When you buy someone a present, do you pick something completely at random? Or do you use your knowledge of their likes and dislikes to find something that’ll make them happy? If it’s someone you care about, you probably put some thought into understanding what they want.
Just like with giving gifts, it pays to know your customers’ expectations and what you can do to exceed them. After all, business success depends on the strength of your customer relationships, and those in turn depend on understanding what customers actually want better than your competition.
Enter the voice of the customer.
How does voice of the customer work?
Voice of the Customer (VoC) really is just that. Instead of making assumptions about what customers want, the idea is to capture customer opinions in their own words. A VoC program acts as an in-depth process for gathering preferences, experiences, and expectations about your products or services from your all-important customers and – crucially – using them to drive your business forward. This involves three main steps:
- Collect customer feedback. Using methods like surveys, etc. to gather information from your customers.
- Analyze. Analyzing the VoC data to reveal trends and themes that characterize your customer expectations.
- Take action. Distributing insights to the relevant people so your team can take action, drive change, and generate financial benefits.
Why is voice of the customer important?
Focusing on VoC creates a tangible connection with customers across every touchpoint in the customer journey. When their opinions are valued, customers become co-creators of their own customer experience – a sure-fire way of ensuring your brand really resonates and your services respond to evolving requirements.
According to Aberdeen Group, best-in-class VoC performers retain 84 percent of their customers compared to just 58 percent in other companies.
But that's not the end of the story. With voice of customer as the central pillar of your organization, you can also:
- Create better products. By understanding what customers want, you’re able to steer product development in the right direction.
- Increase revenue. This is the result of a reduction in churn, a better understanding of possible cross-selling opportunities, and an improved ability to attract new customers.
- Reduce costs. You can save money and resources by streamlining processes and creating greater consistency across the organization.
- Build a positive culture. By focusing on customer-centricity and a continuous learning culture, you breed positivity and motivation.
How to capture voice of customer
The first step in your voice of customer journey is to collect feedback. There are many ways of going about it. Here are a few of the most useful:
Conduct customer surveys
Surveys often get a bad rap for being an unwanted intrusion, but the truth is, 87 percent of survey-takers actually want to have a say in a company’s future products and services.
Surveys offer useful insight at scale. They help you understand your customers and their issues. But only if you ask the right questions. That’s why design is so important. Using reputable providers such as SurveyMonkey can help ensure you get the most out of them.
Listen in on social media
People like to talk, and nowhere more so than on social media. It’s an excellent format for creating a two-way dialogue with current and potential customers. So, be active in encouraging customer feedback and discussion.
And, make sure you cast a wide net. Many companies now have branded social media accounts, but around 96 percent of the people discussing brands online don’t even follow those brands’ owned profiles. That means, to get the full picture, you’ll need to tap into these conversations using sentiment analysis software, such as Brandwatch or Social Mention.
Create focus groups
Some may consider focus groups old hat, but in fact, focus groups are particularly useful when the information you want is more complex than a survey would allow for.
When conducting focus groups remember to:
- Identify objectives. Be clear on the info you already have and the info you want to get.
- Qualify the audience. Make sure the people in your focus group fit the demographics you need.
- Incentivize. Give them a reason to be there. A gift card could work well.
- Prepare questions. Keep a narrow focus to make sure you get the most out of the limited time you have.
- Record. Make a recording of the discussion if you can as it’ll be useful to refer back to and alleviate the need for notes.
- Practice. Moderating groups isn’t easy, so practice to make sure you know how to steer the conversation.
Interview your customers
Customer interviews are a great way to put some real meat on the bones of any feedback. They help to build customer relationships thanks to the one-to-one human interaction. The interviewer can ask both open-ended and closed-ended voice of customer questions such as:
- “Tell us how you use the product/service…”
- “What difficulties do you face when using the product/service …?”
- “What common issues do you normally encounter …?”
Ask follow up questions to dig deeper into what the customer means and listen carefully. Let the customer talk freely but make sure the interview won’t get derailed to irrelevant subjects.
Keep in mind, though, interviews may be difficult to do at scale due to high cost and resource demand.
Implement live chat
A whopping 73 percent of customers find live chat the most satisfying way of communicating with a business. Live chat is particularly important for feedback. This is because it can build real time connections when issues are fresh in customers minds and without the need to schedule interviews and focus groups. This allows for a much faster feedback loop. With live chat, you’re able to reach out to more customers and, at the same time, ensure customer satisfaction by addressing issues quickly.
Scour online reviews
Your brand’s reputation is shaped by what customers say about you as much as what you do. And the opinions of other customers matter, with 86 percent of visitors hesitating to purchase from a business that has negative online reviews. Online review sites like G2 Crowd, Finances Online, TrustRadius, and TrustPilot can really help you understand what customers think of your business and identify recurring issues.
6 best practices for a successful VoC program
Just having a VoC program is no guarantee that it will be successful. For that, you will need to make sure you stick to these best practices:
- Secure buy-in from senior management. Having buy-in from the top helps ensure that a project stays on track by remaining high on the agenda. A VoC program also needs to be backed by sufficient resources to succeed, and that’s going to require support from senior management.
- Create realistic and achievable project goals. This ties in with management buy-in as goal setting needs to be in line with company strategy. Set your stall out from the beginning in terms of expectations. Of course, in time you can add in more goals and complexity.
- Get a handle on what you already have. There is likely to be a legacy of feedback programs you already have in place. But, they may be siloed within departments. Create a map of your current set-up and be clear what can be incorporated into the VoC program. Be aware of any data skews where a department may be only interested in collecting certain viewpoints – customer complaints, for example. Consider there may also be sources not yet documented you can use, such as verbal staff feedback.
- Identify any gaps. Compare the map you create with all the touchpoints in the customer experience. Are there any gaps where additional feedback will be required? Don’t forget to keep a balance of quantitative – e.g. surveys and sentiment analysis – and qualitative – e.g. focus groups and interviews. Do you feel you have a well-rounded approach in place?
- Commit to taking action. If you can’t get the concerned parties to agree on how to take action, the whole endeavor is pointless. It’s important to have an understanding of the brand and what that stands for so changes suggested by VoC data operate within these parameters. Build a holistic view and then act on what makes most sense for your company.
- Join up all your data. Decide on a hub where you can centralize all your data and use it as a source for generating reports. It’s useful to have something that comes pre-integrated with CRM, marketing, analytics, or customer service platforms. Choose wisely and you’ll save on vital time and resources, increasing the return on investment for your VoC program.
Example of finding success through VoC
If you're thinking that all this is hard to put together, look for a successful example to inspire you. Planview's roadmap building, for instance:
Planview’s roadmap building
Texas based software company Planview has a VoC program known as “The Inner Circle”. Planview has run more than 40 Inner Circles with over 1,000 participants from 300 companies since 2006. It uses Inner Circles to share product development plans with customers and gather their feedback to incorporate into final software releases.
The Inner Circle includes surveys, phone calls, meetings, collaborative workspaces, as well as ideation sites enabling real time customer interaction and feedback. Inner Circles have provided feedback that fundamentally changed how Planview designed key navigation within its software. As a consequence, the company ended up with a product that better served the needs of all of its customers.
Listen to your customers
One of the greatest gifts you can give is to listen. Reaching out to customers and giving them a voice shows that they are the center of your world. But to really excel, put these insights into action. Lead the way in your organization by creating a company that understands its customers. Only then will you see the true impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty.