Many years ago while working with the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, I was exposed to the concept of listening posts for “voice of the customer.” Many people capture voice of the customer information through customer satisfaction surveys, focus groups, direct calls, customer visits, website tracking, and NPS scores, among others. Yet I’ve always been fascinated with the idea that every employee is a listening post – keeping their eyes and ears open to important customer information and feedback.
But how do you do that? After many years, I’ve worked with several clients to develop a relatively easy process to instill in a company. I’d like to say it was an easy process, and initially, it is. But it takes real dedication to make it a sustainable process.
Steps to Create Listening Posts for Voice of the Customer
1. Determine your objectives for creating listening posts. Some common reasons are to:
- Listen and engage with your customers
- Better understand the wants and needs of your customers
- Create a two-way conversation/build the relationship with your customer
- Collect and analyze voice of the customer data that helps track trending topics/items and customer engagement
2. Create a listening post training program that teaches all employees (especially those that have direct contact with the customer) the skills to effectively listen to your customers. This training should identify the types of information to listen for and provide specific examples to help solidify what you are asking your team to do. Create a cheat sheet with starter phrases such as:
- “I wish you would….”
- “Why don’t you….”
- “How do I…”
- “I love this…”
Also include starter statements and questions on how to probe for deeper information and solicit personal anecdotes:
- “Tell me more…”
- “What was your experience?”
- “That’s interesting. Why is that important to you?”
- “Help me understand…”
- “What do you love/dislike about…”
3. Create a process that allows all employees to easily provide voice of the customer information. This part gets tricky as many companies want to make this too complex and burdensome to execute on a routine basis. A simple form or Google Doc will work. I had one client replicate their IT ticketing system to capture the information (which made it easier to analyze and track who was submitting information). You’ll want to do a few dry runs on this, working to get it just right for your business!
At the minimum, you’ll want to capture:
- Employee name
- Customer name and company
- Type of insight (positive, negative, problem, idea etc.)
- Ability to upload photos/screenshots
4. Determine who will analyze the information, how it will be analyzed, and if any action is needed. To start, a spreadsheet will work just fine. Again, do a few dry runs on this to see what kind of data you might receive, and how it will be used in the organization.
5. Determine how it will be presented to the organization’s leadership – and how often. Initially, you’ll probably want to analyze and present the data at least monthly. Here is a list of potential trends you might see:
- A hint or an indication of a new product or service
- A suggestion for a different use of the product that you are unaware of
- A suggestion for an improvement to a current process, product, or service
- A mention of a problem with product packaging, shipping methods, or billing
- An annoyance from the customer’s perspective such as long wait time, lack of convenient and safe parking, or inconvenient business hours
- An undercurrent of displeasure with some feature or aspect of an existing product or service
- An action of an employee that pleased (or displeased) the customer
- A comment (good or bad) about a competitor’s product or service
- A comment about a competitor(s) who offers more value for the price
- A hint that the customer may be relocating, hiring/de-hiring employees
6. Sketch out some ideas on how to share the information with employees and incentivize them to continue to listen to their customers and document what they heard. I believe this is strongly tied to the organization’s culture and can be used to reinforce the core values.
7. After you have laid the groundwork, let all employees know that they play a crucial role in capturing voice of the customer information. Provide training and have all managers reinforce those who submit information.
8. Follow up with especially active employees and customers. These folks are great resources to tap into your other voice of the customer strategies!
9. Be patient and periodically review/update the process. Initially, your listening post information will be all over the board! Not everything is going to work right out of the gate, but if you remain curious, the organization will quickly figure out what to do. More importantly, why it is important – especially as you share the information collected and what you are doing with it with your team. Even if it is something as simple as sharing a trend and that you’re keeping watch on it. Your team will feel more connected as contributors to the growth of the organization.