Voice of the Customer: An Overview
Businesses who do well with customer experience initiatives do so because they know exactly what their customers are feeling and experiencing.
No, the secret to success isn’t mind-reading. It’s a Voice of the Customer program (VoC).
Why Implement a Voice of the Customer Program?
Your VoC program can allow your leaders to follow a standard and sustainable model of collecting feedback at key moments along the journey, analyze that feedback, then turn those insights into action. An ongoing Voice of the Customer program translates customer sentiment into objective ratings and metrics, telling the story of what your customers want and need.
This collection of insights can be used to evaluate what changes are required to improve your overall customer experience.
A Voice of the Customer Program is often the backbone of a Customer Experience Strategy. Investments are made and resources are allocated to VoC because the insights it can offer are essential to understanding what customers want.
While customer experience can often feel ethereal and difficult to measure, a Voice of the Customer Program can make it feel more tangible. If we measure customer sentiment, we can assign numbers and metrics to it. Those numbers can be reported, discussed, and acted upon.
Why Do Voice of the Customer Programs Fail?
Like any other initiative, good intentions will only get you so far.
The irony of VoC is that because seems like one of the simplest and most tangible CX initiatives to implement, organizations dive right into it — picking a metric or metrics to measure, using tools to monitor those metrics, and trying to improve them.
But also like any other initiative, it’s not as simple as it looks.
So why do so many VoC strategies fail? They simply haven’t been set up for success.
When I consult and workshop with leaders of organizations on their Voice of the Customer Programs — whether starting from scratch, or trying to fix a strategy that’s not quite working — there are set-up steps we take before we ever start discussions around what tools or metrics to use.
I’m sharing these steps to help you get better outcomes from your VoC program, too.
5 Steps to Set Up Your Voice-of-the-Customer (VoC) Programs for Success
Before jumping into tools or even what metrics to use, set up your program to succeed by articulating why, how, and what exactly you’ll be measuring. Your customers will be sharing their voices, so it’s important you’re set up to listen!
1. Define your goals.
What do you want to know about your customers, and what result do you want to get out of this knowledge? Setting up a VoC program for the sake of “listening to customers” might not be enough. If you gather feedback and measure it diligently but are not equipped to do anything about it, it’s not worth asking for it.
Not sure how to define your VoC goals? This is a great time to refer back to your overall Customer Experience goals.
Not sure what your overall CX goals are? Start by defining your Customer Experience Success Statement — something you can do with our free Customer Experience Success Statement Workbook.
If your CX Success Statement is focused on retention, for example, this can help define your VoC goal and narrow in on where to set up your listening posts.
Your Voice of the Customer goals might be tied to what metrics your organization already uses, like Net Promoter Score (NPS), or it might be defining which metrics will be used. That should all be part of your goal setting.
If you have a broad mission around “listening to customers,” then define the goal within the context of what you’ll do with that information. State how understanding customers will lead to more defined objectives, like relaying needs to a product development team or creating better goals for your customer service agents.
The best VoC programs tie experiential data to operations data. This means measuring NPS at a point where it aligns with specific operational metrics, like First Call Resolution or time to first milestone. Ultimately, both of these types of customer feedback is tied to operational metrics, leading to insights.
2. Identify your customers.
Identifying your customers is a two-sided coin: In order to understand our customers better, we need to identify what we already know about them.
- Your VoC analysis can help you create more accurate customer personas to use in customer journey mapping, marketing, product development, and more.
- As you set up a VoC program, however, it’s good to identify which customers you want to hear from based on what you already know about them.
Let’s use the goal of increased retention as an example. In this case, you’d want to focus on customers who are or were customers for a while, not new customers or prospects.
Sometimes going a step further and really understanding your customer’s journey means including others in the ecosystem, too. Identify when it’s helpful to get feedback from suppliers, employees, and partners and make them part of the process.
And of course, understanding customers means understanding their journey. If you have a customer journey map, this is a good time to use it! A journey map can help you identify which customers to include and where to ask for feedback.
