couple questions for every one of their customers that they interact with, that's not going to be an effective way to get into, that's especially now. So trying to make it simple. Right? So a simple survey, text based survey, maybe an always-on feedback option on an internal website is something that is going to be easy for customers to go in with just some general high-level questions about what are customers struggling with? What are they coming to you for that's maybe it's new or different. How are we as a company and a failing to respond to some of these new needs? Where are we making it harder than it needs to be? You know, ideas for change. But also from an employee standpoint, you're asking the employees like, what can we do to give you better resources to respond? So you're weaving into an employee engagement component to this also is that, you know, at this point in time, a very important thing to do so that they're able to raise their hand and say, hey, my customers are struggling with "X" and I'm struggling with "Y"? Because if they're struggling, they can't provide the best service either. So I think that if you're just thinking about it right now, starting something like this, let's keep it simple and we can work into the more complex ways of doing that later.

Steve:
I really like that idea of making it easy for these busy frontline employees to provide the feedback. What do you do with that kind of feedback, though? How do you analyze it and report it back out in actionable ways?

Troy:
Yeah, and that really is I think the the rub with voice of the customer through employee work is, you know, if you're making it as easy as possible, it's often more open ended questions. You may be able to come up with an easy pick list of items, but you know, especially in this time, you definitely want to gather some of those non pick list related things because again, experiences customers might be having, they might be brand new things that they're struggling with. And so then that obviously is the most difficult kind of data to work with on the back end is the data that's open ended. The good news there is a lot of CX teams are having a little bit of more, I won't say free time, but if they're not pushing out as many surveys or not getting back as many surveys there may be a little time to engage in some text categorization and analysis. However, I think at this point you're not going to be getting huge volumes from employees. I think especially you're looking at like daily information coming in. And so most companies have some kind of a response team formed. And so that response team, just reading through all the comments that come in might not be too much to ask. And using that to really inform the response that you make and the pivots that need to happen. So as you move forward, coming out of this time and still incorporating voice of the customer or employee, you know, the biggest challenge is trying to figure out how do we align this with CX? How do we get these two sources of data from a customer, from employee to talk to each other? And that's a piece that I think is going to be unique to help every company addresses it.

Steve:
Well, if you do implemented the VOCE program and then let's assume we get back to some some normal stuff and we start collecting directly from the customers again and then we figure out how to put it back in, should the VOCE become a regular part of the rhythm of how you're going to collect the data?

Troy:
I think it should. And I think what we'll have to do moving forward as find where is the best focus for this? I think right now it really is, you're getting feedback on this crisis, right? Crisis feedback from customers. What do they need? You know moving forward, you know, we really see or at least I see this used most often in product development or innovation areas. So we're getting feedback from employees about what things are customer struggling with. What are they asking for? You know, they're submitting ideas. And there's some, you know, a number of these idea management platforms out there where you can put it, you know, employees can put in information saying, hey, this idea might be something the customers want. And then other employees can up-vote or down-vote that. And then you can put it into a SPRINT process, and you know all these ways to cure eight innovative new ideas from the entire organization. So you do see it a lot there. But I think we've lost the ability to do something similar with experiential concepts. So obviously a product's a big experience. So you keep doing it there. But, you know, how can we use a similar concept for coming up with innovative ways to solve some of our experience related issues? So, yeah, that… that's one area that I think it can be brought in more as we move forward. But then there's also just a piece of you having some of that always on feedback from employees where they can submit issues and problems that they're facing or that their customers are facing. Right? And then that becomes something that bubbles up and then you can align customer data with it to say, hey, are we seeing customers validate that in some way? And so that's still a somewhat manual process, but I think it's the easiest, easiest way to go about it. I've seen customers try to align employee feedback to specific customers. So like every account to the customer that an employee has, they would provide feedback on. And then we aligned it, customer feedback on that same account. It's always a good idea, but it struggles to… to really work due to the complexity of and and just the burden that we're putting on employees to do that.

Steve:
So if we're collecting voice of the customer through the employee, what kind of feedback loop should we be providing back to the employees who are providing that input?

