People holding up signs with letters on them that spell the word, "Help!"
PHOTO: Betsy Weber

Apple CEO Tim Cook last year said in an interview with CNBC the company's stock price should be the result "of doing other things well." Specifically, he cited customer experience and making sure customers are treated well. It's great that the CEO of a company closing in on $1 trillion in valuation values the customer so greatly.

Sabina Schneider, discover partner for Globant, said VoC initiatives bring “incredible value” because customers have the best understanding of what the end-user truly wants and values. “By leveraging this, CX professionals can have a glimpse into their [customers] perspective and develop a strategy actually built around the customer. However, it’s up to CX professionals who drive Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs to actually get executives like Cook to buy in to their programs, which can be a daunting, yet worthy task. “Many executives pay homage to customer experience publicly while taking action like reducing the workforce or delaying experience-related investments in pursuit of near-term profit," said Russ Haswell, vice president of retail for Medallia.

Medallia studied 275 customer experience programs in a report to help answer this question. Overall their findings showed that programs that shared feedback directly with executives achieved scores 6 points higher, on average, than those that did not. "The leaders recognize the value of customer experience to both near and long-term success,” said Haswell.

So how do customer experience professionals break through to those leaders and get them on the VoC bandwagon? We caught up with some experts who shared tips on getting executives to buy in to their programs. 

Related Article: Transforming Listening Into Action: Fortifying Voice of Customer Programs

Getting Leadership Buy-in

Turning these customer experience ambitions into reality is a tough sell with executive leadership, according to Faith Adams, a Forrester analyst who authored the report this month, “How To Drive Action With Your Voice Of The Customer Program.” (fee required). “There's still a struggle for people to actually believe at that executive level how important it is. I think there's still unfortunately a thought around on CX (customer experience) kind of being a one-and-done activity with some organizations, and that makes it really hard to demonstrate the value and the impact on an ongoing basis,” said Adams. 

Related Article: Why Your Voice of the Customer Data Isn't Actionable (and What to Do About It)

Be a Politician

VoC success may start with a little politicking. “I joke that the role of CX practitioners is often that of having to be a politician,” Adams said. It’s all about finding ways to get other people to do what needs to be done or enabling people to do the right thing. "...it takes so much time, and I think a lot of people take for granted how difficult it can be, especially at older organizations.,” she said.

Kathleen Hickey, marketing manager at Usabilla, said that for CEOs and top-level decision makers, CX technology is just a survey tool. “CX professionals need to communicate that VoC programs go far beyond this. If used correctly, VoC can help gauge and improve the overall health of a business, retain customers, drive innovation, improve marketing effectiveness and more,” Hickey said. 

Have a Prioritization Framework

It’s great to know what you need to do. But a lot of organizations struggle to prioritize, according to Adams. One organization she worked with had a prioritization table more than 50 plus things, many of which were make-or-break CX issues. “But because of conflicting opinions, rather than using data they struggled to actually get anything done,” she said

Implement a prioritization framework, and ensure the CX teams own it, is what Adams advised, “In most cases, they don't [own it]. That ability to develop processes — that's incredibly important.” 

Know Your Executives' Language 

Understand what's important to your executives and then highlight how this will help them in language they can appreciate and understand. Find a way to tie VoC programs to revenue, for example, like average customer spend, a share of wallet and account profitability. “Without the inclusion of these financial elements, the case for a VoC programs will struggle to create resonance,” Hickey said.

Tie VoC to Business Objectives

Andrew Park, senior director of customer experience strategy at InMoment, said CX professionals too often misunderstand the objectives of the business from the executives’ point of view. “Many CX leaders build their programs in a vacuum, measuring outcomes that may be important to them, but may have little or no connection to other parts of the business. For example, if your company is in cost-cutting and efficiency mode, your CX initiatives need to fit that mold. Customer experience cannot be isolated and must be tied to larger business objectives,” he said. 

Customer experience professionals must present how a given VoC strategy is directly aligned with the overall business strategy, Hickey added. While it’s challenging to measure things like Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Effort Score (CES), CX professionals need to come prepared to explain the ROI and KPIs of their VoC programs.

Tell Stories

Medallia’s Haswell said that executives are “Storytellers in Chief.” Obsess on the customer using both data and stories. “Stories move people,” he said. “Arm them with stories about customer impact, using real customer comments, and customer obsession will follow.”

Build a Strong Collaboration Culture

Kristin McPeak, design operations director for PointSource, a Globant company, said too often company culture doesn’t embrace a collaborative mindset. However, she points out, once a collaborative mindset gets a foothold at a company, getting executive buy-in on VOC programs becomes much easier. “There will be a general understanding that seeking insight, especially that of customers, is key to success. Within our organization, we prioritize a process of participation which includes co-design and co-development to help organizations think beyond the confines of lateral and departmental input,” McPeak said.

Her team invites customers into their offices and creates workspaces that are designed specifically to foster collaboration. “This type of workplace culture, provides results that resonate with executives and creates further buy-in and confidence in the process,” she said.

Related Article: Is Your Voice of the Customer Program All Talk and No Action?

Explain Impact on Employee Morale

Forrester analyst, Adams referred to a success story with Comcast that highlights how VoC can impact employee morale as well. 

She shared that the cable giant had a credit program where it was revealed that management routinely had to approve 90 percent of the escalated calls. It was a bad experience for customers and a frustration for employees. Because their VoC analytics discovered this, Comcast made improvements and saw not only a benefit in customer experience but their employees Net Promoter Score climbed upwards of 60 points in some locations.

Celebrate Successes, Even Small Ones

Don’t be afraid to set conservative goals. “If you could reduce call volumes by even 2 percent that can be sometimes upwards of millions of dollars. So don't be afraid to even be conservative in terms of what you are thinking in your initiatives,” Adams said. 

InMoment’s Park seconded that, adding too many CX professionals make the mistake of not taking credit for change that VoC drives. “Often, CX pros get stuck tying their success to a single metric. Insights that come from well-executed VoC programs can elevate every area of the business, from a straightforward reduction in customer churn that comes from resolving individual customer concerns, increasing employee effectiveness and morale, streamlining new product development and testing, optimizing marketing campaigns — the list goes on,” said Park.