Firing on All Cylinders: Frontline Performance with VOC Programs

Customer experience survey

Last week, I begrudgingly brought my SUV to the dealership for a routine inspection and oil change. I dread these service visits (and put them off as long as I can) because I know absolutely nothing about automobiles. 

As I waited for the service to be done, the mechanic would occasionally pop by to explain what they were going to do to fix up my car. I’d quickly agree to whatever was recommended, as his suggestions went completely over my head, given my lack of automotive knowledge. 

Two hours later, the mechanic asks me if I’m ready to go and I eagerly say “yes,” excited to finally get out of this very uncomfortable (for me) situation. I follow him to the register and pay the bill—more than expected, but because I had little understanding of what was actually done, who was I to question the amount? 

After settling up, things took a quick turn… 

“In the next day or so, you should receive a survey from us and it would mean a lot if you filled it out,” said the mechanic. 

So far, so good. But then… 

“Here’s a sheet of paper with all of the responses you should give. And if you answer this way, you qualify for a free tune-up package. Last month, we had five customers in the raffle, so your odds of winning are pretty good.” 

While this might seem like a pretty benign experience to most, red flags were flying for me as a professional in the voice of the customer (VOC) industry. I know it’s a pervasive problem with VOC programs that evaluate frontline performance, but this was the most blatant display of bias that I have personally witnessed. 

The thought of patrons responding to requests for feedback inauthentically in exchange for a free tune-up stings. It undermines the integrity of the entire customer feedback program—where corporate CX teams could look at responses received and assume that all is well, when in reality, the results are completely distorted. 

I thought I’d use this story as a vehicle (pun intended) for sharing some tips. If you’re in a position where you manage a listening program like this, what can you do to prevent associates from influencing customer feedback? 

Evaluate Employee Experience 

What the mechanic did was wrong, there’s no denying that. But as I drove away from the dealership, I wondered what would motivate that behavior. Is there an award or a financial incentive that he’s hoping to obtain? I assume so, and if that’s the case, it’s coming at a cost of collecting invalid customer feedback. 

To dissuade employees from going to these lengths, make sure they feel adequately recognized and compensated, regardless of the number of surveys completed or scores obtained. This can be accomplished through a voice of the employee program that receives just as much (if not more) attention as the VOC program. 

Set Your Sights on the Top Performers 

If it seems too good to be true, it may very well be. When reviewing performance, brands are quick to focus their attention on employees or locations with the lowest satisfaction scores, and that is entirely necessary. However, companies should also be keen to understand what the top performers are doing. Digging into their day-to-day operations—what they do to deliver on customer expectations that sets them apart from the rest—can help you to coach others, serving as a model for what “good” looks like. Or it could uncover something unsavory. 

Close the Loop with Customers—Even the Happy Ones 

On that same note, consider following up with your highly satisfied customers to ensure that that’s really the case. Brands often reach back out to dissatisfied customers in hopes of preventing attrition, but rarely circle back with customers who have nothing bad to say. Let’s use my service appointment as an example. If I filled out the survey to the mechanic’s liking and then received a call from a CX teammate asking me for more details regarding my visit, I may share my honest thoughts over the phone—that the bill came out to be bigger than expected and that I was enticed to take the survey as specified. Worst case scenario: you identify some seedy employee behaviors. Best case scenario: you get to hear from truly delighted customers about how wonderful their experience was. 

Communicate the CX Mission 

Employees who have a direct hand in the customer experience are usually far removed from the purpose of a feedback program. They may see it as a “check the box” exercise, especially if they are incentivized based on a total number of surveys completed. But CX practitioners know that it’s so much more than that. Understanding the customer experience is critical to long-term loyalty, brand advocacy, and relationship expansion. If frontline staff embrace that same customer-centric mentality and have a goal of delivering exceptional customer experiences, they may think twice about gaming the system and would instead rather hear the full truth. 

As you can see, I’m pretty passionate about the value of customer feedback. It’s a powerful tool for CX leaders to make customer-focused decisions, but only when there is certainty that the feedback received is honest and unbiased. It’s up to us, VOC professionals, to ensure the integrity of customer feedback isn’t compromised by any shady dealings. 

If only I were this passionate about cars… 

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Ellie Dubbs

Senior VOC Product Manager

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