Executive leadership at one of my Voice of the Customer training clients talks about the importance of listening to customers. Walking the halls at company headquarters, you see inspirational posters promoting the values of the Voice of the Customer and its importance for innovation and customer loyalty. But actions speak louder than words. Although a client, the company has a history of rarely conducting systematic Voice of the Customer research. In fact, middle managers at the company succeeded in bringing Applied Marketing Science in to conduct training to force senior executives to confront the double standard of talking about the value of the Voice of the Customer and doing very little about it in practice.
The example is not unique. Many companies talk about the value of research and listening to customers. Many of these same companies, however, rarely conduct systematic Voice of the Customer research. They have many reasons why they choose not to. Rather than a logical and well-founded objection, each reason is really an excuse.
Below is a list of common objections (or excuses) for choosing not to conduct Voice of the Customer research, along with counterpoints that address each one.
● We will learn what we already know. Some amount of learning what you already know is unavoidable. In fact, if you don’t learn something you already know, your business is probably in trouble. But properly conducted Voice of the Customer research will identify new insights you did not know. In some cases, you may have known of them as facts, but discounted their importance. Of course, this means you didn’t really know them.
● We won’t get enough details to do anything with the results. If you work with a firm like Applied Marketing Science – and follow our systematic, proven method – you will capture this detail. We’ve conducted research for hundreds of companies and trained dozens to use our methods. Many are repeat clients. The methods work.
● We don’t have money or enough time. This is true. But it’s always true. There’s never enough time or money. Companies that take the time to conduct research first, then act on the results, save time and money in the long run by avoiding time consuming and costly re-work. It’s a choice, not a constraint.
● We already know what customers want; we just have to do it. Then what’s stopping you? Either you really don’t know what your customers want, or you’re not doing your job very well. If you already know what to do, you should get on with it.
● We tried this before and it didn’t work. This is unfortunate and a real problem. Sometimes, companies try to do the research themselves, but make mistakes owing to a lack of experience and professional skill. Other times, companies hire an agency to conduct the research, but it doesn’t work out. One bad experience, however, shouldn’t put you off from conducting Voice of the Customer research. Try again.
● We’re just going to talk to a few of our customers and see what they think. It’s a good idea to talk to some of your customers, but unless you go beyond your existing set of customers and talk to non-customers or even lapsed customers, you may miss an important opportunity to identify insights that will lead to increased success.
● Our salespeople talk to our customers all the time. It’s certainly good that they do. It’s also not research. It’s not even close. In fact, companies that rely exclusively or even disproportionately on salespeople to provide a surrogate for Voice of the Customer research are committing several errors. First, salespeople tend to talk to and about their best customers. Second, they tend to ignore customers who don’t like your company or buy only a little from you. Finally, they are not research professionals: the detail and insight they bring is often far less actionable than what professional research delivers.
● The people we sell to would never talk to you. This is simply not true. We work in all manner of business-to-business and consumer markets. We talk to surgeons, engineers, maintenance workers on offshore oil rigs and everyday consumers. You name it.
The next time your company talks about the value of listening to customers, but resists conducting Voice of the Customer research, recognize them as excuses and think about the counterpoints noted previously. If you hear these common objections, you these answers might help you persuade others that these common objections they are really excuses. Companies that truly listen to customers conduct systematic Voice of the Customer research all the time. They don’t make excuses.