Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Why Now and How? Voice of the Customer as a Powerful Tool During COVID-19

Innovation / Strategy

This blog was co-authored by Stephanie Bannos and Annicka Campbell-Dollaghan.

Recent years have seen a surge in companies labelling themselves as “customer-centric”—and the numbers provides a window into why. Recent data from Bain and Company found that a 10% increase in customer retention can spur a 30% increase in company value. The Consumers 2020 Report predicted, quite accurately, that customer experience will overtake price and product as the key differentiator for brands.

The pandemic has shifted this inevitable trend into overdrive. Part can be attributed to logistical issues brought about by supply chain disruptions as consumers abandoned once-cherished brands for those that made their way onto shelves. But the more critical change is that consumers are experiencing brands almost entirely remotely; there is little room for error, as a sour experience can easily lead to a simple closing of a browser window.

Now is not the time to delay customer experience initiatives for short-term cost savings. At the top of our list of recommended initiatives is implementing or expanding your Voice of Customer (VoC) program to home in on the moving target that is “Customer Needs” in 2021. These programs capture a granular level of actionable data that is capable of informing strategy for months to come.

Your VoC program must be dynamic and adaptable to the rapidly changing customer and employee ecosystem, and thereby be built to provide timely, consistent feedback to inform impactful changes to the customer experience.

“What I think is interesting about the evolution of this research is how much we have come to treat it as a fluid, ongoing process,” says Annicka Campbell-Dollaghan, Director of Research at Rightpoint. “Over the past decade, we’ve talked a lot about how to do this type of research in a way that is nimble and fluid, and reflects the quickly evolving nature of our behavior as consumers. Voice of customer in particular has been one area that has really benefited from that opening up of more agile research tools.”

Using VoC to Understand Uncertainty

For a salient example of the type of insight VoC programs are best positioned to capture, look no further than how the pandemic has affected consumers’ personal finance efforts. According to Accenture, 50% of consumers rank financial security as one of their top three priorities right now. Basically, consumers only see a finite amount of money in their account and are unsure when more might arrive. Each purchasing decision, therefore, is made only after much deliberation and might represent a shift brought about by the pandemic. Separately, in a survey conducted by Accenture, 61% of consumers are making more environmentally friendly, sustainable or ethical purchases right now, with 89% likely to continue post-crisis.

“For brands to future proof their business, they need to be thinking holistically about the entire customer lifecycle and building out an insights program that includes engagement data, transaction data and VoC data to more proactively identify trends in different customer segments,” says Stephanie Bannos, Vice President and Head of Customer Experience solutions at Rightpoint. “If brands invest in that infrastructure, they can watch for leading indicators and be proactive in terms of maintaining engagement and winning back customers who are at risk.”

With a VoC program in place, your company can stay ahead of the curve by preparing for when consumer budgets increase and acting on this change as soon as it occurs. 

The Right Data, Not More of It

After several years of emphasizing data collection, mature brands are well aware that not all facts and figures are created equal. As a result, many are adjusting their methods to collect more qualitative data to balance and supplement the quantitative. Benefits of qualitative data include:

  • Serving as a helpful indicator of the current consumer mindset
  • Better informing shifts when long-term numerical trends are fluctuating wildly (which is the case across the board now)
  • Customers feel heard when able to share the nuance of their voice, versus having their opinion limited to quantitative, static data points

To get started, we recommend you focus on the most actionable data by inquiring into what’s called the “worrier” segment. These are customers who will help you to identify the trends and opportunities that will continue after the pandemic—it’s normal to worry, and even more normal to let those fears dominate current behavior.  

“We know the pandemic has accelerated many of the transformative shifts consumers were already starting to travel down, which has been top-of-mind for a lot of brands, so doing VoC research on an ongoing basis is going to be even more important,” Campbell-Dollaghan says. “Our behavior as consumers is changing so rapidly; you have to keep a pulse on it.”

Impact Over Isolation

Post-pandemic, customers will remember the businesses that helped them through 2020 but will also remember those who were unable to step up to the plate. And unfortunately this level of action is rare; McKinsey found that value, availability and quality—all three difficult to maintain during a pandemic—were the main drivers for consumers to try a different brand.

Your business can’t focus solely on survival. You must demonstrate a commitment to helping your customers and fulfilling their current expectations, including easing their lives in these tough times. VoC provides the means to really listen to your customers—then listen again—to provide them with an outlet to express their emotions and needs. Brands who do this will come out of the pandemic more prepared, more customer centric and at an advantage over their competition.

“This is a time of really rapid and accelerating change in terms of consumer behavior and expectations,” Campbell-Dollaghan says. “The confluence of evolving technology, with regards to measuring customer sentiment, intersecting with evolving customer behavior, intersecting with a lot of companies becoming or realizing a full customer experience transformation has made now the time to rethink what the future looks like at the outset of this new era, post-COVID.”

To learn more about how to begin this paradigm shift toward a targeted VoC program, reach out to Rightpoint and let us know what you’re hoping to accomplish. We’ll take it from there.