At the recent Qualtrics X4 on Tour Sydney event, eBay senior manager – Voice of the Customer, Benjamin Bigelow discussed how eBay is maturing its Voice of Customer (VoC) program to listen beyond customer feedback and unearth richer insights, by empowering frontline workers and distributing insights across the organisation.

“eBay started working with Qualtrics around four or five years ago when we recognised that our VoC program was not agile enough. We had to rely on the vendor to make changes and fit into their availability, which meant long lead times,” Bigelow told Retailbiz in an interview at the Qualtrics event.

“Our customer survey was designed with the best intentions, very scientifically, but it meant a relatively complex survey experience. We had a pretty good customer response rate of around 10% to 15% to our survey invitations. However, of those who would response, again due to the complexity, there would be a lot of dropouts before they told us what we wanted to know. This meant we couldn’t take full advantage of the responses because we only had a small amount of data that met our quality needs.

“Our frontline workers didn’t understand the data in a way they could interpret what to do with it. For example, at the time we were measuring net satisfaction and CSAT. Typically, when we met with internal stakeholders to talk about survey results and how we could improve the experience, a good portion of our time would be spent on explaining how the calculation of the metrics worked.

“It wasn’t intuitive for frontline workers, their coaches and team leaders, to know how to improve the response rate and gather more data. They needed to understand which areas to focus on and we wanted to spend less time explaining how the data should be interpreted and be less involved in what needed to be done.”

When changes were made to the survey, eBay was able to double the customer response rate to around 30%, eliminating questions around CSAT calculations and instead, seeking an average percentage.

“We partnered closely with our quality and coaching organisation to develop simple and clear playbooks for team members – so each individual knew their role and how to understand the data across all levels of the organisation,” Bigelow said.

“After a few iterations of the survey, we decided to focus on the customers who were telling us they still needed help. They were leaving comments like ‘still waiting for a return call’ or ‘haven’t received a follow up from the supervisor’. We find a lot of times, customers miss our phone calls, but at the end of the day, we want to resolve the feedback.

“We created a recovery program where we targeted customers that were specifically still asking for help. We had a team who would follow up with them by phone or email and then send a follow up survey. We also targeted surveys where scores were as bad as they could be with one-star ratings. Our starting CSAT was one-star and in that follow up survey, we were able to take those experiences to four-and-a-half plus stars on average.”

The future of the VoC program

Relying less on solicited feedback and relying more on unsolicited feedback is the aim for the program, according to Bigelow. “We know that in the conversations our customers have with our agents, they talk about their experiences. For example, a customer might say ‘you haven’t solved my problem’ and then we know we don’t need to ask that customer about how they’re feeling. The interaction tells us and provides significant value for us because we can do it at scale, rather than just relying on customers that are invited to take our surveys. We can look at everyone we speak with across the entire landscape,” he said.

Moving to an unsolicited feedback model as the primary way of understanding customers is how Bigelow sees the program evolving and maturing into the future, which he is laying the foundations of today.

“Further into the future, in 18, 24 and 36 months, we don’t want to wait for our relationship monitor survey to ask about NPS. Instead, we will look for indicators such as ‘I am going to tell everyone about how horrible you are’ or ‘I love eBay and I tell everyone to use you’ and enhance our understanding of brand sentiment within the data set we already have, such as phone recordings, chat transcripts, and emails. Many organisations don’t do anything meaningful with the raw data – only the metadata associated with it such as the length or classification – but you can’t rely exclusively on that.

“The best way we can solve our customers’ pain is by ensuring our agents are taken care of, which is front of mind at eBay. For example, we are looking at creating models that can recognise customer abuse and share it with the agent’s coach for them to provide support. We don’t want to resolve our customer issues at the expense of our agents.”

Beyond VoC

eBay teams are already testing out Qualtrics tools to enhance the digital experience, beyond the VoC program.

“We want to ensure our organisation takes a more holistic view when making decisions. The post-contact surveys I’ve mentioned are just one of the surveys we run. Across our organisation, if we compare similar survey programs, we probably have a few dozen, but if you expand the definition of survey to be ‘gathering customer feedback’, we have hundreds of touchpoints,” Bigelow said.

“However, I think it could be better structured for a zoomed-out view to know which problems to solve. To make that decision, you need to combine and aggregate the data, so we are moving in that direction and a lot of the functionality that exists within Qualtrics would make it much easier.”

The rise of digital

As an ecommerce platform, Covid was good for eBay, although like many businesses, the company had to quickly figure out how to provide service at scale with individuals working from home.

“The onus for us creating our first tractor callback program was driven by Covid because our post contact survey data was struggling,” he said.

“I don’t believe customer expectations changed for us, but the way our business adapted so quickly was the biggest change. Moving to digital led experiences is a positive because it allows for potential savings. Customers still want to talk to a human when they have a problem that needs to be solved. There are some things that automated assistants are good at solving and many customers prefer automated interactions. But if required, the transition to a human being that can listen, care and help is critical.

“With the rapid innovation of AI, we are constantly evaluating the balance between automated technology and our human customer service agents. What we do know is that the tools and our approach should create the best customer outcomes possible. In some instances, AI won’t make sense. For example, when a customer is experiencing a more complicated and complex problem, they won’t want to interact with a bot that may not provide the same level of empathy as a human being.”