Voice of the Customer (VoC) is a type of market research which aims to better understand current and prospective customers. Essentially, the process of finding the voice of the customer can be done a number of ways, using many different methods. However, the goal of this market research is to find the expectations, likes and dislikes of customers regarding particular products or services.
The goal of a Voice of the Customer study is to acquire data about previous, current and prospective customers. Simply put, gathering this intel comes from interacting with those who have bought your products or services, or those who have bought products or services like those your organization sells.
We gathered best practices from 25 industry experts on voice of the customer programs and here is their advice:
1. Implement the technology possible to listen to your customers in real-time.
“Customer perceived quality and above-average customer service have been proven time and again to be leading drivers of business success. When your customers share their voice in real-time with your organization, they expect you to listen, act and report back to them on progress.” – What is Voice of the Customer (VoC)?, QualtricsXM; Twitter: @Qualtrics
2. Conduct in-depth customer interviews.
“Customer interviews are one of the traditional techniques to collect VOC data. It is commonly used to understand particular customer point-of-view regarding product or service issues, attributes, and performance measures. You can choose to perform this for either a particular customer or for a group of customers with some common attributes. Usually executed in person, on the phone, or through email.
While the cost of in-person interviews is the highest among all forms of interview, it is still considered to be the most useful form for building trusting customer relationships. This is because customers perceive this type of interaction as more personal.” — Ruchika Sharma, 12 Voice of the Customer Methodologies to Generate a Goldmine of Customer Feedback, Hubspot; Twitter: @HubSpot
3. Aim to be anticipatory.
“Anticipatory service is the highest level of service, and it’s here that hospitality organizations shine. Hospitality isn’t just about providing what a customer (guest) asks for. It’s more elevated than that. It includes anticipating what a customer might have wanted to ask for but “didn’t want to be a bother”; what they didn’t know enough to ask for; and what they haven’t gotten around yet to asking for: their unexpressed needs and wishes, in other words.” – Micah Solomon, Is Hospitality The Missing Element In Your Customer Service Culture? Eight Ways To Fill That Gap, Forbes; Twitter: @micahsolomon
4. Analyze your customer feedback data and scrutinize it.
“A business that is truly invested in a VoC program will listen to every customer, act on their responses, and analyze the data to improve processes. By being attentive and responsive, you can mitigate rough patches for future customers and get immediate value from customers with positive feedback. Without a VoC strategy, businesses miss out on valuable opportunities to leverage happy customers and assuage dissatisfied ones. The former can create new business opportunities and the latter is paramount for reducing churn. Customers are very responsive to positive and negative treatment, and a little can go a long way for both.” — Nick Metka, CEO of Insight, The Essential Guide to Voice of the Customer, Gainsight; Twitter: @gainsighthq
5. Choose a customer survey methodology that aligns with your brand.
“The type of survey you will ultimately use will be influenced by what it is you’re querying. The research will either be a transactional survey (a sales call, support call or other interaction that takes place after a transaction to survey the customer while the interaction is still fresh in their memory) or a relationship survey (fielded in between transactions and focused on gauging the customer’s overall feelings related to a brand/product).” — Neil Davey, The Nine Steps to Designing a Voice of the Customer Programme, MyCustomer; Twitter: @MyCustomer
6. Realize the type of response that your customer craves.
“It’s called the age of the customer because, at first, it appears businesses have lost control of their communication, and that the balance of power has shifted in favor of customers.
“It is undoubtedly true that customers are better informed. For the majority of people, making a purchase without first checking reviews and prices online is unthinkable. Consumers also know they are in a stronger position and are demanding more because of it.
