You’ve done it: A seat at every important conversation in the company.
You’re bringing the Voice of the Customer to discussions about Product, Marketing, Sales, Engineering, Strategy. Your cross-functional team turns to you any time someone is assuming what a customer would want. They are even reaching out to you first; in fact, the Head of Marketing just put time on your calendar to “request some customer feedback”.
But you still have a team to run, and projects to finish, and besides, it’s starting to feel less like the customer’s voice and more like your voice.
The mission now is to embed the Voice of the Customer into the culture of the business.
The Benefits of Teaching Your Team
These benefits are familiar to anyone who works with Agile methodologies, like Scrum. That’s because the very first principle from the Agile Manifesto is:
“Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”
Would you rather wait 6 months for product feedback, or 60 minutes? Would you rather talk to an upset customer, or see a cancellation from a customer who never reached out?
Six months is slow learning. So is a cancellation. The slower your team learns, the slower it moves. Your cross-functional team is moving faster than ever because it’s listening to the Voice of the Customer now, but you know the team can work a lot faster. The problem is that you are the bottleneck because you are the only person who actually knows the Voice of the Customer.
By teaching your team, you widen that bottleneck and your team learns faster.
Guessing is an expensive way to run a business. You may be right, but you’re probably at least a little wrong. At some levels, being wrong can cost millions of dollars and years. It can shut down a business.
While we can’t eliminate uncertainty, we can guess a lot less by sharing feedback from customers. Instead of guessing what features to launch next, you can interview 30 customers.
Your cross-functional team can’t do anything with that information until they have it, though. When they start learning faster, they become equipped to guess a lot less.
With great cross-functional teams, you will actually have other functions coming to you for proactive customer feedback. This is a sure sign you’re going the right direction.
Gather unique perspectives
The team is learning fast and guessing less. They believe in customer feedback. In fact, Marketing and Product were just talking about a new idea that has never occurred to you. You ask how they thought of it and they mention 3 customer interviews they sat in on.
Your cross-functional team just had its first customer-driven insight that didn’t depend on you.
In fact, you may even disagree. After all, you’re not Product or Marketing.
That’s the true value of teaching cross-functional teams about the customer: They blend that learning with their own experience to create unique perspectives.
The Risks of Teaching Your Team
There aren’t many risks, but they are worth noting.
Small sample sizes
This means that your team hasn’t spent enough time with customers. In the worst cases, they may have watched a handful of recorded interviews. Sometimes, they are spending a lot of time with customers but only a certain kind, such as especially frustrated or happy customers. Other times, the luck of the draw connects them with a string of similar customers who leave a strong impression.
It’s your job to understand your team’s perspectives while providing a larger context. It’s true that the last 3 customers all said they wanted Feature X, but you can point out that the next 10 all said Feature X was a “nice to have”. The goal isn’t to win- it’s to provide a larger context for the discussion.
People are complicated. We tend to do things for emotional or subconscious reasons while we explain them as rational choices. Sometimes, we’re uncomfortable or delighted without understanding why. It takes time to understand the overall message. This becomes more complicated as you study different customer personas and market segments.
This makes it easy for a cross-functional team to make simplified assumptions. These assumptions tend to stifle creativity and trap teams into false choices.
One common example is when a team member applies a stereotype to customer feedback. For instance, usability concerns shared by older customers are often dismissed as the customer “just being old” when in fact, the Product Owner is struggling with the Curse of Knowledge.
We saved this risk for last because we believe (and research supports) that people are generally well-intentioned. But, we do like to be right. Confirmation Bias – where we naturally favor information that agrees with our perspective – is part of everyone.
Creating clarity about the mission is the first step in addressing this challenge. It’s hard for people to be self-serving about a clear, shared objective. Clear communication and expectations create the direction and structure for how the team will work together, reducing friction.
At the same time, be careful not to discount a perspective just because it seems self-serving. First, your own confirmation bias might be at play. Second, people tend to express concerns emotionally before they are able to explain them logically. An unusually strong or even selfish response to feedback could be the first sign of an important concern that the team member needs help exploring.
How to Teach Your Team
Nothing beats experience. Every tool here provides a creative way to directly connect the customer’s actual words with the team.
Summarize customer discussions
This is how most Customer Success leaders start. Create example personas that tell a customer’s story. Or, bring unique customer discussions straight to the team. We like to be shown more than we like to be told, making this a powerful tool.
Be careful not to stop here, though. That makes you the bottleneck. It also unduly influences the Voice of the Customer with your voice, since you are “translating” for them.
The Head of Product may not believe there is a usability issue, no matter how many customers complain. Remember that they have spent months, years, or even decades working hard to make a great product.
Show them the data. This can be attrition, fewer monthly average users, high churn after a certain period, or a report showing how 50% of all customer complaints are about one feature not working as expected.
Data separates the messenger from the message. This is a great way to avoid personal friction. It also protects you from becoming the person who is “always complaining about the product.”
Review recorded interviews as a team
Better than summarizing is showing. Your cross-functional team can’t and shouldn’t spend as much time with the customer as you. They have important work, too. By recording interviews, you give everyone a chance to observe the same discussion while drawing their own conclusions.
By reviewing as a team, you create a space for healthy discussion and set the expectation that the issue will be explored cross-functionally.
Serve the customer
We saved the best for last. Great teams are famous for spending time answering customer support tickets, building process documentation, and interviewing customers.
This doesn’t have to be a lot of time. In fact, ask each member of your cross-functional team to commit to one morning of support, once per month. You can even choose the slowest day of the week and give them the Tier 1 support tickets.
This has 3 benefits. First, your cross-functional team will develop an appreciation for the work your team does. Second, they will be forced out of their own Curses of Knowledge and into the perspective of a customer with no experience using your product. Third, they will develop more empathy for frustrated customers as they themselves struggle to navigate a malfunctioning feature or clunky documentation.
Today we’ve explored how to teach a cross-functional team to hear the Voice of the Customer.
Join the Conversation
Extelli lives in the world we’re discussing here… and we would love for you to join the conversation. Check out our post about this topic on LinkedIn.