Gathering intelligence to stay abreast with the needs of your customer

the Customer Experience Agenda
Kojo Manuel
  • Ensure that you are well-placed to listen, learn and act on the voice of the customer

Knowing your customer well enough can bring you immense benefits in your journey as a business. When you know your customer better than the competition, every step you take is a novelty. Ultimately, the rest of the market observes and tries to follow you by benchmarking. I recall something I learned from reading Michael Dell’s book, Direct from Dell. He said, in his business, he tries hard to be a first-mover through innovation.

According to him, driving that culture means by the time his competitors catch up with him he would have moved to the next new idea or initiative. A core function of Customer Experience is often referred to as the Voice of the Customer (VoC) programme. Its purpose is to understand the organisation’s customers dynamically to engage them consistently. Generally, the business strategy lays out the markets, methods, objectives, and metrics of organisational success, while the brand strategy sets expectations with customers.

Having a CX programme in place ensures that you have a dynamic understanding of how customers respond to the delivery of your business and brand strategy. Through frequent consistent and continuous conversations, you have direct access to customer feedback. Now, for better or for worse, feedback is a gift you can exploit as an organisation to make improvements that generate positive outcomes for both the customer and the business.

A Voice of the Customer (VoC) programme will enable you to understand what customers like, love or loathe. To help your organisation interact with customers and address their concerns proactively, you need to engage them variously: by first listening to them actively; learning about their behaviour when they engage with your business; acting or planning to act on their feedback; and identifying the right metrics for helpful insights.


There are listening posts in your organization, and these are not new as they have been there for years. If you have any doubts, just think back to the many interactions you have had with customers and how valuable they were in terms of helping you gather insightful facts for crucial decision-making and planned customer engagements. Listening is valuable, as it provides competitive intelligence and exposes blindspots where you can enhance your cross-functional coordination.

Within the business, different functions have their unique interests and advance them powerfully. I recall my own experience in a production environment where our stock valuation had different interpretations from the finance and production functions. This led to the acquisition of different software by the technical divisions after the organisation had invested in a major ERP. One might note that this is an internal issue – however, that is exactly the case.

Take the sales department, for example: they will be interested in meaningful customer insights vital to them, such as the performance of a target market that impacts support. Finance will be curious to see profitability by offering and channel; Product managers will be interested in features being enjoyed or rejected by customers, and may have some common interests with Finance – such as design improvements which may be under constant review by finance.

Therefore, in your CX Audit you should engage with the different stakeholders to understand what customer feedback data insights each of them values. Note that some of the data collected in the organisational silos may not necessarily be valuable to every stakeholder. There are a plethora of avenues for data; however, your choice of data source must be relative to your specific business need. Getting to the bottom of things will enhance your ability to address profound or unmet customer needs.

The range of listening sources may include a variety of channels. Only remember that the value of the data and information sourced will depend on your internal mechanisms and understanding of the customer. This may mean having to use different channels interchangeably, depending on the feedback and insights you chance on. Below are examples of some of the channels that may serve your quest to obtain VoC insights:

·         Purchasing records ·         App store ratings and reviews
·         Returns records ·         Formal complaints
·         Point-of-sale data ·         Survey responses
·         Telephone calls ·         Escalations
·         Web chats ·         Digital interactions on mobile app & web site
·         Case notes ·         Support tickets
·         CRM records  
·         Google ratings and reviews  

Obtaining the data and sharing, as well as leveraging it for the business, will depend a great deal on the insight and experience of the CX lead.


Here you have the opportunity to understand why customers behave the way they do with your organization, and discover where the organisation is falling short in meeting customer expectations. As a CX leader, where would you identify the gap between your organisation’s beliefs and the customer’s experience in interacting with your brand? Jeff Sheehan, a Customer Experience consultant, has proposed several approaches to harnessing the data optimally.

First, experiential data – sometimes known as X-data – are both qualitative and generated voluntarily without a prompt.  It provides a means of expressing a description of interactions and human thoughts plus the emotional consequences of those interactions. Note that customer experience weighs a great deal on the non-rational nature of the customer. Next is operational data, known generally as O-data, which tell what happened while X-data tell you why it is happening.

