Tag Archives: customer research

Testing 1, 2, 3. Is this Voice of the Customer microphone on?

I was invited to speak at a recent event held by Steria. They were hosting a Customer Engagement themed event for retailers. I chose to share some ‘customer insight interpretation’ stories under this heading. It’s an area in which Steria has a growing team of experts. One of their brilliant analysts is Gerard Crispie. I’ve known Gerard for years. He has a similar view to me when it comes to how to leverage customer feedback effectively. Many years ago we worked together on a Building Society brand where he helped me understand the difference that can be achieved between capturing insight and being insightful with what you capture. I’ve since discovered this is a key difference between leading customer orientated organisations and those who aspire to be. I summarise those lessons from Gerard as follows:

  1. Be reliant on the people involved in developing the feedback technology, not the technology itself
  2. When capturing customer feedback, cast the net wide and look under stones (don’t rely on the ‘we’ll get what we need from 60% of feedback’ philosophy – you won’t)
  3. Always leave the mic set to ‘on’, you never know when you might hear something insightful
  4. It’s data – so be agile in your interpretation, not binary

Fast forward 15 years to the present, and at Lexden we now work with major brands to set-up and deliver end-to-end customer experience programmes and other customer strategy requirements. But I still find these lessons being missed. Perhaps the customer research team are focused too heavily on building structured and efficient voice of the customer programmes, only to provide board level KPIs? Or devise tracking studies to provide evidence that a specific customer touchpoint is impaired by a broken process, so they can justify investment to fix it? Whilst all very heroic, and often necessary, it will never transform a business into a natural customer-driven organisation.

garden fenceTo achieve this you need to look for feedback which is less obvious in its meaning. It’s in these margins that you can find the gold that allows you to understand ‘why’ an expectation from a customer is important, or how your customer experience can be differentiated from others based on your brand positioning rather than your service provision. However, it is in this muddled, messy and often confused space where Gerard and I find most fortune for clients.

To get to these riches requires great people, great listening and interpretation skills, and the ability to put a metaphorical microphone in front of customers when it doesn’t really belong there. That way you might hear something of real interest. Capturing insight which falls outside the boundaries of an organised customer research feedback programme will allow the business to hear new conversations (or gripes) and lesser discussed topics.

With this in mind, for my talk I chose examples which highlight why it’s important to think beyond the structured Voice of the Customer programme if a business is really serious about using customer feedback to shape its decision-making, and not just validate what it probably knows already.

Case #1: The general insurer who needed to see tears before it was convinced it had a problem

The customer experience team for this leading general insurer shared wave after wave of well presented VoC results at the board meeting. But despite the evidence showing that the claims process was letting the overall customer experience down, the programme didn’t allow enough flexibility to prove why. The customer experience team knew that the problem was that the business saw the vehicle as the customer, but they had also sold in the VoC programme as THE voice of the customer. The programme didn’t highlight this so they couldn’t get the board to understand what changes were needed.

blair witchThey resorted to a drama to highlight the crisis. The customer experience team hired a professional to buy a car, insure it, create a low impact crash, be left stranded and then make a claim to be recovered. The individual videoed the entire episode. Including the sales rep on the phone thanking him for his valued custom and confirming the ‘customer matters’, the recovery wagon picking up the car after the crash, and leaving the man alone at night for a second vehicle to collect him  –  the recovery driver’s contract was to ‘recover and repair the car’, not the passenger.

The customer experience team took the video to the next boardroom rather than the VoC study. Maybe it was the content, maybe it was seeing the fear of the scared customer stranded at night, maybe it was the Blair Witch Project style filming, but whatever it was it worked. For the first time the board agreed they had a problem – the car was seen as the customer, not the driver. No thanks to VoC, the customer improvement was then commissioned.

Case #2: The utility company who listens to customers to shape the company’s future as well as the current business offer

VoC programmes typically track key interactions between the customer and the organisation. These are mainly focused on what is currently experienced or reaction to proposed changes to the brand, product or service. But one major UK utility company has created a shadow customer board as well. So rather than just hear what isn’t working in terms of product and service experience, they share with customers their strategic endeavours, critical business decisions and the commercial impact of customer experience improvements. Whilst VoC helps them understand how well they perform for their customers today, the shadow customer board helps them shape their future based on their customer’s expectations.

