This particular blog is almost certainly going to get me into trouble. That’s because, as I like to do sometimes, I am taking on a sacred cow. The cow in question is named Net Promoter Score (but let’s call him NPS).
According to netpromoter.com, “Net Promoter Score®, or NPS®, measures customer experience and predicts business growth. This proven metric transformed the business world and now provides the core measurement for customer experience management programs the world round.”
Wow! It appears my sacred cow has a pretty strong resume. And in truth I do applaud the emergence of NPS as a way to consistently, perhaps constantly, be measuring customer sentiment based on likelihood to recommend. It is a simple and powerful tool that probably has in fact dramatically increased the tendency for service providers to collect feedback.
But it is also true, I think, that NPS is woefully simplistic for getting to the heart of customers’ perceptions of their service experiences. So while I support using NPS as the broad “sensor”, I always supplement it with “Voice of the Customer’” interviews. The two work well together, with NPS providing a broad signal and Voice of the Customer interviews providing the information needed to drive improvements.
So what are Voice of the Customer interviews? Technically, the VOC methodology is aligned with product requirements and customer expectations work during the design phase of a new product. But I stretch the concept to include customer’s experiences of a service or product we are already providing. Either way, what is consistent is that VOC is built around structured interviews.
The structured interview model lets us get quantitative data – scores – and qualitative impressions as well. I may ask ten questions and ask for a score on each, but there will be a chance to ask for the customer’s reason for the score and to ask follow-on questions. The results will be written in the form of an interview summary, and help provide insight into the key question of “why” a customer gave the score.
Only with the “why” part answered do I get a good solid lead on what I need to fix. So NPS may tell me the customer is very unhappy, but VOC tells me what I need to do to make them happy again.
The good news is that implementing a basic VOC model is pretty easy, actually. I usually do them through twice a year meetings with customers, though some would do it quarterly and some annually. And depending on the size of the business you may want to meet every customer, or you may decide to use a rotating representative sample of customers. And of course NPS scores can direct me to the customers that I most need to connect with.
In these business reviews, I use a set of five to ten structured questions to solicit a score, usually on the “strongly agree” to strongly “disagree model”. An example question might be “The implementation of the product was well planned and I was kept well informed.” I use the same questions for every customer, so that I can get scores across all the interviews.
After each question and score, I then engage the customer in the “why” part of the process. This can be two minutes or up to even ten minutes if there is a deep vein of information to mine. I take careful notes, and I engage and follow up as appropriate.
To make this work the best, there are a few important practices:
1. Do not do VOC interviews with a single customer representative if possible. Try to expand the team on the customer side so that you get a sense of the team’s perceptions, and so that the information does not reveal one person’s prejudices.
2. Have the interviewer be someone who has NOT been involved in the day-to-day interactions with the customer. In my case I do these sessions myself, in the role of head of services – I think having a very senior person conveys the importance of the session.. I also like to have a second person with me so that we can distill the feedback effectively.
3. Do not make these sessions all about specific issues or items that need to be ticketed and addressed. It can be hard to avoid, but the goal is to get above the transaction level to the pattern level, so that we can understand what needs to change to improve the pattern (such as a process change).
4. Communicate the results carefully. If the information gathered is seen as ammunition to cast aspersions on another part of the company, the whole effort can be negated, resulting in acrimony and defensiveness. So communicating the insights gathered should be done in person, in a group setting; for example in a gathering of the senior members of each department (product, support, sales, services). It should be facilitated carefully to derive the answer to the question “what can we do to improve in this area.”
So there you have it. As you can see, I did not actually try to kill the sacred cow. Net Promoter is a powerful tool that helps us get a sense of how we are doing. But when combined with Voice of the Customer interviews, we have a really powerful way to collect, distill and communicate where exactly we are doing well and where specifically we could be doing better.
And that’s a good thing, because no one knows as much about how well you are delivering your services, and what you need to do better, than your customers…you just have to ask.