Tag Archives: Brand strategy

Voice of the Customer: Real or Artificial?

Thanks to Six Sigma, most companies, large and small, embrace the importance of the Voice of the Customer. As a right-brainer, most of Six Sigma just plain drives me crazy because it just seems so obvious. And the Voice of the Customer as a “break-through” concept really annoyed me. Learning insights from customers is what I (and every other decent marketer) have done throughout my career.

The silver lining was that when I worked with Six Sigma companies that adhered to the process, at least I could be assured of having SOME research instead of being told, “no need to do research–we won’t learn anything from it”. Or, “we’ll just focus-group it”. It turns out that in far too many cases, the Voice of the Customer efforts are perfunctory, watered-down, cheap, and follow the old way of companies having their own agenda and pressing it on their customers.

I have been working with a major technology company that is famous, admired and outstanding in many ways. The work focuses simplifying and improving the brand experience of a very specific group of customers who, in aggregate, generate large amounts of revenue. The company (like many other business-to-business marketers) has created an advisory board that consists of a cross-section of these customers, and they consult with them frequently and regularly. They used the advisory board to re-structure this particular business offering.  This counts as the “voice of the customer”, right?

Wrong. When we reached out to these customers on behalf of the client, the results were astonishing. Despite all the efforts of the company to elicit their opinions, it just is not the same as having a conversation with an independent third party. Sample comments:

“The fact that they have hired you to ask these questions gives me hope that they really will make changes…”

“[Company] does take feedback and act on it, but most of us are too shy to speak up…”

“You’re not from [Company] are you? Ok, now I can tell you what I think…”

Many people disagree, of course. Including past clients of mine. They want to do the interviews themselves. Or they want to listen in on the calls, and participate in asking the questions. At the end of the day, though, when they provide their notes and conclusions, real insights are often lacking.

My only regret is that we only had time and budget for a handful of interviews to speak for more than 100,000 customers.

Another client of mine who believes in the importance of classic marketing allowed me to interview prospects for their reactions to his business proposition. Every one of the prospects took the call. One called me from his vacation in Aspen. Another spent 90 minutes on the phone with us, detailing how my client could improve his presentation.

This just does not happen when the people inside do the asking. It’s an artificial Voice of the Customer. Hearing the real thing makes a big difference.

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Ouch! Banks Get Skewered In Latest Edelman Trust Barometer

Went to a breakfast presentation this morning, held by the FCS.  The subject was “The State of Trust in Financial Services 2010”.  Let’s face it, I didn’t expect that the content would be upbeat. It was not. But the subject is interesting and provocative and the speakers were very good.

The core of the presentation was the Edelman 2010 Trust Barometer survey. This past year, the survey, for the first time, did a deep dive on the financial services industry. The findings show that when all categories (NGOs, Business, Government, Media) are combined, the level of trust in institutions tends to track with the S&P. Trust levels overall have bounced back from the 2009 lows by an average of 18%. Not so for banks–trust in banks continues to decline.

What does “trust” mean in the context of the survey? It means the ability and willingness of a company or institution to “do the right thing”.

Tech companies are the most trusted, according to Edelman. The worst? Financial Services.

The drill down allowed for segmentation within the Financial Services industry by type of company. Community and regional banks rank highest, and private equity firms are lowest, even worse than investment bankers.

So what’s the industry supposed to do?

1. Stop fighting with regulators, and work with them for a change

2. Be honest and transparent

3. Focus on quality not quantity of communications

4. Spend less time pushing product and more time providing service

5. Engage employees and customers alike

I will provide my point of view on these in my next post.

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The Toyota Train Wreck

It almost seems unfair to pile on criticism of Toyota, but for a company that has done so much that is right for so many years, it’s startling to see how badly they missed handling this crisis.

Toyota has been a shining star of the automobile industry for a very long time. Along with the Civic and Accord from Honda, with the Corolla and Camry, they built a mass market appreciation in the US for a high level of quality and styling that put US carmakers on the defense. As their market share and reputation grew, they took on the big boys–the European luxury cars like Mercedes and BMW through a new marque–the Lexus. More recently they won my particular admiration for the vision, courage, engineering and design prowess that resulted in the Prius. Ford, GMC and Chrysler were dolts in comparison.

Now Toyota is mired in a horrific reputational crisis that appears to worsen by the day. Every pundit on the planet has theories about what Toyota has done wrong and what, if anything, they should do to repair the damage.

Here is what I know about reputation. It’s like the stock market: it takes a long time for the market to rise enough to become a true bull market. Then the “market” or “reputation” becomes a sure thing with endless upside. But the descent into a bear market/sullied reputation happens so fast that one bears the scars of the “bear claws” for a long time.

My guess is that Toyota is a deer in the headlights and totally in the power of their legal department. Thus, no information is forthcoming because any statement could become fodder for lawsuits. I have worked in corporations like this. You know what else? They aren’t telling their employees anything either. It takes an unbelievably brave and self-confident CEO to take control of a situation like this and, if anything, OVERcommunicate, say mea culpas, and create a path forward.

Toyota simply has no experience in being a bad guy. But bad they have been, and they will carry the burden for a long time.

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