Bring your Team in Early

by Karen on April 1, 2011

I attended a MRIA (Marketing Research and Intelligence Association) luncheon last week on how insight, research and judgment work together to support branding initiatives.   The presenter shared her experience and perspective and challenged the audience on numerous approaches.  The presenter is a big fan of getting everyone involved in research and in particular, group insight sessions, believing that the more involved everyone is, the more likely the team would embrace the go forward strategy.   I absolutely agree that the closer employees can be to the research the better but I do wonder about the risk of “group think” and even the threat of people shutting down among the more vocal and more powerful people in the room.  A strong facilitator would be critical.

An approach I have used in the past to bring employees closer to the customer perspective involved the full customer service team gathering customer perspective for the purpose of ascertaining brand weaknesses and brand loyalty.  I set the team up on a rotating schedule as interviewers, each provided with call lists, a script and ongoing coaching to ensure the true customer voice was brought forward.  I’d have to say that the insight captured was not as robust as if an expert team had conducted the interviews, but the spin-off benefits of involving this employee team in the research process was well worth it and more than expected.

  • Customer service teams can develop a negative view of the organization since often all they hear are problems.  Once involved in the research oriented customer interviews, they heard the good, increasing confidence in the organization and their ability to solve problem service calls.
  • Problems that were near and dear to an individual employee’s heart but somehow fell on deaf ears of their supervisors were brought forward.  It was no longer just “Johnny” bringing the same service problem up all of the time; the interview sample identified it as a priority.  Validating the customer service team AND driving quick problem resolution.
  • Repeat challenges captured during interviews and debriefed daily with operations leaders, resulted in timely correction of smaller service issues.
  • Leadership and the operating teams were able to hear the customer perspective as a whole vs one-off service problems, broadening their own perspective and challenging them to solve the systemic problem versus the singular customer issues (i.e., band-aid solutions).
  • The customer service team felt they were instrumental in the development of the brand strengthening strategy, creating a team of non-management and non-marketing team communicators and supporters.  There is nothing like grass-roots support!
  • Customer service personnel weaknesses became obvious resulting in employees being taken off the phones for product/service training prior to returning to their position.

A few words of caution:

The customer service team initially felt threatened and uncomfortable with their involvement and I vividly remember a representative sweating while I sat next to him plugged in to his call.  After the first interview and subsequent supportive feedback, anxiety calmed.

Leveraging an inside team to collect research needs to be carefully monitored so as not to burnout the group nor negatively impact their daily responsibilities.

And finally, the primary expectation from this type of approach should be to build employee awareness of the customer’s perspective and an early buy-in strategy.

The final message from the presenter at the MRIA lunch was to do whatever it takes to listen to your customers, don’t let budget restrictions deafen your ears.  Cheers!

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