Steve:
Now, that is a very good question, because I think probably the one of the challenges you face with the VOCE is employee participation. Some employees love giving feedback and it's from their perspective. And, you know, there might be some bias involved for a few of them. And then other employees just see it as, OK, this is just another thing they're wanting to do and I'm busy enough with all my other stuff. So I think it is important to just like we do with customers, right, to provide that feedback. And hey, we're listening. Right. Here's what we're doing with that feedback. So as you're getting it, as you're collating it, coming up with… or, here is the three big things we're learning from employees, getting that back out to the frontline employees and saying, hey, based upon what you're telling us, here's three things we're focused on. Here's what we're trying to do. The other piece, I think this falls a little bit into the employee engagement side, more than just VOCE, but having something in there that ask the employees to tell us if they're struggling to be properly resourced to serve a customer, properly trained to serve a customer, and then if they are, then it's that you reach out and say, okay, what is it that we can do to help you be more effective at your job and not treating it as "hey, your customers are angry. You're obviously falling down on the job." It's like, well, OK, maybe there's something we can do and then… or if an employee feels like they can raise their hand and ask for that help, and we give it to them, that's something that will keep them engaged… and engaged to the company and engaged in the process of providing feedback.

Steve:
And just listening to you talk, it reinforces the concept that once you start this, you better continue it because it could be an impression like they cared about what we thought when things were tough but, you know, since that happened, nobody's ever asked my opinion again.

Troy:
Yeah, exactly. And I think that we do a number of… we do a lot of interviewing, especially, you know, more like sales management and account management leads, and some of these higher level frontline employees, when we're going in and figuring out how to maybe redesign or reinvigorate a customer listening program. And there is no shortage of feedback that those people can provide about the things that are causing difficulties. It's definitely out there. And you often just hear it anecdotally, which your anecdotes are fine, but if you're just hearing it from the four loudest people in the room, every time you meet, you're probably missing some more generalizable feedback. So by going out and trying to get that, Customer, or employees are feeling like their voices heard. And you're probably getting some pretty interesting perspective on areas that you could innovate.

Steve:
Well, Troy, you are no stranger to The CX Podcast. We know that. So we've reached that point in the program where we always ask our guests to provide their best take home value. So based on full review of all the things you've shared today, what's sort of your best tip to the CX pros out there who are thinking about involving a VOCE program in their overall CX strategy?

Steve:
I think, you know right now, I think my best tip is going back not to harp on it too much, but find an easy way for employees to give you feedback. And you know, if I were to pick one right now, would be figuring out what's an internal portal or website, something that employees go to almost daily for some aspect of their job and insert a feedback form, some website feedback. You can have a pop up or you can have it there and tell employees about it, but have a nice, simple form there that they can click on, provide a little bit of feedback. Again, have a one or two questions, one about the customer, one about them and allow them to provide that and then just have a group who reads through everything that comes through every day until maybe you can come up with some themes over time. But for now, take it easy. Put it where they're gonna go and read everything that comes in and see where it takes you.

Steve:
Troy Powell is a Ph.D. and also the vice president of strategy and analytics here at Walker. He's a thought leader in the customer experience world and we're very lucky to have them on the podcast this week. Troy, thanks for coming back and sharing your thoughts with our listeners. You want to just give them your contact information in case anybody wants to continue the dialog with you?

Troy:
Yeah, sure. So you can look me up on LinkedIn, Troy Powell, or you can e-mail me at tpowell@walkerinfo.com. And I'd love to hear anybody who's doing something really good in the space, provide us some, some of that. I mean, be great to share with others in this industry at this time.

Steve:
Thanks again. And if you want to talk about anything you heard on this podcast or anything you've heard on previous podcasts, or about how Walker can help your business' customer experience, feel free to email me at steve.walker@walkerinformation.com. Remember to visit our web site cxleaderpodcast.com to subscribe to the show and find all of our previous episodes, over one hundred of them. And also what's coming up on our podcast series and contact information so you can give us some feedback on how you think we're doing. The CX Leader Podcast is a production of Walker. We're an experience management firm that helps companies accelerate their CX success. You can read more about us at walkerinfo.com. Thanks for listening and we'll see you again next time.

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