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Why you can't pay me to care about your Voice of the Customer program

You need to decide if you are going to design your Voice of the Customer program based on a Social Norm or a Market Norm.

Published on
July 22, 2019

The question I get asked often is “should we tie our Voice of the Customer (VoC) program to bonuses?” and the answer is: it depends on the type of program you want to create.

The behavioural science underpinning this is clear. You need to decide if you are going to design your Voice of the Customer program based on a Social Norm or a Market Norm. The most important rule of all is: don’t blur them.

Social Norms describe why we like doing some things for free but not when we are paid. It is why you will happily drive your family to the airport but you would charge a stranger as if they asked you to do it. Social Norms are probably the most powerful human motivator and are linked with purpose, passion, and loyalty.

Typically, in large service organisations most frontline staff are recruited and motivated by Social Norms (e.g. helping customers) where most leaders are motivated by Market Norms (e.g. driving up revenue or driving down costs).

It is no surprise then that if you work in a Market Norm driven organisation your VoC program will be driven by market forces as the motivator eg. your Net Promoter Score (NPS) will be tied to bonuses and daily NPS performance will be tracked from top to bottom using leader boards. This is not necessarily bad, these programs are very effective, but you cannot expect the same levels of passion, purpose and motivation you achieve by having a Social Norm driven program. 

After a few years when NPS is plateauing the questions often come. ”How do we take this to the next level?” and “Why does our NPS program not motivate our staff to be passionate about helping customers?” Organisations sometimes gaze longingly at other voice of customer programs that are Social Norm driven (think Zappos and Amazon) and hold them up as best practice. In these types of programs employees are empowered and encouraged to treat customers like friends or family and leaders deliberately let customers provide purpose and motivation whilst empowering frontline people to take action. In these programs, increases in revenue and NPS are viewed as an unintended bi-product of doing the right thing by the customer.

There are a lot of Market driven organisations out there who aspire to have Social Norm driven Voice of Customer programs. But, to do this requires a significant mindset shift and change, especially by senior leaders. It takes a very deliberate change in strategy to shift a program from Market Norm driven to Socially Norm driven.

There is no right and wrong here, both VOC models work, but if you blur the lines, neither will. You will know you have probably blurred the lines if some of these things are happening in your organisation;

●     Leaders attempt to deliver inspiring messages about becoming a customer centric culture and many employees respond with scepticism, questioning if is a ploy to make them work harder.

●     Your CEO tells front line employees that helping the customer is number 1 and then sends customer feedback to individual silo’s to be dealt with separately (either by continuous improvement, customer experience or marketing teams).

●     Leaders try to motivate employees by telling them that their job is to help customers but don’t give them any power to go outside policy.

Is your organisation Market Norm or Social Norm driven, and how effective Is your VOC program in motivating front line employees?

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