Voice of the Customer: The Beginner’s Guide

What does the Voice of the Customer really mean?

Voice of the Customer is a business and technology term used to describe a process that is designed to capture customer’s expectations, preferences, experiences, and feedback.

Often applied as a market research technique by companies looking to achieve a better and more complete understanding of the customer, VoC can also help your business successfully measure and understand the experiences that you deliver to customers.

Understanding the Voice of the Customer

Put simply, the voice of the customer is a term used to describe your customers’ feedback, which includes their experiences and interactions with your product or service, their expectations, their sentiment and opinion, etc.

As a business, your job is to capture and understand the Voice of the Customer in ways that foster improvement and promote a better understanding of your customers’ desires, wants, needs, and expectations.

In short, the Voice of the Customer should guide and shape the direction of your business strategy.

When you fail to use or harness VoC, you will continue to miss the mark, forcing your customers to seek out other providers whose product or service is better aligned with their spoken (and unspoken) expectations.

Why does the Voice of the Customer even matter? Should you really be listening?

Listening to customers is essential to your growth as a company. After all, knowing your desired customers and fulfilling their quality needs is the key element to a successful business.  

With the voice of the customer as a tool, you can connect and reach customers with your products and services and more effectively meet their needs.  It allows you to maximize profits and identify new ways to improve profits, while also improving customer retention and driving customer loyalty.

Customers want to be heard and it is time for companies to start listening.

How to build a Voice of the Customer program

To listen actively to customers, you need to build an effective Voice of the Customer program.

There are multiple ways to gather Voice of the Customer data. These include customer feedback surveys, ethnographic research, focus group discussions, field reports, individual interviews, and text analytics and sentiment analysis methods, among others.

Keep in mind: it is best if you have an ongoing flow of information rather than have only an occasional way of gathering VoC data (i.e. polling or surveying). Don’t limit your Voice of the Customer efforts to once or twice a year.

Also: survey fatigue is a real thing.  How much time do you really want to spend filling out a lengthy questionnaire in your free time? Well, your customers don’t want to do that, either.

That’s why you should explore all other possible ways of capturing customer feedback and VoC. Be as comprehensive as possible. Some programs offer only customer feedback surveys, while others just focus on social media and online reviews. The best Voice of the Customer program should help you capture and connect multiple kinds of customer feedback and VoC data across multiple touchpoints and channels.

Evaluate your Voice of the Customer data after collecting it. You can’t just gather all this information and let it drop. You can’t ignore negative customer feedback and do nothing except hope for the best next time around. There needs to be a system in place for gathering the VoC data, analyzing it, and acting on the insights that you gain from the data. 

Knowing what your customer now thinks, you can work on creating higher-quality products, more responsive service, and better customer experiences.

The Voice of the Customer can also help you find out what is working well, as well as what isn’t. Being able to identify and isolate this information can change the kind of customer feedback that you may receive down the road.

Don’t facilitate corporate deafness by depending solely on the “great ideas” of the executives in your organization. Even the most experienced of leaders need to understand what it is that drives engagement and keeps your customers coming back time after time.

With a VoC program, you can: 

  • Fine-tune your products, services, and offering in ways that address the voiced needs and wants of your customers
  • Solicit customer feedback to evaluate new ways of gaining a competitive advantage
  • More effectively drive customer satisfaction and loyalty
  • Measure, analyze, and improve customer experience
  • Identify, resolve, and respond to high-impact customer issues, trends, and developments
  • Generate advanced marketing insights and opportunities

Communicating with your customers

Are you communicating clearly back to your customers?  Do they understand your message?  Product flaws and discrepancies are one thing, but customer service that does not actually serve the customer could be disastrous.

After you have taken away insights from your Voice of the Customer data, you need to close the loop and reach back out to customers in ways that they can understand.

Make sure you’re delivering on what you promised, and that you are promising what you are able to deliver.  

Refer to Voice of the Customer data in order to truly understand customer needs and create a plan for this communication. It is back to that old give and take: you know them so that you may serve them.  

To retain the customers you want, you must identify and communicate clearly.  Use positive feedback with the customers yourself.  Don’t use negative language or competition bashing. You want their experience with your company to be pleasant.

A customer’s voice is no  longer a single voice in the crowd. It has power. It is up to your company to follow up and make that voice matter. Take the time to measure your customers’ preferences and aversions and engage your product development and customer provision teams to ensure that every move they make goes toward delivering products and experiences that exceed the needs of your customers. 

Customer Satisfaction Surveys… and Why You Should Care

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I recently bought new car insurance.

It wasn’t a purchase I expected to make, since I had planned to go without a car for a year. The no-car situation was an experiment to see if I could live in my southern city without one. I would take the bus when necessary, but mainly I would use the bicycle that had been sitting unused in my garage for years.

Then I had an accident.

I’m fine, but my bike didn’t survive.

My insurance agent was efficient. He took my paperwork. I paid. Transaction was done faster than expected.

A week later, my agent e-mailed me a customer satisfaction survey to fill out. With it, there was a short personal note about my new car and a reference to my short-lived biking days. I was touched. This agent remembered me personally (or took great notes) and followed up. Yes, he wanted feedback and a filled-out survey back, but it nevertheless made me feel connected to his agency. He seemed to care about my experience.

So I answered the questionnaire. It took 4 minutes.

