Who is the Voice of the Customer?

The voice of the customer is a very important person in any company. This is the person that sees things the way your customers see them. This is the person that raises their hand in a meeting and tells you that the customer is not going to like a new policy or feature. This is the person who is going to evaluate all internal decisions based on the impact on existing customers.

Without the voice of the customer, your company will be out of touch. You will be making decisions that executives see as best for the business without anyone to say whether or not customers are going to be happy.

What Qualifies Someone to Be the Voice of the Customer?

There are numerous positions in each company that could conceivably take on this role. Whoever it is has to have an intimate knowledge of who the customer is and why they do business with your company. They don’t have to speak directly to customers on a regular basis, but it certainly helps.

The voice of the customer should have a certain level of authority and decision-making power within the company. They have to have a seat at the table, so that the voice of the customer is heard when it matters most.

There is a case to be made that the person in charge is the voice of the customer. And at many start-ups and small businesses, the leader is the person that can fill that role. But the many responsibilities of the business leader or CEO will lead, sooner or later, to the voice of the customer role taking a back seat to the job of running the business.

A case can also be made for sales or customer service to represent the voice of the customer. Those teams are on the front lines, the ones who are dealing with customers day in and day out. But questions arise over whether these teams have enough internal power to ensure that the voice of the customer is included in all major decisions.

In many businesses, it is the product management team that must act as the voice of the customer. This team is responsible for the product, and a product is only as good as its ability to meet the needs of its customers. Product leads must work to incorporate customer’s wants and needs into the product, and can represent the very same to the overall business.

What Does the Voice of the Customer Do?

The voice of the customer has a number of responsibilities, most of them informal.

  1. Push for policies that are favorable to the customer and against policies that inhibit the customer experience.

  2. Push for new product features that would improve the overall satisfaction of the customer.

  3. Remind others within the organization to keep the customer in mind in everything that they do.

  4. Remind executives who the customer is and how their decisions will impact them.

  5. Make the case for pricing terms that are favorable to the customer.

In a sense, the voice of the customer is just what it sounds like. This person represents the customer interest in all things. It is as if you are giving your customers a seat at the table.

Who Should Be the Voice of the Customer?

No matter what their title, the person in your company who should be the voice of the customer has to be dedicated and fearless.

The person who will be successful in this role will do whatever it takes to understand customers better. They will get on the phone, send out emails, and hit the road to talk to customers. They will know what they like and don’t like about the product, why they chose your company over the competition, how they use your product, and more.

And they will not be afraid to share this information and speak up when it matters most. Whether it’s a meeting with their team, or a bunch of executives sitting around the conference room table getting ready to make a critical business decision. This person will have no problem speaking up.

A Simple Strategy for Deciding Which Risks to Take

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Human beings are naturally risk-averse, meaning they like to control the amount of risks they take and avoid them if at all possible. It’s what helped our ancestors survive.

But in the business world, risk aversion is a dangerous thing. You don’t succeed without taking risks. The world’s most successful companies were all built on risk. And the most successful leaders are those that know which risks are worth taking, and when.

So if you are someone that is not comfortable with risk, does that mean that all hope is lost? Should you pack up your desk and find a new job, one that does not force you to take any risks (like that exists)?

Obviously, the answer is no. There are ways that you can train yourself to see risk differently. You can become more comfortable evaluating, and taking, risks in your company.

Here is a simple strategy for helping you decide which risks to take:

1. Write it down.

The best way to start to evaluate risk is to clearly define it. This is helpful for you, and for anyone else you are working with. By clearly defining the decision that you have to make and what the risks associated with it are, you set the stage for clear thinking. Without this step, you might approach the problem more vaguely and end up scaring yourself out of making a decision.

2. Describe success.

Next, you’ll want to clearly describe for yourself what success would look like. Approach this as if you have already decided to move forward and the project succeeded. This helps you understand what a positive outcome will look like. Too often when we are risk-averse, we spend all of our time thinking about the potential failure and do not focus nearly enough energy planning for success.