“This is both a threat and an opportunity for brands. Forward thinking, agile brands will see the opportunity and benefit: the very data and information that empowers the customer can also be used to bring the voice of the customer into the heart of the business and understand how to offer the value and experience that customers crave.” — Kit Smith, Using the Voice of the Customer to Turn Threats into Opportunities, Brandwatch; Twitter: @Brandwatch
7. Save your reputation by keeping an eye on social media.
“Tyler says the market is dividing into three ‘styles’ of VOC: Transactional – within minutes the customer receives a request for feedback on their transaction experience; episodic – after numerous calls and in-home visits, when the consumer is asked to give feedback on the episode; and market or brand, a longer-term view of how the customer views and feels about the brand. ‘Social media has made negative experiences much more dangerous for companies as the reach of criticism is magnified. Getting the customer experience right and keeping it right is more important,’ he says. ‘And the arbiter of a good experience is the pesky, fickle customer so you have to keep asking her.’” — Tim Tyler, co-founder and managing partner of Ellipsis & Company, as told to Jennifer O’Brien, Are You Listening? Why Customer Voice is Taking on a Whole New Meaning, CMO; Twitter: @CMO_com
8. Make use of cutting-edge market research tools.
“When looking at customer’s needs, it’s likely that your product isn’t meeting every requirement that a customer would want—but to which competitor are they going to fill that need? Market research will answer that question and better inform marketing decisions made from VoC.” — Jeffrey Mack, Director of Marketing at SaleMove, What is Voice of the Customer and Why Does it Matter?, SaleMove; Twitter: @salemove
9. Assess the data under the lens of potential sales opportunities.
“Sometimes customers will catch you off guard. Their perspective on engagement with your company may differ from yours. For example, a client might be more successful than you’d guess and request an upgrade to a more aggressive package. In another case, the client may tell you about another challenge that their organization is experiencing, unaware that it can be addressed by another one of your offerings.” – 5 Good Reasons to Capture the Voice of the Customer, SurveyMonkey; Twitter: @SurveyMonkey
10. Focus on gathering ‘actionable insights.’
“Many companies face the issue of gathering lots of customer data but don’t know how to actually derive actionable, meaningful insights from it. To make sense of your customer data, getting actionable insights is essential. So what’s the difference between insightful and non-insightful data?
- Non-insightful data is something that you already knew was a problem.
- Insightful is everything that you didn’t know. Therefore, insights are findings that contradict your knowledge, confirm your suspicions or quantify the importance.
“Actionable insights lead to either change and an action or confirm the fact that you don’t need to take any action at all.” – Agi Marx, Voice of the Customer: Why You Need it and How to Start Your VOC Program, Thematic; Twitter: @getthematic
11. Make an honest assessment of your company culture.
“Most companies will claim that they are completely focused on their customers but most of the time this isn’t true. So this means you really need to do an honest assessment of your company’s culture. Are you putting your customers last so you can follow some arbitrary company policy?
Companies that are not focused on the customer experience will rarely be able to deliver anything more than average service. They don’t empower their employees to be flexible to meet the needs of their customers. To truly achieve success with your voice of the customer program, you must be focused entirely on improving the customer experience.” — Jamie Johnson, Voice of the Customer: Definition, Benefits, and Tips, Tallyfy; Twitter: @tallyfy
12. Once you’ve laid out your general processes, don’t forget to segment your customers.
“Customers are not homogeneous and therefore VoC programs must be based on tightly defined customer segmentation. B2B organizations will want to segment customers by objectives and personas using both explicit (i.e. demographics) and implicit (i.e. transactions, behaviors and activities) criterion. B2C customers will want to further include key performance indicators such as RFM (Recency Frequency Monetary), loyalty program attributes and a heavy dose of social media behaviors. Also, a customer segmentation best practice is to create a category for lapsed customers. This group is quite often an organization’s single biggest customer segment and can offer some valuable advice; and if that advice is acted upon and followed with a reactivation strategy can also deliver some big revenues.” – Chuck Schaeffer, How to Succeed with a Voice of the Customer Program, CRM Search; Twitter: @CRMsearchdotcom
13. Differentiate your data gathering goals between direct, indirect, and inferred feedback.
“As VoC data developed to provide the foundation for designing a superior customer experience, it is imperative to consider what kind of information you can accumulate while executing a VoC program, there are three types of VoC data:
- Direct feedback: This is the feedback that your customers expect to provide directly to you. Direct VoC data alludes to any touchpoints along the client journey whereby the customer anticipates that the business is listening to them. They usually include reviews, statistical surveying, complaints and mentions from social media.
- Indirect feedback: This is the feedback that customers or media choose not to share directly with the company although is talking about it. It comprises comments from social media, customer reviews sites and forums comments.
