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Step 10 Making customer feedback part of your daily strategy diet

· 12 Steps

Back in Step 2 of these 12 Steps to Flow we discussed improving customer segmentation as a way of accelerating innovation. But customers are the beginning and end point of a giant loop for the modern business. We start with customers and we continuously request information from them and channel it into the mix of innovation and social interaction at our visualisation walls. Almost nothing happens without a customer commentary on value.

Flow is a value seeking activity and far and away the lightest framework for implementing business agility. Customers are your best source of information on value, indeed your only real source, and we orientate the Flow framework towards them through a range of customer innovation and value-seeking activities.

The idea of customer centricity is fairly commonplace as is a customer-centric architecture. Very often though this can be read as: sell more to them. Customer centricity gets dragged back into old habits of sales and marketing targets.

A slightly different perspective on that is to regard the customer as a beacon for personalisation or the Amazon-style “market-of-one”. This is just another way of selling cross-sell!

In Flow we are seriously talking about using the customer-voice to build better products, features and relationships. How do we go about it?

  1. Customer labs

  2. The Hack Box (Internal Entrepreneurs)

  3. Integration of the customer voice at different points in the development and strategy building process

Customer labs

At Aviva, where Fin now works, developers have constant access to customers through the Customer Lab. People are invited into the lab in order to review new products, features and product ideas. It is exactly what it says: a place to interact with customers in an experimental environment. It is one check on the tendency for companies to develop what they think customers want and then spend a small fortune trying to convince customers to buy.

In fact, at Aviva they use Design Thinking and Design Sprints. These techniques give the team a shortcut to learning without having to build and launch a new proposition.

The Hackbox

A related idea is The Hack Box. In the place of old hackathons or moonshot programs, The Hack Box is a simple invite to individuals and teams to bring a new product idea forward and get a modest amount of resources to test and iterate. It gives employees a chance to take a small step towards a bigger strategic product or proposition.

The box contains guidance on how to use things such as the Business Model Canvas and some seed money to test ideas with customers. An associated training and mentoring program guides employees towards being “Intrepreneurs” and helps them to develop relevant propositions for the Insurance business.

Almost the same way that external disruptors would approach attacking the Insurance value chain. It’s the lean startup but within the enterprise.

The integration of the customer voice

The third way to bring customers closer into your business is through a more thorough integration of the customer’s voice into all aspects of development and strategy. It’s an extremely interactive customer feedback loop.

Most startups use this process because they are not encumbered by reams of ineffective processes or teams of ‘jobs-worths’. The vision and purpose of startups is firmly centered on customer value, a relentless focus on customer experience and the real-time feedback of customer events into all internal processes.

The diagram below (the Customer Feedback Wall) shows how all companies can do just that and begin to cultivate the startup adaptability they need.

In the first column we collect customer pain points. By explaining the columns that follow we can tell you how those pain points are dealt with at every level of development and strategy.

Identifying the pain points

But first how do we collect customer pain points? There are a variety of sources.

  • Customers leave reviews (sometimes just star scores) on a website. That’s valuable information, especially if they have gone to the trouble of writing down their comments. A lot of companies tend to get defensive about that, or just summarise the feedback in percentages of good/negative feedback but it is far and away your best source of insight if acted on immediately.

  • Then there are telephone calls into the contact/call centres, which again are very valuable data. People have gone to the trouble of telling you what they want to see changed.

  • Then there is social media listening. Every organisation has access to listening tools and sentiment analysis. Especially from channels such as Twitter.

  • You also have data from your customer lab, from Google or other analytics packages, and the analysis of when customers drop out of a sign-up process or on-line customer journey.

  • This amounts to a pretty comprehensive set of insights as to what customers find difficult about you. There are times as well when it tells you what you are doing right. The negatives though need to be embraced because they tell you how to save money or how to serve customers better, modify products/propositions and presumably make more money.

    Prioritising the backlog

    You need a system to score pain points so that you can set priorities on your backlog of work to be done. That can be as simple as taking the percentage of times that a particular complaint comes up. If more customers are complaining, better fix it quick.

    But there may be other priorities. There could be a new product or feature launch that you particularly want to keep abreast of, and that will be a priority; or perhaps there is a regulatory requirement and you need to accelerate customer acknowledgement of their rights.

