One of the cornerstones of key account management is Voice of the Customer — insightful feedback directly from the customer that reveals their experiences and expectations, helps predict their loyalty, and even informs how products and services can be improved. But how do you deal with people who are unenthusiastic about surveys, and what if you can’t always reach the right people?
At KAMCon 2018, Waypoint Group principal Steve Bernstein outlined a detailed framework to effectively capture the voice of the customer using methods that target the most relevant and viable participants, help to eliminate blind spots, and ensure more trustworthy information.
What gets in the way?
At some point, everyone in key account management has encountered the difficulties with getting good customer feedback. You know these well:
- Lack of engagement: customers are often less than attentive, excited, and responsive
- Lack of alignment: everyone is rowing in different directions — in your organization and the customer’s
- Reactivity: instead of being able to proactively ask for feedback, you can only ask for it in reactive mode when something is wrong or there’s a crisis
- Organizational friction: changing up how you get feedback doesn’t work when there’s a mentality of “We’ve always done it this way”
- The wrong audience: it’s easy to get stuck talking to people at a tactical level when you really need to talk to the buyers and decision-makers
- Accountability problems: it’s hard to know who really owns customer outcomes and results
- Lack of visibility: not being able to see across teams or even fully within the account makes it difficult to know what to ask and how to follow up
- Loss of an executive sponsor: reorganization means you have to start over with someone else, losing the rapport you’ve built up and momentum
These difficulties matter because they impact efficiency, effectiveness, and most of all the truth. Without honest, concrete information from the right people, everything gets based upon opinion. The assumption then is, “No one’s opinion is better than my own,” which creates conflict and leads to tunnel vision.
A framework for better customer feedback
To increase engagement and get better answers to surveys and questionnaires, you need to utilize a better Voice of Customer plan:
Start with the who
Notice how we didn’t say customer? That’s because it’s really hard to define customer. When you ask who the customer is, you get a bunch of different answers. Instead, talk about contacts, accounts, personas, and roles.
Then ask: who have I been getting feedback from up until now? And if people aren’t giving feedback, what does it mean? Maybe they don’t know what’s in it for them and they see no reason to participate.
Action item: Vet your contact list. Get to the people who influence product retention and expansion. That way you’re not blasting a survey to every contact when it may be totally irrelevant to many of them.
Develop the right questions
Asking for the moon may be tempting while you’ve got someone’s attention, but what really matters in the end is whatever gives you the insight you need to provide value and drive toward the customer’s desired outcomes. If things are going well, it’s an opportunity for expansion. If things aren’t going well, then it’s because something probably needs to get fixed.
Action item: Ask what’s working and not working, along with what the customer expected, why they expected it, and what they actually experienced. When you focus together on the things that actually impact the business, you can offer appropriate solutions and incentives.
Enlist the right help
A day-to-day contact or customer champion knows their own organization. They know who the power users are and how to reach them to get the depth and breadth of feedback you need.
Action item: Delegate recruiting to the champion. Have them forward an email to other users asking them to participate. These users are more likely to respond to a request from someone they know and trust within their organization than to a vendor.
Worry less about convenience
Asking for feedback over the phone may seem easier, but it results in two things: 1) It puts people on the spot, making it less likely they’ll give real and honest answers, and 2) It limits who you can share feedback with in your organization.
Action item: Set up your survey or questionnaire for written responses. The quality of answers will be higher and more informative. And you can share the feedback more easily with other teams and stakeholders in your organization.
Sending out a survey isn’t a one-and-done process. Not only do you need to make sure all the people who agreed to participate actually do so, you also need to be prepared for any answer you get. Amazing feedback? Great, now what? Or what if the feedback is negative? What will you offer and how will you help?
Action item: Form a coalition. Get a member of each team — product, customer success, support — and share with them the representative customer feedback. Then ask what they’d like to do with it. With their input, develop a plan that incorporates the feedback into something valid and tangible for your key accounts that actually satisfies and follows up on the “What’s in it for me?” question.
Care about the truth, not response rates
While getting a wide range of responses is certainly ideal, what’s even more important is the truth. That’s why it’s detrimental to an organization if the type of feedback received is tied to performance management or compensation.
Being serious about helping customers succeed means that positive and negative feedback has to be welcome and actionable, and that achieving desired outcomes is the ultimate goal.