What does it take to build and sustain a customer-centric culture in your organization? What are the key decisions to accelerate your progress? What would you do differently if you could build your Voice of Customer program from scratch?

I had the opportunity to interview Kristen Engelhardt, Vice President, Voice of the Customer, Salesforce. She says there are seven key decisions she’s observed over time. And she’s refined her list based on personal experience and, of course, customer feedback.

As an organization the biggest battlefield scars we got were when we opened up the listening channel and invested in the listening channel,” she said. “Because, ironically, we slowly stopped listening over time. We took our eyes off the ball.

How did that happen?

She continued, “We put so much energy into our innovation focus that we lost sight of a critical core function – customer listening. Even while we were innovating, we needed customer feedback about how to make our solutions easier to configure. And to adopt.”

What did it take to change the focus?

Our customers told us we were not being true to them and to what they needed. So, we resourced the team. We re-engaged with our customers. And now we have a true to the core plank in our product platform because of that learning.

We never would have learned to co-innovate with our customers without that wake-up call. Our customers schooled us, but we came out better in the end.

What are the seven key decisions?

Decision #1: Start Small, Invest Over Time. Focus on one topic with one team. Get feedback from customers to establish a baseline. Then, set a single improvement goal. Taking on too much scope too quickly makes it difficult to take action and to make progress.

Decision #2: Create a neutral reporting structure. You may be familiar with the saying, “the fox watching the hen coop.” When the team accountable for delivering improvements is also keeping score, it’s tempting to change the score. By altering the methodology or the measurement to make results look more favorable. A neutral reporting structure also enables your Voice of Customer team to serve the business as a whole, rather than needing to prioritize the organization that provides budget, annual performance reviews, and promotions.

Decision #3: Embrace agile development. Customer feedback changes. Development needs change. Match your development cycle to your feedback cycle to account for continuous changes. And also enable the business to move more quickly.

Decision #4: Create measurement that drives accountability. Make the measurement and supporting data generally available. And then assign an accountable owner to each metric or measurement.

Decision #5: Recognize and reward success. Sometimes the team sharing customer feedback is cast as the “bad news” team. Motivate your team and your stakeholders to stay engaged. To keep driving improvements. Recognize results and the behavior that drives the results.

Decision #6: Don’t fear the feedback. Complaints can drive innovation. Sometimes we try to explain away negative feedback. “We just moved them to a new account team.” “They just finished their deployment.” “These are just the small customers.” Feedback is perception. Perception is reality. All feedback is valid because it comes from your customers.

Decision #7: Automate everything. Automating analysis and reporting saves valuable cycles for your team. Free them up from volume work, and focus them on value work through the power of automation.

Bonus Decision: Place a big bet. Set a stretch goal. A goal that scares you. Takes you past a path you can reasonably see. That will force you to change your thinking.