An Amazingly Simple Shortcut to Improve Customer Insight

You could solve a lot of problems if you better understood your customers.

This can be a real challenge. Budgets are sometimes tight. Deadlines are short. Resources are spread thin.

I recall a time when a simple shortcut came to me like a bolt of lighting.

Years ago, I served on the board of directors for my local ASTD chapter. This was the American Association for Training and Development (now known as the Association for Talent Development). My role was Membership Director.

We were discussing member participation at a board meeting. Specifically, we were discussing a lack of attendance at certain events.

In the midst of our discussion I realized that few board members were attending events themselves. An idea struck and I posed this question to the group:

Why aren't you attending events?

Board members gave me a range of excuses.

  • They were too busy.
  • The events weren’t at convenient times or locations.
  • The topics weren’t interesting to them.

In many cases, they simply forgot.

Lightbulbs starting going off. Weren’t these the same reasons why our members didn’t attend events? 

The discussion quickly turned to solutions. We focused on rethinking our events to make them so compelling that people absolutely had to be there. We varied the times, days of the week, and the locations. 

Most importantly, we each made a personal commitment to attend the events the really interested us and invite some of our friends and colleagues.

It took awhile to implement some of these ideas, but attendance steadily began to climb. We had discovered the secret of empathetic insight.

Applying Empathetic Insight

This type of customer insight comes from putting yourself in your customers’ shoes. Try to imagine how your customers think and feel. Answer key questions from their perspective.

Here are a few examples:

Hotel associates might learn how to improve room cleanliness by asking themselves, “What do I look for when I check into one of our hotel rooms?”

Employees at a software as a service company might learn how to reduce customer churn by asking themselves, “What do I find most frustrating about our product?”

Retail associates might improve sales by asking themselves, “Why don’t I personally buy more from my store?”

The goal is to try to see things from your customers’ perspective by imaging yourself as a customer. In theory, you’re the most educated, loyal customer. If something bothers you, it must really bother your customers who don't have the same insider connection that you do.

This may sound snarky, but I really do wish cable company executives would take a half day off of work and wait around their house for somebody who doesn’t come. My guess is that would be the fast demise of the four hour appointment window.


Words of Caution

We have to be careful to acknowledge that this approach is prone to error.

You’re not every customer. You might not even be the typical customer. You might even be a little weird. 

Imagination won’t replace solid data. You should still gather voice of customer data, whether you use a survey (see my how-to course) or choose one of these five alternatives.

However, empathetic insight can augment your data collection. At ASTD, our empathetic insight exercise changed the types of questions we asked our members and the data we collected. It was a great starting point, but not a panacea. 

We also realized that it would be hard to attract members to our events if we weren’t excited about them. That really pushed us to raise the bar on what we offered.


How to Analyze and Act on CSAT Data


You probably survey your customers.

But, do you learn anything from those surveys? More important, do you use that insight to improve service?

Chip Bell, author of 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service, recently shared this startling stat from a Gartner Group study:

95 percent of companies survey their customers, but only 10 percent actually use the feedback to take action.


Today, I hosted a webinar on analyzing and acting on customer satisfaction survey data. This post is a re-cap of the key lessons from the webinar along with some bonus information. 

You can watch the webinar here.


How to Quickly Analyze Your Data

Let’s say your overall customer satisfaction is 85 percent. 

By itself, the number doesn’t tell you much. The key to analyzing this data is to dig one level deeper. 

For example, you could look at the distribution of survey scores by employee:


Suddenly, you see that Leo may need some extra help.

You could also look at the distribution of survey scores by the type of service request:


This reveals that product inquiries are a strength, but technical support leaves something to be desired. 

If Leo gets a technical support call, you’re doomed.


Identifying Pain Points

Before you fire Leo or stop offering technical support, you may want to dig deeper still. The goal should be finding the true root cause of the problem.

One way to do this is to hone in on surveys where customers gave technical support an unsatisfactory survey score. Can you spot some themes among their comments?

Here’s an example:

  • It took way too long to get a simple issue resolved!
  • The guy didn’t seem to know what he was doing.
  • I got transferred twice before someone could help me.
  • Problem not resolved! I’ve had to call back three times.
  • The lady seemed confused and overwhelmed. 

A theme or two emerges. The comments suggest that customers give low scores for technical support when they get the runaround or the support rep doesn’t appear to be highly competent.


Turning Insight into Action

Knowing the specific issues that annoy your customers is a good start. Now, you need to investigate to find the root cause of the problem.

In the technical support example, the best way to do this would be to spend some time with those employees. Share with them the problem you’re trying to solve. Ask a few questions. Watch them do their work.

The root cause of the problems often becomes obvious after just a few minutes of observation.