3. Describe failure.

Now, only after you have defined what success will look like, will you turn to the opposite track. Write down in detail what failure will look like. The advantage of doing it this way is that you can create a more realistic version of failure. Often, we approach risk by immediately going to the worst-case scenario. But the truth is, more often than not the worst-case scenario is one that is unlikely to happen.

4. What are the odds?

Next comes the most difficult part – the part that trips up a lot of people. But it doesn’t have to trip you up.

You want to try to estimate the odds of success (the version you defined in step 2) and the odds of failure (the version you defined in step 3). The temptation is to say the odds are 50/50. But most decisions, if we are being honest with ourselves, don’t have 50/50 odds. Sometimes a risk is more likely to pay off, sometimes not. And sometimes there is an in-between outcome, somewhere in the middle of the success and failure you’ve described.

The closer you can come to the odds of each version coming true, the more comfortable you will be with the final decision.

5. What are the alternatives?

Lastly, there is a step too many of us leave out entirely. In most decision-making scenarios where we are weighing the risk of moving forward, we ignore the alternatives.

Usually, if you decide to move forward and take the risk, you are giving something else up. There is only so much time in the day, only so much money in the budget, and only so many priorities we can work on at any given time.

Additionally, if you decide not to move forward because there is too much risk identified, you may end up asking yourself what to do next. Identifying the alternatives to this risky endeavor may make it easier to say yes or no.

6. Make a decision.

When you are all done defining the risk, describing what success and failure look like, calculating the odds and identifying the alternatives, it’s time to make a decision.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. If you have a tendency to stagnate, to get paralyzed by the decisions before you, commit yourself to a deadline. Don’t let yourself ruminate. If you need to, bring in one or more trusted stakeholders to help you forward. Because the truth is, any decision is better than no decision at all.

How Do You Handle Business Failure?

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No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. And because companies are made up of people, they make mistakes too.

One would hope that with enough planning and preparation, with enough people there to add their opinions and check our work, that companies would always get things right. But, alas, there is not a company out there who has not experienced at least one significant failure over the years.

So the question is not if your business will experience a misstep, but when. And what will you do when those inevitable failures come?

Don’t Plan to Fail, but Prepare for the Possibility

We never want to plan to fail. But knowing that failures do happen, it is a good idea to know exactly how to handle it when it happens.

Preparing for the possibility of a failure means doing a few things:

  1. Have a plan B. No matter what you are working towards, always know where the exits are. When you have a plan B that you can easily pivot to, the failures can turn into successes.
     
  2. Develop a communication plan. Put people in place to analyze and determine whether or not something is working as expected. If not, create clear lines of communication for those people to let the company’s decision makers know right away.
     
  3. Be honest with yourself, and with your staff. Sometimes, when we decide to go down a certain path, it can be hard to admit when it’s not working. But in order to rebound from failures, we need to be able to honestly evaluate our decisions after the fact and be transparent about all decisions going forward.
     
  4. Learn and grow. Part of being transparent means learning from past mistakes so that you don’t make them again. Companies that have processes in place to examine what went wrong and why are better prepared to succeed into the future.

What is the Paradox of Choice?

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The paradox of choice, popularized by psychologist Barry Schwartz in a 2004 book, is the theory that having more options, or choices, makes it harder for people to make a decision, potentially hurting their well-being in the process.

The theory has been tested and analyzed in many different ways over the years. Perhaps the most popular experiment, when it comes to business, involves samples of jam at a supermarket.

In this experiment, researchers arranged free samples of a brand of jam, and asked people to try different flavors. In one scenario, there were 6 different varieties. And in the other, there were 24.

Traditional thinking would have you believe that more options is better, because consumers can pick the one that best fits their needs. However, the results of the study showed something else happened entirely. Although more people tried the jam when they were presented with 24 options vs. 6, much fewer ended up buying the product.

And so the paradox of choice theory tells us that there is a point at which offering too many options makes it difficult to make a decision, and that consumers may not make a decision at all as a way of coping.

Paradox of Choice and Your Business

Though this theory has been applied to a number of different areas of our lives, the implications for companies is clear. The more variations of your product or service you offer, the more you risk crossing this line and turning them off.

