In this automated, AI obsessed and data-driven world there is sweet irony that one of the biggest impediments to digital transformation, successful product launches, and exceptional customer experiences, are gut decisions and the opinions of the most senior person in the room.
Make no mistake, there is no grand conspiracy here. Instinct and experience have served many people well, but gut decisions are not scalable and rarely repeatable. The simple fact is decisions must be made and in the absence of rapid, reliable, and agile customer insight, decision makers have to go with their gut. With that mind, the customer insights team at VSP Global (VSP) made the decision to re-organize their program around a repeatable engagement model that brings together a large group of highly engaged, carefully segmented customers, who have consented to provide ongoing feedback.
With nearly 90 million members worldwide, six lines of business, and diverse set of audiences from members, doctors, and patients to clients and brokers their customer insights team was doing good and important work, but they were stretched to the limit and feeling the pressure to deliver under tighter and tighter timelines. As a shared service for the organization, their team of seven analysts tackle a wide array of projects for business partners across the organization including satisfaction research, ad and message testing, UX research, product optimization studies, new concept testing, pricing studies, persona development, and segmentation studies.
Like many corporate research teams, they used to work in a largely reactive manner. Business partners approached them with a research need and, when faced with a 4–6 week turnaround time would abandon the request and turn to outside vendors for answers, or forgo a deeper data dive.
“Our insight team is a shared service for our whole organization, so we have our hands full and we have to know a lot about a lot! We need to help our lines of business understand our various publics—general consumers, members, clients (larger employers, benefit managers and brokers), and optometrists. Having access to an opted-in group of people we care about through our three insight communities means we can be agile and support the business—it doesn’t take two months to do a deep dive anymore.”
— Angie Jones, Manager Customer Insights
With a responsibility to ensure the decisions in their business represent the voice of their customers, VSP partnered with Vision Critical to create three insight communities.
- VSP Visionaries, comprised of 5000 current plan members
- VSP Insiders, 1000 non-members to support their direct-to-consumer insurance business and online eyewear retail business
- Optical Insiders, 1000 VSP providers (optometrists, opticians, and office staff) who represent the voice of eye care professionals
“We really needed a way to access our publics in a faster, more agile way. And to do that we needed people to consent to engage with us on an ongoing basis so we could reach out to them whenever we need to. Now we have three insight communities and we can get more of a 360 view on the people we serve.”
— Nicole Alaniz, Marketing Analytics Specialist
The combination of these three communities allows VSP to compare results across a variety of audiences to see how answers differ in terms of attitudes and usage of eye care and eyewear products and services. It also allows them to slice the results to answer segment-specific questions for the business.
In their first eight months, they launched 30 studies with an average turnaround time of 4.5 days from survey launch to insight delivery. It was quickly apparent that this new ability to deliver agile insights was a game changer for their team. As word spread, they attracted interest from new areas of the business. Today they utilize the community for surveys, qualitative research via discussion forums, recruiting community members to attend local in-person interviews, and for gathering testimonials.
Here’s a Breakdown of Their Most Impactful Use Cases:
- Corporate Strategy: De-Risking Decisions
The Corporate Development team was considering a multi-million-dollar investment in a company with a consumer facing product and they wanted to get a better understanding of consumer perceptions and interest in the product before making such a large investment. The team needed a quick turnaround and an audience that it was safe to engage with details of a highly sensitive deal. The ability to meet their needs with the insight community expanded the scope of their team’s impact, gave the Corporate Development leaders the confidence they needed to move forward, all the while cementing a seat at the table for an important strategic business decision. As Haley Whitham, Senior Marketing Analytics Specialist at VSP said, “it was a win, win, win.”
- Marketing Effectiveness: Creative Testing
As part of a television advertising campaign, a brief tagline was needed for an Eyeconic commercial. Eyeconic offers access to an ecommerce and brick-and-mortar eye care and eyewear for retail minded consumers. The brief was straightforward, but by no means simple. The tagline needed to be easy to understand, appealing, and drive traffic to their website. The spot was a significant investment so it was vital to get the messaging right so they conducted a two-part study to understand value proposition and messaging, and then tested the four taglines two weeks later to establish the final messaging for the commercial. Eyeconic wouldn’t have been able to get insight from another method in as fast and fiscally responsible way. The rapid turnaround and friction-free engagement was made possible because of the ongoing access to VSP Members who have consented to provide feedback. Early results show that 89% of TV attributable site visits came from first-time visitors, 22% of sales were impacted by the commercial airing, and there was a significant lift in brand awareness.
- Marketing Effectiveness: Brand Tone and Messaging
VSP Vision Care’s consumer marketing team had the opportunity to create and modify marketing collateral for the current brand look and feel, specifically a welcome letter and flyer about the options available. The goal was to create a more conversational and engaging experience. The results of community engagement were invaluable. After customer-validated modifications to the collateral it was distributed to 70 clients who serve 500,000 VSP members across the nation. The new creative helped drive a 105% increase into the plan from the year prior.
How to Drive Customer-Centric Cultural Transformation
VSP continues to take insights-driven business decisions to the next level. Their success is due to putting the people, process, and technology in place to make it possible, as well as working hard to make the culture shifts required. As part of this ongoing initiative, the insight team has identified six steps to continue the customer-centric evolution.
- Build your reputation.
Creating a partnership with stakeholders helped the insight team build trust, which in turn opened more lines of communication. Most research teams have a reputation for doing good work. However, in many cases the assumption is that the overall process is too slow and that insight will be outdated by the time it is received. So build on the reputation of quality and reset expectations about speed and agility.
- Have an executive sponsor (or champion).
A champion will not only advocate for you, they will also socialize your success and help to reinforce the importance of integrating customer insights into the planning cycle. Knowing there is another voice consistently asking: “Have you talked to the research team? What do our customers think?” is powerful. At VSP, they also look for a champion in each team to represent the customer voice even when the insight team isn’t in the room.
- Align one person from the insight team to each line of business.
Originally, VSP’s insight team took projects on an ad-hoc basis. Now they assign the same person to a line of business. This change allowed them to become more proactive as they began to understand the nature of the challenges. Team members were invited more to strategic meetings and brought into quarterly business reviews.
- Brand your insights so people know the source.
VSP has added a small “Seal of Approval” that they use internally. When their executives and team leaders see it, they are more likely to trust the insight. If other teams deliver insight that doesn’t have the seal, people ask if they talked to the insight team. They also have branded templates for reports so people know where the insights came from.
“It was vital for our team to have a look and feel that our stakeholders recognize and trust. We started with the Seal of Approval and then further developed our brand through consistent reporting techniques and easily digestible one-page insights.”
— Haley Whitham, Senior Marketing Analytics Specialist
- Do a roadshow.
VSP conducts a regular roadshow to pitch their services, how they help, and showcase the menu of services, support, and strategic direction they deliver.
- Focus on both the art and the science.
The methodologies and analysis are the science; crafting the activities and reports is the art. VSP is disciplined in their methods and analysis, and use storytelling to deliver digestible stories in 1–2 pages that focus on actionable insight that relates to the business question. They also partner with their data science and analytics teams and collaborate with digital marketing and Google Analytics to triangulate data and deliver more holistic insight.
Becoming an insights-driven business that is systematically integrating the voice of their publics into decisions being made across the enterprise is an important journey, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Like so many things, success breeds success. Momentum builds confidence and as that confidence grows, so too will the insight team's ability to drive transformative change. The use cases VSP described demonstrate the impact they’ve had, and the guiding principles they shared will help others emulate their achievements.