Customer satisfaction surveys help companies deliver better experiences

As a business executive myself, I know that the customer survey is beneficial to the agent, who may be on some incentive-based program. But it can also help me in the long run.

Customer satisfaction in today’s climate reflects directly back on the company fulfilling the customers’ needs. This makes surveys, questionnaires, online review platforms, and social media extremely valuable tools for determining whether or not the customer is happy with your service or product.

Feedback collection efforts like customer satisfaction surveys enable companies to connect with customers and gather information and customer data essential to delivering excellent service.

The personal note that came with the agent’s survey was a genius move. I even felt a bit obligated due to my desire to ‘help’ a fellow executive out.

Are customer satisfaction surveys effective for my business?

You might have heard of this before: it is 6 to 7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one.

You already know that you must maintain customers. This makes customer surveys seem like a no-brainer for keeping customers happy, and it’s obvious that your business should try to satisfy their needs.

And if you don’t satisfy their needs? 78 percent of consumers have bailed on a transaction or reversed an intended purchase because of a poor service experience.

Meanwhile, satisfied customers usually become loyal customers who return to buy more. This loyalty leads to positive feedback and increased chances that they’ll tell their friends about their experiences with you. Loyal customers also leave positive reviews and recommendations online for the whole world to see. And the connection and trust they feel with your company means they will pay your prices without surfing all over for bargain deals.

Laying out the customer survey questionnaire

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A well-designed survey with the right questions can provide your company with insights to the customer experience. Customer feedback will also allow you to see what’s working properly, even where weak links may exist.  

Having a set customer satisfaction survey questionnaire allows you to measure the customer experience more effectively, for specific areas. It can help answer key functions or target specific departments.

After receiving feedback and measuring satisfaction scores, you can then implement needed changes. Fix those areas that aren’t compelling your customers to stay with you. If you don’t have the ability to satisfy your customers’ needs, they will leave and do business with your competition. It’s a consumer-driven economy; there are enough resources out there that customers no longer have to do business with companies they dislike.

In fact, as many as 3 in 5 US consumers would try a new brand or company for a better service experience.

Formalizing a survey, where you get controlled results, is valuable for this reason. You want to measure and track purchases. Direct contact allows space for this feedback, and customer surveys provide quantitative readings in areas needing improvement. This is a fundamental tool for your company, which all your employees and executives can access so that change can occur.

Customer loyalty = financial benefits

Making lasting improvements to your company’s customer service invariably means higher profits. Making strategic changes to improve weak areas and include your customers in this improvement process will increase customer satisfaction, which then drives customer loyalty and retention. This in turn leads to higher scores and a quality reputation that attracts more potential buyers and customers.

From Kristin Smaby’s “Being Human is Good Business”:

In an era when companies see online support as a way to shield themselves from ‘costly’ interactions with their customers, it’s time to consider an entirely different approach: building human-centric customer service through great people and clever technology. So, get to know your customers. Humanize them. Humanize yourself. It’s worth it.

This is exactly how you begin to create your customer survey: by remembering that your customers are regular people, too.

Make it personal by asking specific questions with a purpose. You don’t want to lay out a 6-page questionnaire that will have people hitting the Delete button. People don’t want to waste their time. You want to be concise.

Perhaps you want to find out about their shopping experience, the quality of your goods versus price, if your website is user-friendly, or if you have a customer service issue. Whatever it is: make your questions specific and make them matter. They need to be insightful for you to then develop a business plan and implement change. The Net Promoter Score is useful in this section. It is a way to gauge how likely customers are to recommend your business.

Just like in the case of my insurance agent, I think it’s extremely helpful to add a personal touch to your customer satisfaction survey. And while this kind of personalization isn’t always feasible for most large companies, you can still talk about your company’s mission, or be heartfelt in your message about how their feedback can contribute to something worthwhile.

Here’s an example of a great note attached to a survey:

Dear Mike (Addressing customers by their real names can make a big difference),

Thank you for purchasing with us yesterday. We hope you and your family love your new car.  Our team has worked extensively to make a difference in your driving experience. Like you, we worry about the safety of their families.

In fact, 90% of all our employees drive the same model for its excellent safety ratings. You’ll always be safe in this car! I am hoping you will take a moment to fill out our survey. We would appreciate your feedback. We look forward to seeing you for an oil change next month!

Sincerely,

The Car Company

While this letter may be a bit schmaltzy, it reached Mike on a personal level and addressed his safety concerns. It also let Mike know that employees at The Car Company truly believe in the car and even drive it themselves.

Allow for candid feedback in free-form text

You also want to leave areas in the survey for specific feedback. Allow the customer to comment on their personal experience in free-form text. This gives you specific information on top of a score and it gives the customer a voice. After all, customers like being heard.

Act on insights generated by customer satisfaction surveys

Information and insights generated by your customer satisfaction survey need to be addressed and acted upon. Right now.

This doesn’t stop with the customer service department. Disseminate the information throughout the company. Allow change to happen. Make your company better based on what your customer wants and needs, as well as what they expect to see next time.

A customer satisfaction survey is a valuable tool for gauging your company’s health and profitability. The feedback you collect can empower every department in your organization to achieve a better understanding of the customer experience, and your attention to the voice of the customer is key to driving customer satisfaction and loyalty.