Voice-of-the-Customer (VOC) is a holistic yet straightforward approach to gathering information that generates meaningful insights to help inform changes within an organization. When you apply VOC tools and act on the results, your customers will see you in a new light--as a company that cares about its customers' thoughts and opinions, and provides service in the way that customers want.
Building Your Utility's Voice-of-the-Customer Program in 6 Steps
Shawn Silzer, Senior Manager, Consulting Solutions, E Source
Building Your Utility’s
Program in 6 Steps
Why Voice-of-the-Customer Research Matters
Utilities face a triple threat these days:
n Customers have unprecedented choice in terms of service
n Customers have unprecedented expectations about getting
great service from their utility
n Regulators have unprecedented expectations about energy
savings achieved through utility demand-side management
To improve performance in all three areas—without breaking the
bank—more and more utilities are turning to voice-of-the-customer
VOC is a holistic yet straightforward approach to gathering
information that generates meaningful insights to help inform
changes within an organization. When you apply VOC tools and
act on the results, your customers will see you in a new light—as a
company that cares about its customers’ thoughts and opinions, and
provides service in the way customers want.
VOC is a holistic yet straightforward
approach to gathering information
that generates meaningful insights
to help inform changes within an
How Is VOC Different?
Customer research isn’t new to the utility industry. What
differentiates VOC from traditional methods is two-fold: (1) its
emphasis on dialogue with customers and (2) its use of an
end-to-end approach that ensures the intelligence you gather is
ultimately translated into action.
Ignore VOC research and you’re taking a big risk because your
customers are still sharing feedback about you via social media
and other informal channels even if you aren’t hearing it.
That feedback can affect your corporate reputation and
customer experience (CX) scores.
So how do you move into this new world of
VOC? It’s easier than you might think. You can
actually build on your existing customer research
efforts—meaning the transition doesn’t need to be
overwhelming. And if you follow these six proven
steps, you’ll soon have your own VOC program
up and running.
What is it that you want your VOC program
to address? Do you want to increase
participation in programs? Improve your
external CX scores? Decrease costs and
improve the customer experience by
reviewing and revamping internal business
processes? Defining your utility’s goals and
objectives with VOC—along with how you’ll
use the data you gather—is the first essential
step toward long-term success.
A key consideration at this early stage is
getting agreement on the approach you’ll
use for translating your research into tangible
actions that get noticed by utility leadership.
Without that, you run the risk of building a
VOC program that will languish in a silo.
Consider the style of your own decision-
makers as you determine the types of reports
and dashboards that will best prompt action.
Most utilities get a jump on VOC design by
looking to the work they’ve already done
through journey mapping. Those maps will
shed light on known customer pain points
and key moments of truth, and identify
where you are most likely to succeed in
customer dialogue—web, mobile, social
media, or even face-to-face.
You’ll also want your VOC program to
include a mix of relationship surveys
(generally done twice per year in order
to analyze the ongoing health of the
relationship) and transactional surveys
(which are better suited to identifying
issues and process improvements at key
Defining your utility’s goals and
objectives with VOC—along with how
you’ll use the data you gather—is the first
essential step toward long-term success.
When it comes time to actually roll out your VOC
program with customers, use a multichannel
data-collection approach to capture the
information you need. Choices include:
n Surveys that query customers automatically
and immediately after contact with your
utility; don’t think just about the contact
center, but also include your website,
mobile app, interactive voice response
system (IVR), walk-in centers, field service
personnel, and program participants
n Social media conversations
n Private online and in-person communities
n Surveys that reach customers on their
Be sure to also include information from
departments in your organization that are
already talking to customers—not only customer
relationship management (CRM) platforms, but
also employee feedback systems and external
benchmarking data. Doing so will give you a
single view of the customer.
With a variety of sources feeding you real-time
interactions, the amount of customer data you’ll
soon have at your fingertips could quickly become
overwhelming. The best VOC efforts deliver the
data gathered into two distinct buckets: one
you can use to inform longer-term strategic
opportunities and the other that you’ll use to drive
immediate, tactical actions.
Data in the strategic bucket should be
aggregated to identify key drivers from your
customers’ perspective in order to effectively
prioritize long-term investments that will drive
meaningful business decisions.
