More Listening, Fewer Surveys Will Improve Your Experience!

by Jeanne Bliss on November 8, 2012

in Metrics & Accountability

When I work with clients we often focus on two areas to get them early traction:
1. Doing what I call the “whack a mole” work – fixing the obvious broken things that keep emerging.
2. Getting deliberate about tracking and trending issues to be able to prioritize action.

Many companies already have all the information they need right now, from customers, about what’s broken and what’s getting in the customers way of doing more business. Every day customers volunteer multitudes of comments and feedback by reaching out to the company or during natural customer interaction points.

But these opportunities to track this “unaided feedback” volunteered by customers is not prioritized, trended or organized in a deliberate accountability cycle across the silos. That proliferates the behavior to get out more surveys to identify what customers need and what they are experience.  And that’s exactly opposite what you do not need…

What will help you is to align and unite the areas of your organization to build what I call a “Listening and Understanding Engine” so you can identify issues early and act without waiting for a survey result.  (In fact, I am a zealot about the fact that if you are learning new things from your surveys then you don’t have your ear pressed hard enough to the ground in this active listening.)

Here’s how to build a listening system for your company:
1. Create Uniform Categories for Reporting
A major “culture boost” activity will occur in the simple action of getting everyone to agree on the categories for collecting information for reporting. With many clients, we automate the collection of this information into the call center operators’ software program for consistency, and frequently with other high volume places where customers volunteer information. By focusing here first, within a month, you can have a decent tracking mechanism to identify the issues bugging customers.  Remember don’t worry about it being the best right away – just get started. (At Lands’ End in 1984 we used a paper method: phone operators tracked the categories using the “fence post” method of counting.  It worked!)

2. Collapse All Incoming Customer Complaints and Comments into a Monthly Trending Report
To get traction for a financial services client, one of the first things we did was to collapse all of the incoming customer complaints and comments into a monthly trending report. Suddenly the areas of the operation could see the big issues emerge based on the volume.  This moved action way beyond what was being done before – which was upset customer letters being read in the executive committee meetings.  That seemed too ‘soft’- but there was no hiding from the volume of multitudes of customers being upset about a set of common issues!

3. Identify and Prioritize the “Cracks in the Foundation” that Emerge
Somewhere along the way, we came up with the term “cracks in the foundation” to define this ever-growing list, and it stuck. This was our shorthand of the list of priority issues that had to be fixed before we could move on to other actions.

People could make the connection that the foundation of our offering to customers was being constantly compromised because of these lapses in how we executed the different functions of our business. Once that was understood, we determined how many of the “cracks” we could fix each quarter or year. Then the operating vice presidents responsible for improving these issues were made accountable for erasing them from the issues being reported by customers.

You can’t leapfrog over fixing these issues. Resolving these day-to-day bugs in the system are critical to creating customer experience reliability.

Once you build the organizational muscle for fixing the existing problems that inhibit reliability, you can take on the more glorious work of defining a better future for your customers. This will be a large-scale undertaking that will involve all parts of your organization. It will stretch and challenge your ability to foster and repeatedly push people toward cross-functional working relationships. This is where those new skill sets of process change will especially need to be developed and honed. If you are serious about this, you will need talent to facilitate this work across your organization.

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