Case #3: The bank who lost business by listening too strictly to the Voice of the Customer

bank teller

This well established national bank noticed, through it’s AUM figures, that maturities of a particular investment product were not being managed, meaning customers’ funds were automatically transferred to a low-interest savings account. This meant that the investment team lost out on valuable x-sell opportunities. The VoC programme identified that a call prompted by a maturity letter was the key ‘moment of truth’ to retain the customer’s investment. So the bank set up a team to make calls to inform customers of their options, including a new investment.

With the trial underway, results started to show a change of events. They noticed that whilst some money was transferred into a new investment and some rolled over into the savings account, 30% was cashed in! A worse outcome than before they were led by VoC. Why was this? What VoC didn’t track is that many customers didn’t see that this was the key MoT or the end of the journey. Instead, customers unhappy with their options, triggered by the call, contacted the branch where they originally took out the investment. The branch advisers, with no incentive to retain the customer’s investment or awareness of the investment team’s trial, helped customers close their accounts.

The investment team contacted the branches and found out what was happening. They then realised how VoC had misled them. The key is to widen the ‘stakeholder impact reach’ when journey mapping, to avoid internal audiences being left unaware of the impact of their actions. Once spotted, the investment team trained a few branch staff to cover regions advising customers of new investment opportunities. The 30% reduced and the investment retention returned.

Each case proves that whilst VoC is a key customer experience tool, helping to inform the business, over reliance on it can blind side the business from the even more important customer irritants and opportunities. Keeping agile and open-minded is key to listening to customers and allowing their influence into the business. A characteristic I now associate with world-class organisations. Connecting with Gerard again has reminded me where my understanding of this originated from and we believe connecting with Steria will give Lexden the opportunity to apply this for more clients at a world-class level too.

Lexden is a Customer Strategy Agency. We put customers at the start and the heart of the business strategy.

We work with brands to attract and retain happy customers. We achieve this by helping them to understand what makes their customers tick, building memorable customer experience strategies and creating engaging customer value propositions.

If you like what you’ve read please sign-up to our monthly ‘Putting Customers First’ newsletter.

For a discussion on how we may be able to help you, contact christopherbrooks@lexdengroup.com or call us on M: +44 (0) 7968 316548. You can also follow us on LinkedIn Facebook and Twitter @consultingchris

Unordinary Thinking No. 27 – The magic of the bl*@dy obvious

One of my favourite things is when the answer to a problem, or the solution which best fits, is so obvious, so simple, that it brings a smile to your face.  It is one of the characteristics of what we term unordinary.

Two examples below.  Both relate to the world of understanding customers which, in our hearts, is what Lexden is about and gets us up in the morning.  If you are ever in the business of wanting to really get to the nub of what your customers are after and are thinking of commissioning some customer research, then you should have the following in mind.

The first relates to a conversation I had with an eminent research professional with many years standing about focus groups.  He said something so simple that, for me, it is a wonder it has not had a material impact on the worldwide sales of qualitative research companies (maybe it has).  Off the record, considering it is his livelihood, he mused whether there could possibly be a more unrealistic situation in life than an observed focus group.  Think about how mad it is.  Firstly, you pay participants to come to a place they have never been before so they can have free sandwiches and beer.  You ask to be allowed to observe them from behind a two way mirror.  You put them together with a group of individuals they have never met before and ask them to interact.  And then you ask them questions about things they typically have very little interest or emotional connection with.  All topped off with a rushed ‘final recommendation’ activity in the last five minutes when they just want to go home because it is 10 o’clock at night.

You ask them to come to your research world instead of going to the customer’s world.

And marketers then base their communications activity and product development on what people said in this totally unrealistic environment.  Isn’t that a little crazy?