- Inferred feedback: This is input received from value-based, conduct and operational information related to the customer journey across different touchpoints. It is collected from verifiable VoC data and is extremely difficult to acquire. An example of inferred data would be chat sessions, emails and customer purchase history.” – Carlos Mora de la Cruz, Voice of the Customer (VoC), Taking into Account Feedback as a Whole, Capgemini; Twitter: @Capgemini
14. Take advantage and make use of multiple measurement channels.
“One of the most important components needed for an effective VoC program is using different measurement channels to gauge customer experience. Collecting insights through multiple channels allows you to figure out two key drivers of your customer experience: whether your current standards are being met and whether or not those standards are aligned with customer expectations.
“Mystery shopping provides third-party, unbiased feedback about how your teams are meeting the standards you currently have in place while customer surveys tell you where brand loyalty is gained or lost and how that relates to your standards. If your mystery shopping scores are high but your customer survey scores are low, this can indicate that your current standards are not aligned with your customer expectations – meaning you need to raise your standards.
“Without using different measurement channels to listen of the voice of your customer, it is difficult to get a complete picture of your customer experience; and therefore, hinders your ability to continually improve and become a standout in your industry.”— Six Voice of the Customer Best Practices, Intouch Insight; Twitter: @intouchinsight
15. Allow multiple departments to gain access to and submit their feedback on the results.
“Your VOC campaign shouldn’t stop with sending a survey and collecting data which sits idle. Your next step should be to bring together a dedicated team of cross-functional leaders and team members from within your organization to review the responses and outline a plan of action based on the feedback. This is an opportunity to break down silos and enable different departments to collaborate on an effective remedy to whatever is concerning or frustrating the customer.” – Kaya Ismail, The Step-by-Step Guide to a Successful Voice of the Customer Program, CMS Wire; Twitter: @CMSwire
16. When in need of highly-focused or quick data, consider incentives.
“Some people will only take the time to give their feedback if there is a direct benefit to them. It depends on how brand loyal they are and how much they want to share about an experience in hopes someone will follow up, which leads me to the final point…” – Stacy Sherman, Customer Experience and Digital Marketing Professional, How to Get Voice of Customer and Apply Best Practices, CustomerThink; Twitter: @CustomerThink
17. Strive to ask the most relevant questions possible.
“Of course, the flipside of being able to gather data all the time is that it’s easy to overload your customers. If you ask too many questions or bombard people with requests for feedback, they’ll get sick of it, and the quality of their responses will decrease.
“So make sure you manage what—and how much—you ask when. Ideally, you should integrate your feedback mechanisms into your customer journey. But even if you’re designing an annual survey, you should be able to get a 50 – 70% response rate or higher just by focusing on the most relevant questions. For the financial services client I mentioned earlier, I recommended a dramatic reduction in both the length and target frequency of a satisfaction survey with low response rates. This helped increase both the quality and quantity of responses.” – Susan Piotroski, Voice of the Customer Best Practices: Gathering and Analyzing VoC Data, Business Talent Group; Twitter: @thebtg
18. Focus on actioning both the positive and negative feedback.
“It can seem like much of the negative feedback relates to items that you have no direct control over, however there is almost always a way to improve the overall experience of the customer, even if it requires some creative thinking. If a hotel guest complains about the water pressure in the shower, the guest experience team might not be able to immediately change the shower head, but they might be able to offer the guest use of the spa facilities.
“On the flipside, positive feedback should not be ignored simply because it doesn’t require immediate action. If the service is rated as ‘ok’ or ‘good’, why not use this opportunity to turn the customer into a promoter by surprising and delighting them in some way? Positive feedback can also be motivating for service teams, who regularly go above and beyond to please guests. Finally, positive feedback confirms which service actions are being received well, giving you insight into the value of such actions.” – How to Action the Voice of the Customer, Local Measure; Twitter: @localmeasure
19. Be transparent and share your findings during regularly meetings and quarterly updates.
“Share the information with the company. A quarterly presentation can create transparency beyond the product and customer success departments about pain points, requests, and a general picture of how customers are responding to your hard work.” — The Voice of the Customer is Key to Your Success, Zendesk; Twitter: @zendesk
20. Look beyond typical text-driven surveys.
“Surveys are normally text-based, and often heavily structured around quantitative questions. But buying decisions and connections with brands are increasingly emotional– consumers want a personal relationship based on understanding and empathy. Even in free text answers to qualitative questions, most text analytics tools struggle to unlock key themes and topics as they rely on more basic keyword analysis. This limits the ability to drill down into individual responses and to understand the emotion behind them, reducing their effectiveness.