So internal decision-makers can quickly act
to resolve problems, your tactical data should
populate a dashboard that includes alerts about
dissatisfied customers or poorly performing
team members. Don’t forget about alerts for
exceptionally happy customers, too, so you can
hand out kudos to the employees involved.
No matter which bucket it lands in, apply these
guidelines to all of the feedback you receive:
n Connect customer feedback to other
customer data—such as CRM and
customer information systems—as well as to
n Look for trends in unstructured feedback,
such as voice (for example, call recordings
and IVR interactions) and text
n Conduct rigorous statistical analysis on
Implement Analyze3 4
The most effective VOC programs have reporting
systems in place to send the relevant feedback
where it’s needed in a timely fashion and in a way
that’s easy to understand.
While you might imagine taking action on VOC
results would come naturally, one of the pitfalls
for organizations that are new to VOC is that the
gathering and analyzing of phases becomes an
end in itself. The most effective VOC programs
have reporting systems in place to send the
relevant feedback where it’s needed in a timely
fashion and in a way that’s easy to understand.
This is where the work you did on identifying the
preferences of internal decision-makers in the
Design stage will pay dividends.
Closing the loop with your individual customers
is also a must. Customers expect that if they
take the time to provide their feedback, you will
acknowledge it and take appropriate action.
Finally, the robust alert system you’ve built will
provide employees with the information they
need to better meet the needs of customers.
It’s vital that you review goals and revise your
VOC program on a regularly scheduled basis.
Doing so will help you focus on new issues as
they arise or adjust to new business priorities.
For maximum results, your VOC program should be complemented by a
voice-of-the-employee (VOE) program. With VOE research included in your efforts, you
won’t miss input from front office employees who speak to many customers every day.
These employees are perfectly placed to recognize patterns in what customers say, and
they can help you understand which internal processes might be failing.
Starting up a VOC program doesn’t have to be a daunting task.
Utilities have been doing customer research for years; VOC
simply takes those efforts to the next level. To succeed with VOC,
you need to plan carefully, follow the six steps, and make sure
that any changes you undertake—whether they’re customer-
facing or not—always put your customers first.
If you get it right, you’ll see one or more of the
following benefits from your VOC effort:
n Better decisions about what needs to be improved
in your utility because those decisions will be
based on real data
n Improved customer participation in new programs
n Reduced costs because of better, more-consistent
n Higher CX scores
But get it wrong and you’ll encounter far less
favorable outcomes such as:
n Customers who feel alienated because they don’t
see action taken as a result of their feedback
n Siloed information that provides no value to your
E Source provides utilities of all sizes with the tools to develop,
launch, and manage leading VOC research programs through
a single platform. With E Source’s help, you can analyze and
take action on the data you collect in real time. Working with
an E Source consultant, you’ll soon develop the skills you need
to manage a VOC program internally for the long term, which
means even more cost savings for your utility.
Visit www.esource.com/consulting/efms or call
1-800-ESOURCE (1-800-376-8723) to learn more.
For more information about E Source, visit www.esource.com or
contact us at 1-800-ESOURCE or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shawn Silzer, senior manager for Consulting Solutions at E Source, has spent more than 25
years working in the energy sector. His cross-functional utility operations experience allows
him to deliver consulting solutions in the areas of customer experience, journey mapping,
and change management. Prior to joining E Source, he was the program manager for smart
meter implementation at SaskPower, a vertically integrated utility serving 460,000 customers
in Saskatchewan, Canada. In 2014, Shawn led the program through an unprecedented
meter product recall and replacement effort, which resulted in media and industry scrutiny
from across North America—as well as unprecedented customer engagement. In addition to
being responsible for issue- and change-management activities, he managed all employee,
customer, and shareholder communications. Shawn’s earlier utility experience included
leading teams in the electrical and telecommunications sectors responsible for media
relations, marketing communications, strategic communications planning, and corporate
philanthropy. In 2011, his team won a Gold Quill award from the International Association
of Business Communicators for communications strategy development. Shawn has a BA in
journalism from Carleton University in Ottawa. He also has a Prosci change management
certification and Michael Hammer business process certification.