The Voice of the Customer in the Community

Voice of the customer. Engagement. Loyalty.

What do these buzzwords mean? How do we use them to drive value? Where are the best practices?

These often-used terms have connotative and denotative meanings that can be quite different depending on who uses them and how they are used. We continue to see uncertainly about loyalty, engagement, and voice of the customer. Questions about these buzzwords keep coming fast and furiously.

The confusion indicates that in this challenging economic environment, the focus on loyalty and engagement is becoming ever more important. Customers, clients, employers, brands and channel partners believe that voice of the customer, Web 3.0, the Groundswell, etc., can give them a well-needed competitive edge. Yet they don’t know how to execute these initiatives effectively. They’re looking for best practice examples of groups creating engagement, excitement, and commitment to help the answer the overriding question: How?

On one hand, brands and consumer package good companies tell us that they want to re-engage their customers and have more direct communication with them, and that social, mobile and emerging media is helping them to do this. On the other, they want to have better and more actionable data results. They want to see the true 360-degree view of the customer, yet realize that they’re not privy to data from other sources — such as channel partners, merchants, and distribution channels — that allow them to complete this circle.

Getting the true voice of the customer doesn’t just mean using social, emerging, and mobile media. It also means focusing on traditional media channels such as the contact center, direct-mail response, customer loyalty program, surveys, etc.

Merchants, banks, hotels, restaurants, travel, and entertainment companies pose to us a litany of the same questions. These entities want to work together and collaborate in a manner we have not witnessed in quite some time. Capturing a 360-degree view of the customer means knowing what Jack Jones is spending at Applebee’s, on Delta, at JC Penney, and at 53 Bank. They want this level of broad insight because they know it will enable them to make more effective communication decisions and tailor the form, factor, and fashion of these timely communications in order to increase its effectiveness.

But they continue to ask: How?

How do I get this information? How can I create loyalty? How can I create engagement? How can I make the insight I have more actionable? How do I drive the behavior that I need to drive? How do I change the mindset within my organization to be more accommodating and amenable to this new transition?

The answer to each of these is twofold:

(1) Listen.

Listen, not in a lip service fashion, but listen with the belief that there is wisdom in crowds. Listen with the purpose that small is the new big. One blogger, one online community not addressed can have serious impacts on a brand. Being truly committed to listening to and engaging customers requires a corporate mandate guided by a visionary leader who compels the organization to look at their actions and address these questions honestly:

  • When companies say they are committed to voice of the customer, yet they are only focused on call center responses, is that a true voice of the customer?
  • Or when companies say they are committed to voice of the customer, yet they are only focused on social, mobile and emerging media responses, is that a true voice of the customer?
  • Or when companies say they are committed to voice of the customer, yet they only use third party opt-in data, is that a true voice of the customer?

(2) React.

Once you listen you need to react with the purpose to engage and empower the dialogue with your audience. There’s no doubt the pendulum has swung from the brand to the client. For every success story that becomes lore within this new “social community” and “engagement marketing” space, we hear five where the “visionary” that sold them on the new technology that would revolutionize their brand, their company, their product, their offering has failed.

That’s because it comes down to commitment and a realization that the world of marketing is going to be more dynamic now than it has ever been. Customers, clients, employees, brand participants want control. Yet control means engaging in an interactive dialogue with the brand and brand participants. It means making the input for the various channels concise, relevant, interest and actionable.

I was recently at a loyalty conference where one of the speakers purported that we should treat our “best customer” with the best rewards and engagement. I thought to myself, what is your best customer? How do you define that customer and what are the best rewards and engagement for them? There’s no place for this type of old school thinking in this new media market of engagement, loyalty and voice of the customer.

I challenge you to listen — to truly listen — to react, and then to engage.

By Mark Johnson, Jun 17, 2010

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