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Grant Johnson

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Selective Hearing: The Voice of the Customer

For many of us, the clarion call to become more customer centric is echoing throughout the halls; we all need to better acquire, serve, and retain customers.  While there are many avenues to customer centricity, one of the primary approaches to getting closer to customers starts with designing and implementing a Voice of the Customer program.

Wikipedia defines Voice of the Customer as “the in-depth process of capturing a customer’s expectations, preferences and aversions.”  Forrester defines the term as “a systematic approach for collecting customer insights and incorporating them into business decisions.”

Both definitions share the premise that the rigorous gathering of customer insight can improve a company’s ability to serve its customers more successfully.  The key of course is not just obtaining the insight, but acting on it.  Many companies start out the customer insight journey with good intentions, but have “selective hearing” with Voice of the Customer (VoC), and only hear what they want and change the easy things, rather than embarking on the difficult business policy changes required to meet customer expectations.  Lester Owens, Managing Director and Global Head of Treasury Services Operations at JP Morgan, said it perfectly during his keynote address at this year’s PegaWORLD: “It’s not about what we think we want, it’s about what the client wants.”

In the report “Voice Of The Customer Programs Don’t Deliver Enough Value,” Andrew McInnes of Forrester writes: “The vast majority of respondents (to the Forrester VoC survey) also admitted that their programs don’t systematically drive actions based on VoC insights or make those insights easy to access.”   So first, companies need to make sure they hear everything that the customer is saying.  Many companies are getting this part right.  Second, and more importantly, is the ability to drive change and take the necessary actions to improve the customer experience in ways that lead to higher levels of customer engagement, satisfaction and loyalty.

One of the things I’ve learned here at Pega, a leader in both the business process management and the customer relationship management markets, is that understanding the customer’s process, i.e. how they want to interact with your business, is as critical as anything else to orchestrating business processes and outcomes that meet customer requirements.  In the age of customer empowerment, no company can survive by making the customer conform to how the business thinks customer processes should work.  It’s now the other way around: businesses have to adapt their processes dynamically to customer needs and continue to change if they want to succeed in retaining and growing their customer base.  Only then will the Voice of the Customer research lead to better business insight and, ultimately, better business results.


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A dynamic, senior-level technology executive with a proven track record building businesses on a global basis. As Chief Marketing Officer for Pegasystems in Cambridge, MA Johnson is responsible for worldwide marketing strategy and execution. He oversees corporate marketing, field marketing, industry marketing, product marketing, marketing programs, marketing communications, analyst and public relations, and global web strategy. Previously, Johnson was the Vice President of Marketing at Guidance Software (GUID) and Vice President of Marketing and served as an officer for FileNet Corp., a $400+ million enterprise software vendor acquired by IBM in 2006. Prior to that, he was Vice President of Marketing for FrontBridge, an email management vendor acquired by Microsoft. Johnson led the company’s re-naming and re-launch, built the marketing team and delivered integrated marketing programs to support significant and sustained revenue growth. He has also served as Director of Marketing for Symantec, with worldwide responsibility for the Norton brand, and as Senior Vice President of Marketing at Ethentica, an enterprise security vendor. Johnson received his bachelor of arts from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his master’s in business administration from Pepperdine University. He has also published several articles on best practices in high tech marketing and co-authored the book, PowerBranding™