It’s no secret that the key to understanding our customers is often found deep within the contact center. It should also come as no surprise that voluntary turnover in critical customer-facing roles has never been higher. They seem like disconnected problems, but the good news is we can tackle them both at the same time by creating support for a grassroots Voice of the Customer (VOC) program.

If you’re reading this, you’d probably agree that the contact center is rich with data and insights that are largely ignored, even in the most sophisticated businesses. With listening tools and AI solutions, it may seem like an easy decision to let the machines do the listening work, but no matter your industry, you are dealing with people. Employees and customers alike need to be heard, and in listening to them as humans and engaging them to create solutions, we take full advantage of the resources and create a place where people actually want to work (here’s a hint: people don’t quit those jobs as quickly).

What I’m describing is an approach to creating a grassroots VoC program that provides clarity, direction, and context to any other listening programs you may already have. Or, if you don’t have a VoC program or the ability to listen to your customers through other data (surveys, CRM dashboards, social media, etc.), it can be a great place to start.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Communicate a Simple Vision

As Steven Covey famously said, begin with the end in mind. Do you have a company vision that resonates with your employees? Congratulations! You’re among the best of the best. But if you don’t have that as a foundation, don’t worry; you can still create a vision statement that helps people understand the “why.” What is it you aspire to be as a customer service organization? Avoid those big, complicated words and keep it simple, like:

  • Solve customer issues with the skills and insights of our employees
  • Leverage our team member genius to serve clients
  • Provide the best service ever, powered by the feedback of our teams

Step 2: Create Ownership for Structure

We all have high-potential leaders that can accomplish more, so identify one and ask them to lead this effort for 6 months, or whatever time period makes sense for your organization. It’s important to set a timer and enable different employees and leaders the chance to engage. With minimal structure, the effort can succeed; with no structure, it looks like a side project that will be forgotten. Strike the right balance for your culture. The leader needs to set up a structure for note-taking, expectations, tracking and measuring results (we’ll talk more about that later), and communicating updates to the organization.

Step 3: Recruit

There are many ways to choose, but I like to set as few restrictions as possible on who can be on the VoC team. As long as the employee is meeting their performance goals, welcome them. This is about inclusion and capturing the benefits of diversity. What happens when only the top performers are on a team like this? You don’t get the real deal. Or, at best, you only get one version of the issues they face. I love getting a complainer on the VoC—you know the people I’m talking about, the ones that can find something wrong in anything? I get it, they can be a LOT—and, they aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. AND, I guarantee you have customers just like them. Give them a chance to complain. They don’t have to have solutions to participate—in fact, stop saying “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution” entirely. It’s nonsense when you think about it: why wouldn’t we want to hear the problems? Of course, we should encourage problem-solving, but if we wait until everyone has a solution, we miss out on the creative problem-solving within our diversity.

Step 4: Create Team Norms

OK, I just asked you to invite the employee who will suck the air out of any room to the party. This is the step where you make sure that person is useful. Creating team norms ideally happens in the very first meeting. After the leader describes the vision and gains agreement; they can then ask the team what would enable that outcome and what would hinder it. These team norms, rules, or agreements are most powerful when the team takes a few minutes to generate them themselves.

Step 5: Track and Measure

One of the most frustrating experiences as an employee is to give feedback into a black hole. The simple way to avoid this is to ensure leaders view the VoC team as an essential part of the business. Expect meetings to be effective and efficient, and set an expectation for tracked and measured actions and outcomes to ensure the team not only creates value but can also see the effect of their work. This is where we use tools like SMART goals, Gantt charts, spreadsheets, or whatever internal tracking and collaboration tools exist in your organization. Remember: the wheel was already invented. You likely already have all the tools you need!

Step 6: Celebrate Wins and Learnings

If we track and measure our work, celebrating that work can be a built-in step in the process. Did an agent bring context to a problem that helped IT isolate a defect? A public celebration of that win keeps everyone engaged. Celebrating the failures or learnings is less intuitive, but just as important to progress. When a possible solution turns out to be a bust, celebrate the ideation and what you learned as a critical component of the program. In the end, you’ll create a culture where people take measured risks more often, leading to a deeper understanding of your customers’ and employees’ needs.

By starting small and building on quick wins and learnings, any organization can benefit from the direct input of its employees. Asking for feedback to benefit customers is a way to create real solutions, engage employees, break down silos, and deliver the best service possible to your customers. And the best part is, that you already have the tools to get it started: no fancy technology is needed.

With just a few people with a passion for improvement and a little structure, you can create the beginnings of a strong VoC program; the evolution of this type of program can be a game-changer as leaders begin to recognize and celebrate what a small team of volunteers can accomplish.

Erin McMillan leads a diverse team with equally diverse functions spanning order fulfillment, customer care, even graphic design. Since joining the organization in 2002 as a Customer Support Rep, Erin has been focused on developing strong leaders and engaged employees that can deliver the ultimate customer experience.