Four things might jump out if you spent some time with this technical support team:

  1. They feel pressured to solve problems quickly to meet the department standard for Average Handle Time (AHT).
  2. This pressure causes them to take shortcuts to maintain the AHT standard. 
  3. These shortcuts frequently lead them to transfer a call too quickly or misunderstand a customer's needs because they aren’t listening carefully.
  4. The most inexperienced rep, Leo, has a particularly hard time with this.

Now that you know the root cause, you can take action.

Perhaps you could emphasize first contact resolution over AHT with your team. Focusing on resolving the problem makes customers happier. It also reduces callbacks, which in turn reduces overall call volume. 

And, focusing on first contact resolution doesn't necessarily cause a spike in AHT. 

You may also want to check in with Leo to make sure he doesn’t get lost on the learning curve.


Revisit Your Surveys

The final step in the process is to revisit your survey. You want to see if the actions you’ve taken have actually increased customer satisfaction.

You’ll be realizing the true value of a customer service survey when you follow these steps on a regular basis. Service will improve and your customers will be happier.

Five Ways to Capture VOC Data Without a Survey

Ugh. Not another survey.

Customers are tired of surveys. You might be tired of your own survey too. There’s even a term called survey fatigue.

Maybe your customers are getting tired of the survey you’re doing now. Perhaps you stopped doing a survey because response rates were too low. It might be that you’ve put off implementing a survey because you’re worried that customers can’t be bothered.

Voice of the Customer (VOC) data is important. You just don’t want to annoy your customers in the process. There’s got to be a better way.

Here are five ways you can capture VOC data without resorting to a survey.

1. External Review Sites

Are your customers already reviewing your business on an external review site such as Yelp or Trip Advisor? These sites can be a treasure trove of VOC data.

They can even offer a few advantages over traditional customer service surveys.

  • Customers tend to leave more detailed feedback when writing an online review. 
  • You can respond directly to reviewers and give yourself a chance to fix a problem.
  • High ratings equal free advertising that will bring in new customers.


2. Social Media Monitoring

If your customers are talking about you on social media, why not join the conversation? Monitoring social media for mentions of your company, product, or service is a great way to capture VOC data.

There are plenty of tools to help you do this. Brandwatch put together a great list of 10 free social media monitoring tools


3. Google Alerts

Google alerts offers an easy way to monitor the internet for mentions of your company, brand, products, or services. You can sign up to be notified automatically when key words that you specify show up in search results.

Combining methods 1 - 3 can provide your company with a comprehensive amount of VOC data. For example, let’s say someone reviews your company on Yelp, blogs about a recent experience, and then Tweets a mention of your brand. 

This is a great opportunity to interact with a customer who is talking about your brand online. You can reinforce the connection if they’re happy. Or, you can try to resolve the problem if they’re taking to the web to rant. 


4. Contact Type Reports

Many companies keep a record of the reasons customers contact customer service. This can captured through your CRM system, your IVR software, or even an old-fashioned tick sheet. Understanding why customers are requesting service can help you pinpoint and diagnose problems.

In many cases, this approach can work much faster than waiting for customers to fill out a survey. For example, if you notice a spike in calls related to a specific product, you can quickly investigate the problem and diagnose a root cause.


5. Ask Customers Directly

You don’t need a survey to get between you and an individual customer. Don’t be afraid to ask customers to share their feedback directly.

This is a great source of data since you can often ask for more detailed information than you might be able to capture in a survey. And, it also gives you a chance to make things right if the customer’s feedback involves any sort of service failure.


Surveys CAN Be Useful

This post provides some alternatives to customer service surveys, but that doesn’t mean surveys can’t be extremely useful ways to gather Voice of the Customer Data.

This training video on can provide you with step-by-step guidance. You'll need a subscription to view the entire course, but you can get a 10-day trial.


Want Even More VOC Ideas?

Here are a few more posts you might be interested in:

Taking a look through the customers' eyes

On a recent trip, a stop in the hotel gift shop reminded me that companies all too often fail to see things from a customer's perspective. This myopia can lead to frustration, poor service, and sometimes humorous consequences. Check out the picture below and note the third option down.

I'm sure they meant "assorted" but that's not how I read it in the store. You can only imagine a frustrated manager scratching his head and saying, "I don't understand it, these fruit stix just aren't selling!" A simple look at this sign through the eyes of a customer would help that manager spot the problem instantly.

Here are a few other examples (OK, pet-peeves) that are definitely not customer-focused!

  • Entering an account or credit card number into an automated phone system so they can "better serve you" only to have to repeat it when a live person answers the phone.
  • Cashiers who hand me my change with the coins on top of the bills, especially in the drive-through line. You have to be careful to catch the coins before they go flying!
  • Airline workers and cashiers who ask to see my identification and then don't look at it. (I once showed a cashier my zoo pass with a picture of a gorilla on the front and he didn't even blink.)
  • Employees who respond to a question that begins with "Where is..." by pointing in that thing's general direction rather than helping me find it.
  • Valet parking attendants who leave my seat all the way back and my radio blasting on a station I don't listen to.