“Voice of the Customer” (VoC) seems to be one of those terms that vendors and professionals in the field love to toss around – but what is it?
Our goal with this guide is to remove the hype from Voice of the Customer and define the process, strategy and concept clearly.
Ultimately, once you understand the components of VoC it’s not nearly as complicated or intimidating as most experts and vendors like to make it.
What Is “Voice Of The Customer”?
The best meaningful definition we have found for VoC is: a system/process for collecting customer feedback across multiple touchpoints then putting that feedback in the hands of decision makers to drive continuous improvements to your product or service.
Ironically, most small businesses do this naturally; the business owner is constantly listening to the customer and making small improvements based on feedback over time.
However, once your organization reaches a certain size feedback from customers becomes siloed and it becomes harder to make key decisions off well-rounded customer feedback.
The solution for these larger organizations is to develop a system to collect, analyze, communicate, and coordinate customer-driven insights to decision makers through an organization.
This is a Voice of the Customer program – minus all those pesky details that make it work successfully. So, let’s take a look at those!
What Are The Benefits Of Voice Of The Customer?
One of the most common questions that a pragmatic-minded implementer of VoC has is: what kind of benefits can you get from this type of process.
In truth, Voice of the Customer processes can be custom built to support several different business goals depending on the strategy and needs of your organization.
Here are some of the advantages and goals you can use to align a VoC system:
1) Service Improvement: Improve customer satisfaction by using real customer opinions to improve your services and communication strategies based on real customer expectations.
2) Brand Management: Know how your customers see your brand allowing you to react to problems and brand awareness issues that can lead to an increase in revenue, market share and customer loyalty.
3) Product Development and Innovation: Tailor your products to your customers’ needs by listening to the actual language and feedback from customers (and the market). Customer feedback can be used to understand new trends, even to develop new and innovative products.
4) Marketing Efficiency: Customers insights from VoC can help you create content for your marketing programs that resonate with each buyer persona. Also, combined with #1, word-of-mouth marketing of your products will grow as satisfied customers will spread their good experience.
5) Market Fit: Listening to customers will help you understand how effective your go-to-market strategies are. VoC will also provide you with deep insights into adopter-stage and the psychographics of your market.
Who Is A “Voice Of The Customer” Strategy For?
Voice of the Customer is mostly for mid-size to enterprise organizations that need the competitive advantage that customer insights provide.
Small Businesses Usually “Get It” Naturally
As we mentioned in the section above, small businesses, consultants and entrepreneurs naturally gather customer insights and feedback. They don’t need a system for it until key stakeholders become removed from regular customer interactions and feedback.
Large Businesses and Enterprise Business
As teams, departments, offices, and divisions form within an organization, natural silos of customer information and needs will also form. Usually, each team will collect the information they need for their functions and it’s rarely shared across the organization in a structured, continuous way.
In our opinion, large and enterprise organizations have the most to gain from a well-constructed VoC process – but they also have a greater number of obstacles to implementing a successful system (see “problems” below).
Getting Ahead of the Curve: Medium Business
A wise organization will start laying the foundation for VoC is when it reaches 75-150 employees, with several layers of management, and a clear separation of duties.
Implementing a VoC process at this point is ideal — before the lack of continuous customer input and research becomes both an internal problem for the organization, and a competitive disadvantage.
Venture Backed Startups
The last group that will find a Voice of the Customer system useful, oddly, are fast-growing venture backed startups and tech companies.
The more rapidly an organization grows (some double in size every few months) the more important it becomes to build a Voice of the Customer system into the strategy.
Otherwise, the business risks loosing focus on providing customer-centric value and its likelihood of failure increases.
How To Design A Voice Of The Customer Strategy
If your organization is considering implementing a structured Voice of the Customer program, then this section will help you plan your approach.
Here are the generally recommended steps and suggestions we have for any new VoC initiative.
1. Get Buy-In From Your CEO
Like any organization-wide initiative, it usually needs to be supported from the top of the organization in order to be successful.
This is important for several reasons. Arguably the most important reason is to communicate the importance of the VoC program to the entire organization (and to customers). Enthusiasm from top executives in the organization will make the entire adoption process easier.
It also helps make sure the goal of the Voice of the Customer Program stays on track. Your CEO will want to make sure that you are building a VoC process that supports a key business goal.
Lastly, while an effective VoC program does not need to be expensive, it will require a budget and financing to implement. Getting executive buy-in early will help streamline this process.
2. Set Goals For Your VoC Program
Right from the beginning you should define your expectations, the benefits, and expected timeline.
Above this section of this guide we mentioned some key benefits of VoC. Our suggestion is to pick one or two to focus on at first, then rollout more over time.
Focusing on a specific business objective will help you prioritize integrations and which systems should be linked first.
Over time, you can enhance the program with additional goals and objectives which will increase the return on your initial investment without overloading your teams and leaders.
3. Audit Your Exiting Customer Feedback Sources
More than likely your organization has several adhoc voice of the customer programs already running. These programs are likely siloed in marketing, support services and in your product development teams.
Do an audit of your organization and create a map of your existing customer insight and feedback collection systems. These will be the low hanging fruit to your Voice of the Customer rollout.
The largest hazard here is to note that the data is being collected but to ignore and examination of any innate bias that might exist in the information.