Often, this way of thinking runs counter to what most of think of as good product development. If we see consumers asking for new features, or different styles, or if we observe them turning to a similar product that our competitors offer, we naturally come to the conclusion that we should offer something that fits what they’re looking for. We want to have something for everyone.

But when this strategy is taken to its logical conclusion, we end up developing a large number of variations on our products that are so similar it makes the consumers’ job (and the marketers who have to convince them) much harder.

Pushback on the Paradox of Choice

It is fair to say that in the years since his book was first published, there have been a number of criticisms of Mr. Schwartz’s conclusions. Subsequent studies have shown the opposite results, that consumers prefer more choice, and that having different options actually expands the market for certain products.

Today, it is widely thought that the paradox of choice applies in some cases and not in others.

What You Should Do

If you are involved in the decision making at the product level at your company, it is your job to understand the paradox of choice, and test for it.

Think you might have too many different options? Try a split test where you take some away and see if that helps conversion rate. Consider simplifying the decision by combining features of one option with another, and limit the choices as much as possible.

Think you have room to add new varieties but worried about the impact that might have? Again, you can test it out before you invest in the new development. Consumer research and onsite testing can help you determine if there is room to create new options that would sell.

3 Ways to Ensure Your Team Makes Better Decisions

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A common myth abounds in business circles – the myth that good decision makers are born, not made. Untrue.

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we can become better decision makers through experience and practice. Think about it right now. Are you better at making decisions than you were ten years ago? Chances are the answer, no matter how old you are, is yes.

As a leader, you are not just worried about your own decision-making ability. You are also worried about the ability of your team members make decisions individually, and your team to make decisions as a group. You want to lead a team that knows what they are responsible for, that knows the criteria for good decision making, and can be trusted to make decisions that are in the best interest of the company.

That is the only way for you, as a manager, to trust them. And you need to trust them in order to empower them, and develop the kind of effective team you need to succeed.

The good news is, there are things you can do to help them. Here are three ways to ensure your team makes better decisions:

  1. Help them with framing
  2. Let them fail
  3. Teach them to evaluate

Help Them with Framing

The key to any decision is putting it into its appropriate context. For a company, there should be a common set of goals that we are all working toward. Clear and transparent communication around these goals is key to framing every decision.

When confronted with a decision, large or small, we want our employees to ask themselves one simple question: How will my decision impact the company?

The answer to this question is not always obvious. For example, if I’m asked to choose between building out a marketing capability in house or outsourcing it to an agency, it is not going to be clear right away with option is better for the company. But if I know that one of our goals is to take more ownership over our growth, I know that building out a capability is a better fit for who we want to be as an organization.

You want your team to think about the outcomes of their decision. Will this help or hurt the company en route to its larger goals? And you can help them do that by being open about what those goals are.

Let Them Fail

We all make mistakes. As managers, we don’t like to advertise that fact. We like to pretend that we got to where we are today by making all the right decisions and actions along the way.

However, the truth is far from those perfect versions of ourselves. We stumbled and took missteps along the way. And yet, here we are.

As a manager, the first step to empowering your team to make better decisions is empowering them to make more decisions. And you have to get over your fear of failure, which we all harbor.

Your team will make the wrong decision sometimes. And that has to be okay. While we should not encourage failure, and we should address each one and learn from it, we have to admit that failing happens sometimes. It’s the only way to instill a sense of trust and openness on your team. And it’s the only way anyone is going to learn to improve going forward.

Teach Them to Evaluate

The last thing you need to do to encourage your team members to become better decision makers is to teach them to evaluate the decisions they make. This is a time for learning and growth.

We should evaluate all decisions – large and small. We should evaluate our winners as well as our losers.

There is always something to learn. In some cases, evaluation is all about examining the results. What went well? Did we meet expectations? What happened that we did not anticipate, and should we have seen that?

Through these decision post-mortems, you will learn to appreciate the things that are outside of your control, and to see the things that you do have control over. Each decision going forward will build on the decisions of the past. And the more we understand – through careful practice and honest evaluation – the more prepared we will be to make better decisions in the future.