The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 7 Issue 3   March 2011


Spending time, face-to-face with customers, is high on the list of any top executive. Today’s “Research With a Twist” explains how your research can give your C-suite clients more of what they really want.

Read on for more…

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

Can You Hear Me Now?
Although I am clearly not worthy of the title “World Class Traveler,” I have spent enough time in the air to have learned a trick or two about flying. One of these is, “When possible, don’t eat the food on the plane.” It’s not healthy, it’s not tasty and eating off a tray while jammed into a seat is anything but satisfying.

And so last week, while waiting to board a delayed flight to Baltimore, I went off to grab a bite at one of the terminal restaurants. It was crowded, but I managed to find a seat at the bar (of course), where I could get some dinner, enjoy a drink and relax a little bit before my flight.

Airports these days are teeming with televisions and the bar area was no exception. I sat down in front of a huge flat-screen and like it or not, had no choice but to watch what was on… the reality show, Undercover Boss.

If you’re not familiar with the show (I wasn’t), the premise is simple: A high-level executive masquerades as an entry-level employee within his own company in the hope of learning how things really work.

I admit to having been distracted at first, wondering how it was that none of the employees seemed to question the presence of a middle-aged man working at an entry-level job alongside people half his age, let alone all the video cameras and crew. But I eventually settled in and found it quite interesting. In particular, it got me thinking about the central concept: How can the man or woman at the top get a true view of what goes on down below?

It’s not a trivial question. In fact, when we talk with C-suite executives and ask them, “If you had some found time — a week or two — to do something within your company, how would you spend it?”, the response is nearly always some version of, “Spend more time face-to-face with customers.”

It seems a fact of big company, corporate life that try as they might, senior executives are isolated from what happens day-to-day, on the ground, with customers. Despite all the research to which they have access, not to mention various approaches employed for “getting out in the field,” many continue to express a need for more and better information.

So why not develop market research programs which satisfy this desire? After all, if current approaches fulfilled this need, we wouldn’t continue to hear this same request from the executive suite.

Here are three recommendations for conducting this type of “Voice of the Customer” (VOC) research:
  1. Ongoing rather than episodic. Most market research is focused on a specific decision: What color should the car be? What features should this product have?

    VOC research, by its very nature, is intended to be ongoing … a program rather than an event. In this respect, it’s even better than spending a week or two in the field with customers because it helps the executive track changes as they occur.

    For example, as we’ve conducted VOC research over time for a financial services client, we’ve seen customer needs change with the changing economy. During bad times there tends to be more of a desire for programs and products that save money. As the rebound has occurred, customers are shifting their focus towards better service and new innovations.

    The insights gleaned from ongoing research allow your focus and tactics to shift in concert with the evolving desires of your customers.
  1. Customer experience, rather than customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction is an important metric and we do a fair amount of research in this regard. But it’s only one aspect of the customer experience and only one part of what CEOs want to know.

    In addition to knowing if they’re satisfied, CEOs want to understand what customers believe they need. Senior executives are constantly on the lookout for more strategic, open-ended, exploratory insights.

    An insurance company client of ours, for example, wanted to understand which aspects of its process were frustrating brokers; “Where the gears are grinding,” as the CMO put it. They wanted help visualizing future services that could help the brokers do their jobs better and more easily. That’s considerably broader than customer satisfaction.
  1. Usable format rather than “shelvable” format. C-suite executives are overwhelmed with information, but they’re starved for real life customer experiences. VOC research is a proxy for the real world and as such, its value is closely tied to format.

    Video clips, audio interviews and verbatim quotes help the customer voice come alive and convey the immediacy of hearing from a real person in a way that graphs and statistics never will. Make sure these are part of the mix.

    Keep in mind as well that given the workload and schedule of senior executives, format and ease of use matters. We have one financial services client who has asked that recordings of in-depth interviews be cut up and loaded on his iPhone on a weekly basis, so that he can listen to these during his drive home.
Here’s the twist: There isn’t a CEO worth his or her salt who doesn’t believe in the importance of “listening to the customer.” The logistics of hearing these voices in an unfiltered and ongoing way, however, can derail even the best of intentions.

Voice of the Customer research, when conducted and reported in a qualitative, authentic, consistent way, meets a need that your C-suite “clients” are eager to have satisfied.

Click here to share this newsletter with a colleague.

Providing senior executives with short-format recordings of in-depth customer interviews is a terrific way to give these folks access to the voice of the customer. For maximum usage and benefit, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Set a deadline. Help the executive develop a routine for listening to these so that doing so becomes a part of his or her schedule. Making these available “once in a while” is not as good as “every Tuesday at 4pm.” Think like a content publisher and stick to a deadline.
  • Provide “good enough” quality. You don’t need Emmy Award-winning production quality, but you do want to eliminate distractions and time wasters. Noise, static, stutters and tangents should be edited out to make the listening experience a positive one.
  • Consider transcribing. Audio, while genuine and immediate, is difficult to search and classify. Transcribing the clips will allow you to build a useful database for easier reference later on.
  • Go the last mile. None of this works if it’s not easy and automated for the executive. Spend the time needed to develop a system for downloading and playing the recordings. You may need to sit with the executive’s assistant to create a process for synching their iPod, playing it in their particular vehicle, etc.
Remember, the value of your research is in no small part a function of the ease with which it can be accessed and digested by the senior management team. Follow these steps and sleep easy knowing your hard work will never remain undercover!


Can You Hear Me Now?

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

CSR Executive Vice President, Mark Palmerino, will be delivering the Keynote speech at the Winchester Hospital Nursing Research conference in May. His talk is entitled, “Keys to Unlocking the Researcher in You.”

Mark continues to work with this unique group of nurses as they contribute to the advancement of quality healthcare through cutting-edge research.

“Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly.”

— Plutarch

Problems? Click here to send us an email with your request.
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. The “Twist” to what we offer is this: We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data. As a result, our clients gain more actionable and valuable insights from their research efforts.

Understanding What People Really Think

WordPress Lightbox Plugin