Why it’s time to look beyond Voice of the Customer

Many of the tools of customer experience management tend to provide a ‘Rear View’ perspective on what the organization has done, writes contributor Prashant Chavan. The trouble is this doesn’t help you anticipate what you’ll need to do next to delight customers.

Immense benefits have been reaped by organizations since outsourcing hit the scene. Business geographies merged and delivery locations became irrelevant through ‘Right-Shoring’, ‘Near-Shoring’, ‘Off-Shoring’ and time zones became interchangeable with 24/7/365 as companies ‘followed the sun.’

Along with the massive changes occurring in the business models there was also a gradual maturity in the customers’ outlook towards service providers across industry sectors. In the journey along the maturity curve ‘Options’ progressed to ‘Imperatives’ E.g. for customers; Value Creation as a concept transformed from an ‘Option’ to an ‘Imperative’.

Consistently exceeding customer expectations has become an imperative

To elaborate further, with the fierce competition in the marketplace, consistently exceeding customer expectations & going beyond contractual obligations has become an imperative today and not an option anymore. This has been proved empirically by the Kano model too that today’s ‘Delighters’ are tomorrow's ‘Basic needs’

The question that is in front of us now is whether organizations have adequate tools and techniques to predict, prepare and manage the journey of customer expectations as they traverse the path from being ‘Optional’ to ‘Imperative’?

There are many traditional customer satisfaction/experience management tools such as surveys, feedback sessions, discussion during contract review, Net Promoter Scores, etc. These have been in active use even in the pre-outsourcing era. Organizations seek customer feedback at various frequencies and at various levels.

Sweden, for instance, was the first country to measure the Customer Satisfaction as an important indicator of economy in 1989:

"Many individual companies and some industries monitor customer satisfaction on a continual basis, but Sweden is the first country to do so at the national level. The Annual Customer Satisfaction Barometer (CSB) measures customer satisfaction in more than 30 industries and for more than 100 corporations" –Claes Fornell in "A National Customer Satisfaction Barometer: The Swedish Experience"

There is also the American standard of the customer satisfaction measurement known as American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). ACSI measures the customer satisfaction benchmarks at four levels: National, Sector, Industry and Company Agency.

The methodology followed by ACSI in arriving at the benchmarks is given in the picture shown below:

Ref: http://www.theacsi.org/about-acsi/customer-satisfaction-benchmark-structure, http://www.theacsi.org/about-acsi/acsi-methodology

Growing digitization of public life is leading to a steady exchange of business process knowledge between government institutions and private corporations. Take the case of customer focus in private corporations. This is driving the process to shape the priorities of the government institutions as they become increasingly customer facing; i.e. When the Citizens become the Customer (Ref: Mckinsey on Government, Num 4, Summer 2009) and the customer is accustomed to a certain level of service from its private counterparts; there is a growing realization that government institutions need to orient their staff and systems to be more customer centric.

But the issue with these measurements and tools of customer experience management is that they tend to provide a ‘Rear View’ perspective – what did we do well? - Rather than a ‘Windshield’ perspective – what do we need to do now? The ‘Rear View’ perspective limits the organization’s capabilities to be ahead of the curve on the ‘Option’ to ‘Imperative’ cycle.

The conditions and circumstances in which the current methodologies for customer satisfaction were invented were largely static and growth of organizations was linear. They are focused on seeking customer experience details on a specific context i.e. a service or a product provided already at a point in time. Although, most of the customer satisfaction surveys contain the question ‘What else can we do to improve the quality of our product/service?’ customers generally respond to those questions with watered down enthusiasm.

As has already been discovered and stated by the NPS principle, there is a customer category called ‘Passive’ & this category is empirical in nature. So, it seems customer satisfaction surveys or other traditional forms of feedback tools are found to be lacking in providing the ignition for innovation in creating customer demand. But organizations that have been most successful in the recent past have skillfully navigated from Customer Satisfaction Measurement to Customer Demand Creation.

New market segments have been created which have spawned a whole new ecosystem of innovation and enabling structures to support them such as the industry that has taken shape to create Apps for various mobile platforms.

Research investments need to be strengthened to understand the shape and forms of the evolving markets. For instance, inventing new alternatives to hydrocarbon fuels to drive down the running costs of automobiles, which could also minimize the debilitating impact on environment. To add further, there seems to be a strong demand for cars that leave a lower carbon footprint but that demand is unmet today by the existing models due to the inherent constraints.

To stretch the point, organizations can also think to inventing newer modes of travel and transport. It may be pertinent at this point of time to establish a distinction between meeting unmet customer demands with existing products and/or services vis-á-vis creating new segments of demand through breakthrough products and/or services

The time is ripe to develop a body of knowledge, a science to help organizations predict the shifts in socio-cultural-economic equations and through that predict the future demands/expectations of the evolving customer – be it an enterprise or an individual customer. The ability to chart out the path and shape of the future of customer evolution, consistently, will differentiate the organizations that truly succeed and sustain versus the organizations that may eventually get relegated to the status of an ‘Also Ran’.

To sum up the urgency of creating customer demands versus meeting customer demands, given below is a quote of a serial innovator (Steve Jobs) quoting another master innovator (Henry Ford):

"So you can't go out and ask people, you know, what the next big [thing.] There's a great quote by Henry Ford, right? He said, 'If I'd have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me "A faster horse." ' "