You Said, We Did: What Is Operational Transparency & How Can It Lead to Experience Improvement?

On this blog, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the importance of taking action on customer feedback to inspire tangible Experience Improvement (XI). For most programs, this “action” means closing the loop with individual customers while also working to identify and solve systemic problems to improve the overall customer experience. But after closing the inner and outer loop, there are those brands that take even further action with operational transparency.

This additional step communicates to customers the actions a brand has taken to directly improve the customer experience. And for taking this fextra step, brands are rewarded with further customer engagement and loyalty. In our article today, I’ll discuss how your brand can take this final step and reap the benefits. Let’s dive in!

What Is Operational Transparency?

“Operational transparency” is a behavioral science concept that refers to a company that purposefully exposes its processes to customers to help them understand the work being done on their behalf.  Think watching employees at Subway build your sandwich, or make your coffee at Starbucks. Another example is seeing a progress bar during a software update that lets you know you’re on item 5 out of 20 updates, just so you know how long it will be before you can work again.  

Research has shown that customers value this glimpse into a company’s process and that being transparent builds engagement, trust, and loyalty. Why? Customers appreciate the work companies do for them.

How Operational Transparency  Improves Your Customer Experience  

Operational transparency can be a two-part process embedded into your customer feedback efforts. First, you can combine your transparency efforts with your immediate “thank you for participating” message after a survey. This can look like providing a short overview of how you as an organization plan to look at the feedback and take action. This message can be sent to both participants and non-participants.

So what does this do for you? It lets you be completely transparent about the process and show how feedback will shape the organization. It’s not necessary to identify the exact actions the organization is going to take based on the feedback. Instead, you could mention previous actions you’ve taken as evidence that you aren’t just making empty promises

Secondly, it is important to communicate the actions you’ve taken after the fact to bring feedback full circle. This communication can piggyback on existing marketing communications, be included in feedback invitations, or be a standalone communication.

The key is to be short and focused on a few specific actions, sharing both the feedback driving it as well as the actual improvement (and maybe even how it’s been received). The idea here is to say to your customer, “you said, we did!”

How Does This Work in Practice?  

We have many clients who successfully communicated their Experience Improvement actions to their customers. Here are just a few of those examples: 

  • One client, a global supply chain company, sent out an email from their COO in early January to all of their customers, thanking them for their business and sharing the results of their survey alongside the improvements the company planned to make.  The company tracked the number of customers who opened the email and found that the vast majority of customers opened the email.
  • One of our superannuation clients builds operational transparency into their ongoing newsletter to fund members and employers. They include in the newsletter an update of any action that has been taken based on their voice of the customer program. 
  • A shipping company has automated their customer communications through our platform. They have an email that explains their action process and also highlights several initiatives they have implemented based on the feedback they’ve received. They update the email regularly to keep it fresh and relevant.
  • A global technology company has created a page on their website which they continuously update to reflect the actions they have taken based on customer feedback. In an annual email, they incorporated a video from the CEO regarding how feedback was used to make changes, including a summary of the items implemented.

In the end, this type of transparency not only engages customers, but it also communicates how much you value their feedback. It is a way to show appreciation for the customer while also building loyalty. And that’s what we like to call a win-win.

5 Steps to Effectively Implement the Voice of the Customer

The real value of customer experience programs is not in gathering customer feedback, but in putting the voice of the customer to work. While there was never a positive return on investment (ROI) for simply measuring satisfaction (no more than there is a positive ROI for taking your temperature when you are sick), today’s cost/benefit driven environment has made the need for meaningful action even more acute.

At a Glance

Most organizations invest in measuring customer experience and satisfaction with an expectation that the insights derived will lead to product and service improvements and better customer experiences. Unfortunately, far too many organizations simply hand customer feedback to managers with instructions to “use the results to take action.” The consequences? Quite often, no action is taken and the anticipated improvements in customer experience fail to materialize.

Start to Utilize Your Feedback

A growing body of evidence reveals that a majority of organizations are not where they want to be when it comes to putting the voice of the customer to work. These five steps will help you guide you to identify people and actions to be taken so that the feedback you are receiving can be utilized.

Step 1. Identify High Priority Customer-Driven Action Items

Quite often, analysis of customer survey items – each of which represents a specific element of the customer experience – is the starting point for defining action items. Specifically, items identified as “key drivers” of overall customer satisfaction and loyalty, and those that receive relatively unfavorable customer ratings are designated as customer-driven priorities for improvement. Many organizations also look at additional Voice of Customer (VoC) data sources (e.g., inbound customer comments and complaints, user-generated media, etc.) to corroborate initial conclusions based on analysis of survey data. Overall, the analysis of customer feedback enables the organization to define customer-driven action items.

Step 2. Determine Owners of the Customer-Driven Action Items

The next step in the process involves a review of customer feedback by a cross-functional team of managers. These managers collectively determine the people and parts of the organization that impact and have some level of ownership of each action item. It is the “owners” that must take the lead in developing and implementing an appropriate action plan.

Step 3. “Drill Down” for Clarity and Granularity

The analysis of survey items often provides the starting point for customer-driven action planning and implementation. However, the survey instruments are not generally designed to provide enough detail or granularity to enable an organization to determine the specific action to take. As a result, the action-item owners are limited by an incomplete understanding of “what to do.” This leads to one of two unfortunate outcomes:

  • The actions taken to respond to the voice of the customer are misguided and ineffective
  • Managers and employees end up taking no action at all because they lack clarity regarding what the customer wants or needs

In contrast, organizations that are successful in applying customer feedback to drive improvement ask themselves a simple question before developing and implementing action plans: Do we understand what the customer wants us to do or do differently?

The third step in the process requires that owners of a customer-driven action item confirm that they have sufficient understanding of what customers actually want the company to do or do differently. Social media can provide insight into what customers want or expect and knowledge from social media sources can be valuable. If not, the group must determine the questions to address and areas requiring “drill-down” for clarity and granularity.

Step 4. Pinpoint Policies, Processes, and Operations Associated with High-Priority Action Items

Once a customer issue is clarified and ownership for action established, a fourth critical step in the process is to identify and target the relevant business enablers. What are the organizational processes, policies, practices and other aspects of performance that are connected to the targeted element of the customer experience? The owners must answer this question to ensure that they identify and x the “right things.”

Step 5. Develop and Implement Appropriate Action Plans

Upon completion of these first four process steps, the organization has put itself in a very good position to develop and implement an appropriate customer experience improvement plan, because:

  • The people and parts of the organization that impact the customer-driven action item have been identified
  • These owners understand what customers want the organization to do
  • The owners have pinpointed the organizational processes, practices, policies and other performances issues that need to be changed and improved

Essentially, the “guess work” has been taken out of developing and implementing an appropriate customer driven action plan. Now, it’s time for the owners to develop the plan.

Well-conceived action plans require solid information about what to change and how to change it. Integrating action
items identified through the customer feedback process with operational training tools to guide action is a best practice to drive improvement. For many organizations, integrating these elements within the reporting platform is the most effective way to arm corporate and front-line managers with the tools they need to address improvement areas.

Connect to the Right People

Companies investing in capturing, crunching, and sharing insights derived from customer feedback will make some progress toward putting the voice of the customer to work. However, unless these organizations implement a process to connect customer feedback to the right people, and the right business processes, policies and activities, progress likely will be stalled.

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