Customer Experience, Customer Experience Report, Lean, Startup

A Modest Proposal to Measure the Voice of the Customer

photo by
photo by

When talking to people about customer service, I often hear them discuss the idea of the “Voice of the Customer.” Ideally, this might mean “knowing exactly what this customer wants and needs and can tell us about their service experience.” Because you can either know the exact wants and needs of a single customer or the aggregated wants and needs of a group or cohort, the idea of the Voice of the Customer is a bit fluffy without specific measurements that you and your organization agree are good metrics to show a happy (or dreadful) customer experience. Many people in the industry agree that the Net Promoter Score is a good customer satisfaction metric (percentage of people who would promote your brand minus the percentage of people who would not recommend your brand) and I believe that the Net Promoter Score doesn’t measure the real service delivery that influences these promoters or detractors.

How do you measure Service Delivery?

If you’ve read How to Measure Anything by Douglas Hubbard, you’ll also know that simply saying “Service Delivery Experience or The Voice of the Customer cannot be measured beyond ‘verbatims'” is downright silly. Hubbard states that to measure intangibles in an organization, you have to name the business drivers that matter to the company and attach some relationship to that business driver for the quantity or quality you are measuring. Will you have great measurements? Probably not at first. But you will be measuring something.

A Modest Proposal

I have a modest proposal for measuring and sharing the “Voice of the Customer” in the real Customer Experience of an organization by looking at three metrics. The first of these metrics should quantify how fast a case moves from stage to stage in the customer lifecycle, and how many times it must repeat this cycle. The second metric is the number of positive and negative custom comments accumulated in a stage per case. And the third idea involves empowerment and ownership – the organization should measure the percentage of cases that the original case owner resolves (along with the average number of transfers per case and per agent.)

Hubbard might think these are just starting points for measurement, and I agree that I don’t have 90% confidence in what the ranges are for these values. I do know that to carry out this plan, I’ll start by making my best guess at a 90% confidence interval for each of these metrics, show some tactics to improve (or measure) the items, and then track the changes over time to see if the overall customer experience is improving. How will I know whether the experience is improving? My hypothesis is that a good customer experience overall – across multiple touch points, devices, and methods of communication – will improve overall business drivers. If I can do a better job of tracking the customer experience inputs I will be better able to create a customer experience funnel that ends with a great review, a buying experience, or a positive comment that’s not related to a product.

Using the Delivery Experience as a Measure of Customer Happiness

The first item in this list is to name the stages of the customer lifecycle and show (by cohort if possible) how long it takes for the customer to move from one stage to the next. You might start with a simple list like “searching,” “ready to buy,” “purchased,” “implemented,” “post-installation” and see if there are easy ways to find this data. You can usually find information like this from your sales team – it’s a clever hack to use it for customer service as well and see if the experience can aid or hinder a customer’s movement from stage to stage.

Do you know all the stages in the customer lifecycle? Probably not. And you know them better than anyone who comes from outside your company and doesn’t deal with the same issues you do and handle your customers. So your guess is better than most.

Takeaway: name the stages of the customer lifecycle (or borrow them from sales) and apply them to the customer cases you handle.

How many people contact this hypothetical customer in your company? If it’s more than one contact from Sales and one contact from Customer Service, you might have a problem. It’s true – there are lots of contact centers and small teams that happily disperse customer contacts to an account team or to whomever picks up the phone or answers the email – and as a customer, you know how that feels. It’s really frustrating when you find someone who understands your problem and then not be able to contact that resource directly the next time you need help. Why not follow the lead of CDW, who has a large organization yet lets you know the direct dial number of your contact team. With phone routing, this is not a hard problem – the bigger problem involves the scripting and handling of the situation when that agent is not available. So maybe there’s a compromise.

Takeaway: have a goal that one Agent owns the customer’s case throughout the lifetime of that case.

So if you try this modest proposal and find some customer lifecycle stages and help the customer by limiting their contacts to a person or an account team, how do you tell the rest of your company about what you learned? You’ll need to create a report that’s shared widely within the company at an interval that makes sense to you. Weekly is a great cadence to hit if you can manage it, and if you can automate at least some of the data collection from customers at different stages of the lifecycle their comments will make even more sense. A new customer who can’t finish a basic task in your software is a different kind of risk than a long-term customer who can’t do the same basic task. They both might need hand-holding but you might use different resources to help them.

Share your insights in Bite-Sized Pieces

When you share this information with the rest of the company, you’ll need to keep your message executive style. Other people want to know how the customer experience is improving, holding steady, or getting worse. They also may want to know about specific interesting comments people make and whether these eye openers lead to bugs that your development team can fix. And once you hear about a bug more than a few times, well then you have a stack-ranked priority.

Takeaway: share what you learn, and please, keep it to a single-page presentation.

The “voice of the customer” is really more than just a single statistic – it’s a holistic process to bring customer input into your company, quantify it, and to take this measured data as an input into the way you do business. By better understanding your customers and where they are in the process.

