“I AM FOREVER walking upon these shores,
Betwixt the sand and the foam,
The high tide will erase my foot-prints,
And the wind will blow away the foam.
But the sea and the shore will remain
Now, more than ever, the opportunity presented to leaders within businesses across verticals is to truly understand customers’ changing needs and goals, to act on that knowledge quickly with innovation if needed, and to create positive, meaningful, and memorable experiences for customers. Relying on employees who are engaging directly with customers, having conversations, hearing the emotion in those customers’ voices, empathizing, and doing their best to resolve an immediate issue remains one of the best sources to promote customer understanding, and to do so quickly.
In this post, I will share a couple of tools I used to quickly capture and synthesize the feedback from front-line employees.
Top-of-Mind Sharing Session:
Time needed: 1-1.5 hours for a group of up to 50 front-line employees (smaller groups are fine, as well, and will likely require less time)
Who to include:
- Front-line employees
- Any cross-functional leader who has the interest and time (note: relevant and accountable cross-functional leaders should also receive a readout and synthesis afterward)
- Virtual meeting service (e.g., Zoom, GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, etc.)
- Chat functionality within the virtual meeting service OR virtual collaboration software (e.g., Mural, Microsoft Whiteboard, or even Slack would work)
How to do it:
Instruct attendees, “Thinking of all of the customer interactions you have had in the last two weeks, take the next 5-7 minutes to note in <specific Chat or Collaboration tool> the very most top-of-mind customer issues you have heard about.”
Everyone should be able to see what others are noting. At the end of the 5-7 minutes, you will have a list of issues that were important enough to be top of mind for your employees.
Take a few minutes to ask any clarifying questions about what was noted. Then consolidate the complete list of top-of-mind issues into a single list with the issue and the name of the contributor.
Take a “gut-check” pulse on the frequency or number of customers experiencing the issue (high, medium, low) and the issue severity (e.g., egregious, painful, inconvenient OR high, medium, low) for each top of mind issue noted in your consolidated list. Sharing a screen of the consolidated list in a table format with columns for frequency and severity or setting up a layout in a collaboration tool where cards can physically be moved or colored is helpful here. The idea is to go through this quickly and have each contributor give a gut-check on frequency and severity.
The resulting table or collaboration tool layout will give you everything you need for a quick synthesis, a prioritization matrix, and a readout on the key themes identified. With all of this in place, you can develop an action plan that helps address the issues and aligns to your customers’ needs and your company goals.
One helpful tool I often used to provide a visual representation of the issues that were most important to focus on was a prioritization matrix. The horizontal axis represents the frequency or number of customers impacted. The vertical axis represents issue severity. Based on the issues identified in the top-of-mind sharing session along with the gut-check pulse on frequency and severity, the issues can be plotted in a matrix like the one below. You can certainly validate the frequency with actual data if you have the time and issue tracking in place. However, even just having a visual representation of what you heard in the top-of-mind sharing session can be useful.
Interpreting a Prioritization Matrix
- Upper right: High severity, high frequency – Address these issues with high priority.
- Upper left: High severity, low frequency – Address these issues, particularly if the customers experiencing them are strategic for your business.
- Lower right: Low severity; high frequency – If these issues can be addressed, it will not only reduce effort for your customers and save irritation but will likely help reduce operating expenses for your business.
- Lower left: Low severity, low frequency – Addressing these issues is a lower priority.
Once you have a visual for the top-of-mind issues, you can also consider the level of effort required to address those issues. This is useful as you develop an action plan, think about potential quick wins, and continue to keep your customer needs and their stories front and center while also aligning what you can do with the goals of your business. You can also use the visual of a prioritization matrix to show high-level progress over time by including a resolution status.
Sharing the prioritization matrix with cross-functional leaders (along with a readout that includes top themes and recommendations), gaining sponsorship for the prioritized issues to address, and getting to work on the key improvement opportunities comes next. One additional very important element of all of this is to close the loop with the front-line employees who brought the customer top-of-mind issues to the forefront. Share the prioritization matrix with them, keep them apprised of the issues that will be addressed and the resolution status of those issues, and always thank them for their insights and for all of the ways they make a difference for customers every day.
Going back to the words of Kahlil Gibran, “The high tide will erase my foot-prints, and the wind will blow away the foam. But the sea and the shore will remain Forever.”
I encourage all of us to think about the forever sea and shore that we want to sustain for our employees and customers now and into the future.