For example, your customer service team might collect feedback from unhappy customers, but ignore satisfied customer feedback. The sales team might have the opposite bias. Before you can integrate this information source with your overall project you’ll want to start collecting unbiased data.
Don’t forget unusual information sources in your organization! Here are some you might not expect:
a) Product information requests
b) Feedback provided to your front desk or concierge
c) Verbal feedback given to employees (Just needs to be recorded!)
d) Webinar & event feedback
e) Feedback from your onsite training teams
f) External review sites
4. Identify Missing Points In Your Customer Experience
Once you have your existing customer data mapped out, compare it to your customer’s experience and all this touch points they have with your product, people and organization.
Do you have any opportunity (and need) to collect additional customer feedback?
A good Voice of the Customer program is going to contain a balance of both quantitative data (surveys, support frequency, sentiment analysis, analytics) and qualitative data (focus groups, online community research, social media data, interviews).
Ask yourself, does the data you already have represent a good balance of these types of data? Do you feel that the information you are collecting gives you well-rounded, timely customer insights and feedback?
More than likely you might have to implement a few additional channels of information gathering as part of your Voice of your customer project.
It might be regular surveys (We’d love that at Alchemer, lol) or setting up an online research community of customers. This last option worked well for Dominos several years ago.
5. Agree On Action Expectations For Your VoC Program
Agreeing on the types of actions and decisions your organization is willing to make based on Voice of the Customer insights is key.
If you can’t get key stakeholders like your executives and top management to agree to act on data from customer feedback then going any further is unnecessary.
Discuss and develop an understanding of what types of decisions functional managers can make off insight data and how they will do it before you start implementing.
If your organization has not defined good guidelines about their mission, core business, and competitive advantages then you might want to stop and do that first. It’s overwhelmingly likely that you’ll get some customer feedback suggesting your products and organization go in a different direction.
Your core mission and the vision from your executives will help you decide which feedback is actionable and which information is interesting, but not part of your product plan. Don’t make the mistake of acting too early on feedback or trying to act on all feedback.
Build a holistic view from customer feedback and choose the innovations and insights that fit your organization’s vision.
6. Connect Your Voice of the Customer Data Sources
Once you have buy-in, a communication plan and strategy for the information you’ll collect it’ll be time to connect the pieces.
Often this is an IT project, but overseen by the project leader for the VoC program. It’s important to break your project into phases and implement one step at a time.
One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is to decide on a “Hub” that will become the central repository for the data you collect and is responsible for presenting regular reports and data through your organization.
Often, these hubs are advanced survey platforms, like Alchemer. However, no survey platform (or even an enterprise feedback management platform) will be a perfect fit for every VoC program no matter what their sales team claims (even ours).
It’s important to look at your existing infrastructure and picking a vendor that has pre-integrations with your core products such as:
a) Your CRM: Salesforce.com, Zoho, SugarCRM?
b) Your Analytics Package: Google Analyics? Omniture?
c) Your Marketing Platform: Pardot, Marketo, Hubspot?
e) Your Service Platforms: Zendesk, Olark, SnapEngage
Many of the survey platforms now provide packages and services for Voice of the Customer projects. These include reporting, dashboards and workflow management for communications.
Pick a vendor that works well with your existing platforms, or has a killer API and developer platform, but also one that works with your budget.
A good choice will save you time and money – both important factors for the overall return on investment for your Voice of the Customer project!
Common Problems Rolling Out A VoC Program
Every great plan has problems when you start to impliment it (or after implentation). Here are some of the most common pitfalls that Voice of the Customer programs face:
1) Bias In Customer Groups.
In the steps above we mention “customer journey maps” and “listening to customers”. In some cases businesses don’t have a great definition of their customers or customer segmentation.
In some cases the customers you have now, may not be representative of the market you are just entering.
This can lead to the wrong group or an incomplete set of customers being surveyed and listened to.
Our recommendation is to work with your marketing team, or a good consultant to help separate and identify your customer groups.
Correct identification will help you understand your data better and make better decisions!
2) Not Communicating (Or Defining) Goals.
“Voice of the Customer (VOC)” sounds really professional and authoritative — but don’t get carried away and start implimenting a process for acting on your customers’ voice without a good plan.
The first hallmark of a good plan should be a goal and objective list.
Organizations that leap ahead trying to implement a VoC program on a wish and sweet works from a vendor’s sales team are doomed to a wasteful and possibly unsuccessful implementation.
3) Failure To Manage The VoC Project After Launch.
Like most worthwhile systems, a VoC program is going to require more than just the implementation team.
The project needs to be managed and curated even after launch to deal with the realities of ever changing business and the information you are collecting.
Make sure your budget and timeline include post-launch management.
4) Too Much (And Often Contradictory) Information.
Finally, and most frustratingly, we can almost guarantee you are going to get contradictory information from customers and customer groups.
Often this is due to poorly understood customer segments being grouped together. If you start seeing patterns of feedback that contradict each other, this can be an indicator of a customer subgroup or category that was not previously identified.
Take the time to research it, if the customer group is valuable and fits with your product/market vision then adapt your tracking and reporting.
A Last Note: Be Patient & Stick To The Program
It will take time for you to implement your Voice of the Customer project and to create a culture that uses it as an integral part of decision making.
The best advice we can offer is: stick to it. Implement your program in phases and celebrate early success, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t see the results (either in data or in your organization’s adoption) right away.
It takes a real champion to drive a successful Voice of the Customer program.