Author’s Note: This is the fifth of a series of six posts about Why You Shouldn’t Be Surprises Your VOC Program is Failing.
Did your Voice of the Customer (VOC) tool vendor or consultant tell you you’re going to need to have the guts to stand up for your VOC program in the face of challenges and sometimes you’re going to have to follow your gut when you’re analyzing data?
Most research on the differences between successful and failed VOC programs never mention either of these as critical actions that will be required for your success. Yet, every VOC leader I’ve ever worked with faces challenges on a daily basis that they’ll admit requires courage and guts to move forward.
Here’s how I see it.
If VOC is new to your organization, you are in for massive change management. Implementing VOC and doing it with the intention to be a leader means you have to change the very culture of your company. And that means you are going to have to be absolutely convinced of the value of VOC in general and your VOC program and its capabilities in particular. You need absolute confidence because you will be called upon to at least defend your:
- Funding requests
- Data integration requests
- Team’s insights and recommendations
- Insight to action initiatives
Beyond these, you will likely have to have the guts to stand up to your leaders to explain that some of their requests are a waste of resources while at the same time you train these leaders how to ask high quality questions that you can actually research.
“In business, courageous action is really a special kind of calculated risk taking. People who become good leaders have a greater than average willingness to make bold moves, but they strengthen their chances of success—and avoid career suicide—through careful deliberation and preparation. Business courage is not so much a visionary leader’s inborn characteristic as a skill acquired through decision-making processes that improve with practice.”
Kathleen K. Reardon
Harvard Business Review, January 2007
The fastest way to destroy your VOC program is to lose your focus because of distractions. If a research project does not lead you in the direction of the agreed upon goals of the program, it is a luxury at best and a waste of precious resources at worst.
What You Can Do
I cannot count the number of times leaders asked, “Is anyone talking about this?” This is a very low quality question and shows that the leaders require a deeper level of engagement with the VOC program and its capabilities. They should be asking highly specific questions that will allow you to research accurately to provide actionable insights.
I call this a low quality question because it can be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.” To answer it, you only need to find out if one customer–any customer–is talking about the topic. This is not a strategic question that helps the leader better understand if Millennials or Boomers are engaged with the topic. It does not allow the leader to take meaningful action to adjust advertising budget allocation or to invest new product research. It lacks the detail required to help researchers inform the leader’s decisions.
I have trained VOC teams to do two things when they hear this type of low quality question:
- Ask more questions to understand what the leader is actually thinking, what his hypothesis is, what he is planning to do with the research finding if he receives it, which metric the findings are likely to impact and by how much;
- If that does not work, then I tell my clients to only do the necessary research required to answer the question with a “Yes” or “No” followed up by a recommendation of the next stage of research. This answer will cause the leader to ask more questions that will help you know what you actually need to research.
My approach, especially the latter point, may seem obtuse. But, remember, you are responsible for reaching specific goals and you have limited resources to do so.
Often, leaders ask questions because they are interested in entertaining their curiosity but the question contains no real value for the business. In fact, this behavior may be demonstrating that they do not appreciate the investment that is being made in your research. Instead, to these leaders having a VOC program is a luxury or an entertainment. They would never treat their R&D innovation team or product management team with the same low level of interest or lack of strategic focus. They would not waste precious R&D funds on a mere curiosity. This is a habit that can be changed and you can help them become a more effective leader when you guide their behavior toward the asking of high quality questions.
Following Your Gut
You may also find yourself in a situation where you don’t have the information you need or you don’t have the confidence to declare a definitive answer to a research question. In these cases, I encourage you to follow your gut and trust in your intuition.
I am not suggesting you state an unsupported conclusion that ‘feels right’ but rather that you follow the path that feels right in your research. As you develop your expertise in this area, your intuition will become stronger and you can learn to listen to that small voice in your head or that feeling in your gut that suggests an alternative path. The more you work with your intuition and learn the voice of your intuition, the more likely you are to follow the correct path. That being said, always test your intuitive hypotheses with sufficient rational analysis and develop a theory on solid data.
“Information subconsciously perceived in the brain will help with decisions if that information holds some value or extra evidence beyond what people already have in their conscious mind”
Live Science, May 20, 2016
A few months ago I was doing analysis for a new client and I had a feeling that there was more hidden in the open-ended survey responses than I was seeing and the software was revealing. My conclusions just did not feel complete. I felt this deep sense of knowing that something seemed to be missing.
I put in several additional hours of reading and analyzing the feedback manually (yes, VOC tools can’t do it all). After several intuitive hypotheses failed to stand up to the rigor of rational analysis, I stumbled across one that was valid. When I shared the insight and my recommendation with my client and they applied it in their next marketing campaign, they saw sales increase 90% year-over-year. That one finding was worth more than 10x the investment they made in my research.
This was not a one-time occurrence. I follow many gut feelings in the process of researching. Some of my most valuable findings have been the result of this process.
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