You can find 47 other ways to improve the customer experience here.

Customer Experience, Customer Experience Report, Life Hacks, Productivity, Startup

The Customer Experience Report for Jan 26, 2013

Hello! I’m sharing insights about customer experience.
Please let me know what you like, don’t like, and if you’d like to subscribe, you can get an email in your inbox here.

The Customer Experience Report

January 26, 2013 – An Occasional Newsletter (Vol. 2, No. 1)
Rules for Better Customer Experience: Hacking Your Brain

Brad Feld shared a story about meetings and making them better this week, including the memorable rule #0: Do We Need To Meet? This story made me think about the process of customer engagement and of a few suggestions that can make the process of delivering and receiving the experience better all around (and not just in meetings).

Hack Your Brain to Change the Situation
These suggestions have to do with brain hacks: specifically, the idea of reframing the situation and of suggesting a “Best Practice.” Reframing means to present the scenario so that you can change the way that people see things and suggest an alternate solution.

In my experience, one of the most powerful reframing tools is “The Happy Path” – it’s basically a way of saying “when nothing goes wrong, this is the best expected outcome for the process” – and suggesting this path to the customer. When the customer is closest to the ideal persona (a user model popularized by Alan Cooper), then the combination of the Happy Path and the ideal persona can produce a documentation of the ideal customer experience.

Matching the Happy Path with the Real World
Except when it’s not the ideal customer experience, because as we know, the Happy Path and the Ideal Persona rarely meet. It’s also really important to be able to say no instead of maybe to a customer who’s trying to do something that doesn’t really fit the experience.

It’s tempting to let them wander on and come up with an “almost” solution, and this often causes problems later on from a support or experience perspective when the “almost” solution encounters a hitch or a bug or a change of mind. So how can you introduce a bit of the Happy Path to the customer without diverting them dramatically or by trying to create a kind of customer model that they can’t ever meet?

The Just-in-Time Happy Path
One way to do this – especially in a feature rich product – is to uncover the right solution to a problem that they didn’t know that they have yet. An example from the CRM and Customer Service world is the ability to combine merge text (variables that substitute values from a case, customer, or company) with pre-written or “canned” content. By adding this very simple change, you can turn formulaic content into something a bit more personal, and streamline what could be a tedious manual process.

How can I learn more about Personas?
To get started, you can read the Cooper Group’s Guide to Personas. You should also read this article about making personas your team can actually believe in and embrace. Finally, consider this article about making sure that the details of your personas are grounded in fact and not just in vague description.

tl;dr: Customers may have a hard time finding The Happy Path on their own, and as an expert, you need to share multiple happy paths they can traverse.

Great stories from this week

Why our brains like short-term goals (from Entrepreneur Magazine)

Setting an experience and a reward is better than just money (from Digital Telepathy)

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Teach Critical Thinking (via @getlittlebird)

You can also find up-to-date customer experience tidbits here

Customer Experience Report

The Customer Experience Report for Dec 15th, 2012

Hello! This is a new experiment to share insights about customer experience. Please let me know what you like, don’t like, and if you’d like to subscribe, you can get an email in your inbox here.

The Customer Experience Report

December 15, 2012 – An Occasional Newsletter (Vol. 1, No. 1)
Legos: A Great Metaphor for Customer Experience

Lego bricks are simple, colorful, and atomic. They are necessary to build models of more complex systems, and are not sufficient by themselves (usually) to make a complete experience. You use Lego bricks together to create larger tools and models.

Building Blocks (photo by

A good model for Customer Experience?
The tools and methods of customer experience don’t work very well in a vacuum. Only by understanding what you’re doing (the end goal), the tools you need to get there (the pieces of the set) and the methods you employ to get to where you’re going with the tools you have (the recipe for putting the pieces together) can you build a coherent customer experience strategy that makes sense and that works for your organization.

Wait, are Legos really a good model for this? Yes, because it’s easier to get people to update the smallest big thing they can find and use that action as a catalyst to improve an entire system. Too often people in an organization get overwhelmed by the scope of change required to move (small) mounains.

“Up and Stumbling” as a first step
Using a metaphor like a lego brick or a lego set encourages your team members to fight for the things they already know how to change and to minimize the likelihood that they will try to “boil the ocean” or take on more of a project than they know how to do at the moment.

Really, how can I get started?
To learn more about using Legos for organizational change, you might check out this article by the Learning Institute at Lego; and also read this account of organizational change at Lego (a little meta, but awesome to see them using their own methods.) Finally, you can see how Organizational Change consultants position Lego as a means for change.

tl;dr: To succeed in big changes, make the smallest big change you can.

Great stories from this week

Why more features doesn’t mean success (from the KissMetrics Blog)

Designing Sequences not stills (from DesTraynor of Buffer)

Startups, please write better emails (from @mhj)

You can also find up-to-date customer experience tidbits here