    In Flow we are never prescriptive about how to plan priorities. It depends on the company and the environment. All we say is you need to make those priorities explicit.

    Evaluation and valuation

    This column on the Customer Feedback Wall serves two purposes. One needs to evaluate the impact of the customer pain point and, two, if possible assign a valuation for it.

    The evaluation allows you to allocate the pain point to ‘no change required, ‘a process change’, or allocation to a team for ratification.

    The valuation drives the priority. For instance, can you put a $ number against a pain point? What is ‘non-action’ in this area costing you?

    It is always worth having a stab at quantifying the cost question but it’s often impossible to put an exact figure on it. You can maintain the tradition we talked about in Flow. Is it a $, $$ or $$$ problem? How long is it likely to take to resolve and what might its impact be on other parts of the service features or infrastructure?

    You may also want to have a set of metrics to measure outputs from customer feedback.

    Don’t opt for something as crude as the sheer number of amendments made. In talking with other Flow practitioners we have become acutely aware that old metrics of speed and throughput tell you little about quality. You need to seek out metrics like: reduction in a particular complaint; more forms filled out to completion; extra sales on a particular product line.

    No change required

    Not all problems can be resolved by an action in a product team. Maybe the complaint is price. You can send that kind of information upstairs to be evaluated but there is very little that can be done to resolve it without a change of strategy.

    Increasingly, smart companies are choosing not to discount prices but instead to find gamified ways to incentivize customers to stay on the website and discover value. If there is a series of complaints about price, you may want to suggest gamification as a strategy for maintaining interaction with customers. But for now you have to say ‘No Change Required’.

    Assigned to digital team

    You will have your own terminology for this. Assigned to the digital team simply means, in this case, that the complaint can be fixed by the team managing the company’s online presence and sales channels. It is, if you like, a local problem and can be fixed without impacting the platform.

    Assigned to Core Team

    Sometimes it does need a change to the platform and in those cases it is assigned to a core team that has enough understanding of how to integrate changes with other areas of the platform architecture.

    Assigned to process change

    In some cases the customer complaint will be highlighting a fundamental flaw in your work processes (either online or in the back office). You may have a flurry of complaints around a feature set produced at more or less the same time, for example, that demonstrably have been poorly integrated.

    Or it may be the user-logic has not been thought through adequately. For example imagine a situation whereby a customer is encouraged to apply for a product or associated feature, only to find out that they don’t qualify because of age or some other disqualifying issue. The process change in this case relates to getting customer qualifications earlier in the process.The change would simply be to say that people under X years or over Y years cannot apply for product Z upfront before making them complete the entire customer journey only to be rejected. This time-waster will lose you a customer for life but it is surprising how often customer journeys are complete time wasters.

    In these cases it is not enough to provide a fix. You need to raise questions about how you work. Those questions need to be aired at a Learning Wall and documented in the minimalist tradition of Flow. No drama, no blame. Just make sure you learn.

    Back to the Portfolio Wall

    A smaller class of customer feedback can also imply that errors have been made in strategic thinking. Perhaps executives have been too enthusiastic about a product line or maybe they’ve been slow to bury ideas that have been hanging out there for a long time with very little uptake. Whatever the reason might be, some features and products or even marketing ideas have to go back to be rethought.

    In this case, they are projects. And they need to fight for priority on the Executive Portfolio Wall.

    In Summary

    There you have it. In the book Flow we illustrate how customer feedback fits into the strategy and development processes. In the 12 steps we are taking you a bit further into the detail. We want to emphasise though that you own the detail and Flow is not a straightjacket or a set of instructions. It is a light framework. The minimalist framework for Business Agility.

    You always need to manage customer feedback and show rapid responsiveness. We’ve sketched out a way to do it. You will have your own ideas.

    You can see from the Customer Feedback Wall above that developing those ideas and creating detail in how you deal with customers is a simple process.

    It is simple but it does need dedication to the right ideals about customers. There will always be pressure to upsell, cross sell and sell more. However, old marketing techniques like these threaten your ability to manage a sustainable relationship with the customer. It is better to demonstrate day after day that you can be responsive and that you care enough to change. Customers are looking for you to have a purpose and to show you have strong values. Demonstrating those values in your customer relationships is a great place to start.

    And remember, when a customer becomes a fan of your products, services or company, that loyalty leads to a natural tendency for customer led cross-purchase and not company enforced cross-sell.

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