The second example gives the antithetical approach to the above.  It comes from when Honda had just launched their first cars into the US and they were struggling to understand why sales were not at the level they had hoped for.  Being new to the US market, the conventional thing to do might have been to convene focus groups to understand what the US car consumer might want from a vehicle, and how this differed from Japanese consumers.  But Honda chose a more obvious route.  The engineers, designers, technicians, sales people and marketers all convened together to various car parks around Los Angeles and simply observed drivers and passengers using their Honda vehicles.  Getting in and out.  How they opened and packed the boot.  Which hand they held their keys in.  How they drove off.  All of which provided gold plated insight for how to alter and improve their cars for their American customers.  Observation of actual customers, using the actual product in an actual situation.  The Japanese call this the sangen approach.  Clearly it cannot give you the whole answer (what does?), but it is so obvious, so clever, that it makes you feel that it would be a failure to ever pay thousands of pounds for another focus group again.

A simple approach, eliciting better insight about what customers want and need, at a cheaper cost in a quicker timescale.  Does it get any better for marketers or businesses?

I love the irony.  We have all heard participants in focus groups say they want solutions that are quicker, cheaper and more convenient-it’s just that this one delivers it without a focus group.


Lexden is a Customer Strategy Agency. We put customers at the start and the heart of the business strategy.

We work with brands to attract and retain happy customers. We achieve this by helping them to understand what makes their customers tick, building memorable customer experience strategies and creating engaging customer value propositions.

If you like what you’ve read, don’t forget to sign-up to our ‘Putting Customers First’ new Lexden newsletter. June issue out now.

For more information about how we can help you take your customer strategy forward please contact christopherbrooks@lexdengroup.com or call us on M: +44 (0) 7968 316548 T: 01279 902205. You can follow us on LinkedIn Facebook and Twitter @consultingchris.

Faster Horses

For businesses and marketers, in theory, it is easy.

Simply ask customers what they want from your products and services, build solutions around these “needs”, deliver them excellently and communicate them effectively. If only.

The problem with this approach is the first part. You can always find customers who are happy to share their views and opinions on what they say they want. This will typically be in some kind of customer research scenario such as questionnaires, conjoint analysis, focus groups or depth interviews.  Although these will be conducted by excellent, experienced research professionals, the bottom line is that customers find it difficult to express what they really want and marketers are not always very good at interpreting this in the right way.

This is never more so than when you are considering new things.There is still no better expression of this than Henry Ford’s comment when asked about inventing the motor car.  He was questioned as to why he did not ask customers what they wanted. His unforgettable response was that it was because they would have simply said that they wanted a faster horse.  And this sentiment holds today-probably even more so given how fast technology is giving us more and more ways to do things.  Customers find it really difficult to envisage and articulate what they might want in the future, especially in areas where there is a strong market conditioning.

So what does this mean for us as marketers? Should the invention and bringing to market of innovative and inspirational new solutions such as an iPod or Kindle be the sole preserve of the super visionaries such as Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos? Of course not. And there are at least two elements which are consistent with their approach which we can emulate.

Firstly, always start with the customer and keep trying to understand in detail what problems can be solved for them. One way to do this might be via formal research. However it is certainly and definitely not the only thing which should be done since it will not give you the answer.  What it is good for is providing additional data to complement your other efforts in understanding the customer, in order to form your own point of view.

Secondly, keep looking out for what other people are doing, the way things are being done in parallel markets and how technology and progress are making customers’ lives better. These are fertile sources for inspiration.

The above is no silver bullet.  It will not give us a fully formed answer and a business plan for our boss.  However, what it does do is give ourselves a fighting chance of developing great solutions for customers. By thinking widely and deeply about how to fit in with customers’ lives, we considerably increase our chances of spotting and seizing opportunities when they arise.

Lexden is a marketing strategy agency which seeks to arrive at cut-through propositions and solutions for our clients.To do this we look beyond the familar towards the unordinary.

To find out more about what we do and if that might be of interest to you please visit our website lexdengroup.com

Or for more information on how we can help you, contact christopherbrooks@lexdengroup.com or ajairanawat@lexdengroup.com, or call us on T: +44 (0)20 7490 9123.  And you can follow us on Twitter @consultingchris.