“Because of these issues with surveys many VoC programs do a great job of telling you how happy your customers are, they don’t answer the big question of why they feel the way that they do. That means it is impossible for brands to use this insight to directly improve the experience and their operations, and therefore drive greater revenues and return on investment.” – Taoufik Massoussi, Product Manager and Head of AI at Eptica, Why Surveys Aren’t Enough for Voice of the Customer Success, Eptica; Twitter: @Eptica
21. Leverage SMS for customer feedback.
“Emails can get lost in the shuffle. There’s no telling how many are languishing in inboxes now, never to be opened. Go ahead and replace those long, boring satisfaction surveys with short and snappy SMS-based ones.
“People are so much more likely to respond to a quick text asking them to rate their experience on a scale of one to 10 than they are to click through a three-page online survey asking them to write essays. Using SMS for feedback is a no-brainer.” – Jay Baer, 5 Ways to Get More Customers and Improve Customer Experience with SMS, Convince & Convert; Twitter: @convince
22. Create an official ‘customer journey map’.
“Finally, one of the most effective ways to improve the level of customer experience your organisation is providing is by taking the time to plot out all of the key touchpoints a customer can go through on their journey towards making a purchase and remaining a loyal customer. Then, create a comprehensive journey map.
“Within the process of journey mapping, you should not only gain a clear idea of what is happening at each stage of the customer experience, you should also gain genuine insight into how your customers feel about the ‘defining moments’. This will allow you to understand what customers’ impressions are and when they are formed.
“Once it has been created, the journey map can be used to help to align different departments, so that collaboration is enhanced, and to tailor your customer service coaching efforts, so that customer service reps, marketing reps and sales reps are receiving the most relevant information and advice for improving the CX.” – Michael Hawthorne, Discover the Latest Customer Experience Best Practices from Our 2018 Survey, Miller Heiman Group; Twitter: @MillerHeiman
23. Don’t forget to assign program ownership.
“The program needs a singular owner, but that person doesn’t have to own every survey or metric. Ensure that every portion of the program has a lead while the owner monitors strategy and overall execution. Assigning ownership will also make sure your leaders are being held accountable.”— Angie Stocklin, COO and Co-Founder of Readers.com, 6 Steps to a More Robust Voice of the Customer Program, Multichannel Merchant; Twitter: @mcmerchant
24. Reward your best customers with VIP treatment.
“Treat best customers differently than everyone else on the blast list. Whether it’s their birthday or anniversary, or your brand is gearing up for specific seasonal messages—all those contact points can still apply to best customers, just with a unique VIP treatment.
“They could receive the same cadence and timing of general marketing messages, but the content should be specific to their shopping behavior and lifestyle. Sending them more interactive versions of product emails, asking them for feedback on new products, or providing a special in-store, soft product launch are all ways that you can show appreciation while utilizing their feedback for your marketing efforts. Knowing that personal feedback could help shape the next product line is something that any brand loyalist would be excited about.” – Denise DeSisto, Vice President of Marketing Automation and Product Innovation at Customer Portfolios, 5 Best Practices to Keep Your Best Customers, Destination CRM; Twitter: @destinationcrm
25. Regularly complete updated reviews of customer touch-points.
“VoC programs have different phases. First, companies must establish the goals driving the program, who will oversee it, and how employees will capture and access the insights gleaned through VoC data. This means a detailed assessment of all current and potential customer touch-points (e.g. web, phone, in-store) and identifying the best methods to capture customer feedback and sentiment data across each channel.” – Omer Minkara, VP and Principal Analyst at Aberdeen, Voice of the Customer: How to Properly Listen and Act on Customer Needs, Aberdeen; Twitter: @aberdeengroup