The CX lead combines these sources to develop a deeper pool of insights for decision-making. X-data come in both structured and unstructured formats. Structured X-data include surveys answered by numbered choice, pull-down menus in surveys, and web forms.  Unstructured X-data include verbatim comments in surveys, LinkedIn articles and comments, web chats and email posts. O-data, on the other hand, are sourced from Spreadsheets, Database files, CRM data and financial data, while its unstructured sources include sensor data, personnel records and documents.

Other platforms leverage technology to draw from sources such as marketing, sales and support. Underneath these are calls, messaging, agent notes, Survey Feedback and operational data such as sales, financial and marketing. I recall my personal experience from working in call centres while studying in the UK, where for every customer I engaged I had to keep a record of the conversation in the notes – just so I could refer to the notes before calling a customer. The key to harnessing and operationalising the data hinges on strong internal collaborations. Break silos!


The American General and President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, is quoted to have once said: “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless; but planning is indispensable”. Setting out to listen to and learn from your customer draws the line for you to obtain insights and use these to help you get the decision-making right. However, the process of obtaining and making use of customer data does not always lend itself to linear interpretation. There is much more. Know this people – the clarion call is for you to get it right!

Customer feedback presents a rich environment of opportunities for improving products, services and processes that can impact revenues and costs. Why you listen and learn from your customers is to enable you establish a framework for continual improvements. Also required is a framework for prioritising actions to be taken. Note that because these improvements span stakeholder departments and functions across the organisation, the resolutions will have to belong to persons with authority over the areas affected.

A matrix known as the Value Irritant matrix is an excellent tool for the process of identifying and prioritising CX projects. According to CX expert Jeff Sheehan, its use provides clarity on such areas as CX priorities where you align insights with current programmes, projects and resources for the current year; Customers Impacted, where you assess the impact, cost and effort required to resolve problems captured; and Brand Promises, where you analyse the degree to which issues are out of alignment with the brand’s promises.

The goal is to get to the root cause of things which when gotten rid of will fix the problem. Some root causes may require the organisation to make some adjustments and investments: such as additional staff to remedy wait times; enhanced packaging to reduce shipping damage; or upgrade lighting to make an off-premise ATM bank machine feel safer for customers to use. One recommended approach is to use what experts term the ‘5 whys’.

By asking ‘why’ 5 times, you can peel away the layers of symptoms that can potentially reveal a problem’s root cause.  You start by identifying the real problem: so for example, a problem statement such as ‘No growth in our new account openings on web-site for past 12 months’ (Source: Sheehan J., 2021) will generate several ‘whys’ – with responses such as “online applicants abandon the process without activating a new account”.  This goes with additional questions until you get to the heart of the matter.

Experts recommend that you address your VoC programme by setting up an Improvement Council. This is essentially a standing committee with members from each stakeholder function, who convene regularly to review insights and address problem areas through the development of root cause analysis at a tactical level. Their remit will be to focus on tactical work by removing friction, reducing cost, improving efficiency and sales; and trends, themes and systematic issues identified in customer and employee feedback.

These three broad areas are the main focus of a VoC programme: Listening to customers, obtaining customer feedback by capturing key points in the customer journey, and using the relevant metrics to understand their sentiments correctly. This is followed by learning and planning improvements encompassing analysis of issues and root causes, prioritising action using a Value-irritant framework, conducting stakeholder assessment, and applying Change Management principles.

Finally, acting on the insights is when you embed solutions into your processes. These include taking responsibility (being accountable) for making improvements and balancing the business’s needs with those of the customer. The CX lead is essentially a bridge-builder. S/he must be that individual who engages with all parts of the business to ensure alignment with the CX programme. Do you have a CX leader? If not, invest in one now and thank me later.

Rethinking your experience strategy to step-up growth: Keep doing what works best and aim to improve   The Writer is a Management Consultant (Change and Customer Experience). He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected], Manuel


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