Humility and courage are key to implementing a successful voice of customer (VoC) transformation program, as is a willingness to be open to the fact you might have been wrong about what they want, sometimes for years.
Toll group has spent the last three years implementing a comprehensive VoC customer approach. And hundreds of interviews and hours later, the program has transformed Toll’s business model, while also having some unexpected brand and engagement benefits.
Christina Wilson, global head of marketing, customer centricity and insights at Toll Group, was brought on board three years ago and realised there was very little language within the business around customers. Like many businesses, it was internally focused and financially-driven.
Wilson very quickly understood she needed to understand the global business from a customer perspective.
“As the largest logistics provider in Australia, we serve every industry, and many of the top 100 ASX companies. In 2015, I was struggling to see any evidence of measures or insights helping leaders make decisions from a customer’s perspective,” Wilson told CMO.
What followed was the swift implementation of a VoC program which saw Wilson personally interview 150 global stakeholders over 160 hours in the first five months.
“I soon found out it was the depth of the relationship that really mattered to customers. And what was really powerful was that I told our customers I wanted to understand the good, the bad, and the ugly, and it was amazing how open they were with me,” she said.
It was a concerted effort by Toll group, including the leadership, to understand what was important to their customers, what Toll did well, and what it needed to improve.
Like all companies who implement a genuine VoC campaign, Toll realised what mattered to customers was not what the organisation had assumed.
“With this deep listening, we learnt that our customer cared less about the rational capabilities and assets and capabilities that we were so proud to market, like trucks and sheds and fleets and infrastructure,” Wilson said. “That capability was already assumed; they did, however, highlight the experiential factors and our front-line team members that made all the difference for them. At every level of the organisation, people called out and were the differentiator for our customers.”
Also important was the simple fact that Toll was listening, and customers wanted to ensure their feedback got back to the very top. So Wilson now shares customer feedback across the business with top leaders.
From there, Toll started to do sentiment count as well, with the help of an analyst. It found relationships and engagements was almost off the scale in terms of importance to customers, compared to even basic delivery performance.
“That was a bit of a revelation to us. Even I was surprised to some extent just how much it mattered. And two years later, globally, our key customers continue to tell us that. They remind us of what’s important to them and what those true differentiators are…that’s a real highlight to me, the executive and, most importantly, our front line team members,” Wilson continued.
In the second year, Toll hired a research agency, which did a couple of hundred interviews, plus took its customer feedback online, with Wilson herself still undertaking interviews with the top 50 customers globally.
In this the third year of the program, the logistics company has gone even broader and deeper, with a very deliberate focus on growth in global regions.
Now, after the purchase of a VoC platform (Qualtrics), Toll is running not just strategic feedback loops, but multiple operational VoC feedback loops, triggered by calls to contact centres, interactions on digital platforms, and by tender performance.
In an unexpected benefit, the VoC process itself has been an engagement positive. “Customers share how much they value and respect our listening, and that their perceptions and insights count,” Wilson said.
Not surprisingly, employee engagement has been key to implementing the actions resulting from the VoC program, and Wilson counts herself lucky that the new CEO, as well as other global leaders, consider the VoC to be a ‘gift’.
“Our MD, chair and board want to be across the results, feedback and insights from our VoC program and system. We are broadening and deepening our feedback loops and its strongly supported at the highest levels of the organisation,” Wilson explained.
“Our focus is now on employees. We have begun to be very conscious and deliberate with employee experience as well, and that drives the CX. We need to enable and equip our front-line so they are inspired to deliver for our customers.
Now voice of customer is in the vocabulary and vernacular at Toll, the group has begun focusing on voice of employee.
“It’s about how we mobilise and activate thousands of front-line employees across our global markets. We are asking ourselves what infrastructure and commitment is needed as we focus on employee activation for the customer,” Wilson said.
She reported customers are starting to feel the effects of this transformation, which has included, up until six months ago, lots of small changes, rather than large charges. This, in turn, has seen improvements in both bottom-line and NPS scores.
“Our NPS and insights framework also tracks important attributes longitudinally so we can measure and monitor the trends. Our customer interviews are open and free flowing in nature and it’s these unprompted responses that’s given us the gold themes,” Wilson said.
“This varies from B2B to B2C, of course, and with a lot of strategic guidance from our customers our whole business model is improved by our VoC program. Our fundamental principle is that we will be customer-led.”
Wilson recognised the VoC program has to keep evolving for Toll, and must be guided by customer need.
“Customers are very quick to keep us honest if something is not working for them. We are now moving into the space of innovation as well, particularly in our Asian markets, because smarts and innovation is what they want. It’s a really exciting space,” she said.
“We’ve done enough tracking and monitoring to know customers’ expectations just keep lifting. What was aspirational last year is basic this year.
“I updated our MD last week, and we have expanded and deepened our VoC program. We are in the tens of thousands of feedback points now, both strategically and operationally, and have doubled what we did last year. It’s how we are understanding our customers’ needs as we design and deliver on their branded experience.”
Wilson believed what stops many organisations from undertaking a genuine VoC program is a lack of humility and a willingness to be wrong.
“If there’s one attribute and competency I would test for at every level of the organisation, it is listening. It takes humility and courage by organisations to do the right thing, and is has to be enduring beyond the new CEO and marketing roles, because if not, it’s just a tick in the box and we aren’t learning.
“It’s not easy; often it’s a mirror that gets held up and by your key stakeholder, the customer. It has to become a part of your DNA – not feared, but revered.
“The VoC program continues to drive and deepen the brand engagement with our customers, which has been an unplanned positive outcome.”
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