Building Voice of the Customer, or VOC, programs has become a priority for many businesses. That’s exciting, because VOC can help companies deepen customer relationships, improve customer experiences, build new products and services, and turn subjective opinions into actionable business intelligence.
Unfortunately, it’s fraught with risk. Done poorly, VOC can frustrate customers, waste resources, and distract your product teams from more important strategic priorities.
In this two-part series, I’ll discuss best practices for building effective VOC programs. It starts at the beginning: with gathering and analyzing VOC data. In the next post, I’ll explain how to embed that data into strategic and tactical decision-making processes across the enterprise.
Garbage in, garbage out
Gathering reliable, relevant data is the cornerstone of an effective VOC program. At best, it’s inefficient to make decisions on bad data; at worst, it’s downright dangerous. Here are five tips for making sure you get the most actionable information from your customers and best analyze it.
1. Go beyond satisfaction metrics
A lot of times, people talk about VOC and customer satisfaction as if they’re interchangeable. In part, that’s because of the runaway success of the Net Promoter Score methodology and similar customer satisfaction systems. And in part, it’s because customer satisfaction is indeed a crucial component of VOC programs.
But VOC is broader than satisfaction, encompassing everything from your branding to your products, and everything else that relates to the way that customers experience your company. Your goal is to measure the value you bring to your relationship with customers. So you’ll need to find ways to gather feedback about every aspect of the interactions they have with your company.
2. Listen to customers where, when, and however you can
A successful VOC program should include both formal types of market research (structured data) and listening to customers in their own voice (unstructured data).
Unstructured data sources include social media, unsolicited comments or complaints coming into the company, and other sources. Unstructured data analysis has led to a huge growth in what’s called text analytics, which derives insights about customer views and preferences from what they say outside of formal surveys. Both types of data are critical to a successful VOC program; they complement one another rather than competing, as some believe.
3. Make it timely and ongoing
It’s not enough to record your service center calls or send a survey once a quarter. If you want the most meaningful data, you’ll need to collect it continuously, invite customer input, and oftentimes collect data as close to the experience as possible. Fortunately, there are a number of excellent ways to solicit input outside the call center box, including:
- Questions on your website
- Point-of-sale surveys
- Sales and service inquiries
- Net Promoter and other satisfaction scores, collected on a continuous basis
In my work with a BTG client in the financial services sector, I discovered that the company’s formal customer satisfaction survey was only collected once or twice a year, making data stale and unable to be tracked to key actions and events throughout the year. A key best practice is to collect both formal and informal VOC data on a continuous basis, hence almost every day of the year.
4. Keep it relevant
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.
5. Connect it with your other data and analyze the impact
In many big companies, there’s a disconnect between VOC systems and the keepers of other relevant information—most importantly, to customers’ spending and loyalty, along with other business outcome and financial data.
But if you want to use your VOC feedback to make effective and informed decisions, you’ll need to understand how it relates to this information. Has a negative opinion been submitted by a high-value customer? Do other high-value customers share his or her views? How are your feedback mechanisms affecting purchase patterns and customer tenure? How does customer satisfaction drive market growth and profitability as well as shareholder value?
Cultivating and analyzing a network of strong links between VOC and business outcomes is critical to realizing the full value of VOC data. And if you think about these questions before, and not after, you build your VOC program, you’ll have an easier time making the connection.
From data to decisions
Once you’ve made sure your VOC data and analysis is as useful and reliable as possible, you’re ready to take the next step: using it to inform and improve decision-making across the enterprise. VOC can improve the way you develop products, hone your branding, and communicate with your customers. Here’s how.
Susan Piotroski helps clients drive growth by building effective VOC, customer experience, new product/service development, competitive positioning, customer loyalty, and branding programs. A former partner at Accenture, she has worked in a wide range of industries (e.g., healthcare, financial services, technology, consumer products, and many others), and she's helped BTG clients on a number of VOC and quality management initiatives.