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3. Set up listening posts within a listening map.
Where do you want to ask for feedback? What triggers will be used to prompt customers to share their thoughts?
Let’s look at an example. If improved retention rates are a goal, then there are points along the customer journey that are critical to understanding that journey. Those might include:
- Key value points, like software demos or customer events
- Adoption milestones, either timed (30 days of use) or usage milestones
- Time before renewal, like 90 days or 30 days before their automatic renewal or reminder
- Post-renewal, to gather why the customer did stay
Of course, your goals will be unique and will require custom listening posts. A great tool for this is a listening map, which identifies where along the customer’s journey will you offer opportunities for feedback and names the triggers to consider and plan.
Put another way, a listening map provides a landscape to think through all the nuances of a VoC program.
Wondering how to create a listening map? The good news is you may already have one. Refer to your customer journey map: Does it point out where the opportunities for feedback lie and feedback triggers? Even if it doesn’t, you may be able to extract some of those opportunities by simply reviewing the key points in the customer journey.
Listening posts are where you can trigger surveys or other requests for feedback. Some may be more passive, which would allow the customer to provide feedback at any point along the journey.
One important consideration when you’re planning out your listening posts: This is an area where having rules and governance is so important.
- If every team thinks it’s ok to survey customers at every turn, your organization could be creating a frustrating experience for your customers without any single team thinking they’re doing anything wrong.
- On the flip side, It might be appropriate to have a longer survey in some cases and a one-question ask in another.
- There may also be unexpected opportunities to collect unstructured feedback via chat or other sources along the way.
This is where collecting your listening posts into a listening map becomes so important. If you look at a map and realize customers are being asked too often or not often enough, it’s a chance to make changes.
4. Collaborate with your CX Champions
I touched on this in the last point, but I’ll say it again: Great VoC programs require collaboration, co-creation and consistency. This means buy-in from leaders, co-designing with those who know your customers, and following-up with people who can make real change.
Let’s say you have mapped out your listening posts and have several points along the customer support journey. Who better to help you design this than those who interact with customers at that very touchpoint?
Before you get started, invite customer support leaders and agents into the process of setting up your VoC program.
Once your Voice of the Customer program is up and running, you’ll want to turn those insights gathered into action. Which leaders have the authority and accountability to make changes along the customer journey? Invite and inform those teams about the Voice of the Customer program. Ask for their input while you’re setting it up and gain their support to help make changes later.
5. Assure inquiries are aligned with outcomes.
Once you know what you’re looking for, where and who you’ll ask, and what teams are involved, it’s time to determine what you’ll actually measure.
You may be familiar with the standard metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Satisfaction (CSAT), or Customer Effort Score (CES). Tracking metrics like these provide a measurable way to gauge how customers are feeling about specific interactions or the overall relationship.
When it comes to these metrics, I’m often asked, “what’s the best Voice of the Customer metric to use?”
The short answer: It depends.
The slightly longer answer: It depends on your organization, your customer, the touchpoint, and many other variables.
Measurements only work if you know what you’re measuring, which is why having a baseline of anything is better than nothing! But instead of trying to shoehorn a metric of choice into a listening post, be considerate of what outcome you’re trying to achieve.
And while standard VoC metrics are around because they can be very helpful, they’re not the only game in town. Don’t forget to collect unstructured feedback as well.
Customers should also be given an opportunity to share what they want in their words. Those comments customers leave in open text fields are feedback gold!
Just because you can’t assign a perfect number to them, don’t assume they shouldn’t be reported as part of your Voice of the Customer program.
Recapping 5 Steps to Set Up Your Voice-of-the-Customer (VOC) Programs for Success
- Define your goals. This is a great time to refer back to your overall Customer Experience Success Statement.
- Identify your customers. As you set up a VoC program, identify which customers you want to hear from.
- Set up listening posts within a listening map. Where do you want to ask for feedback? What triggers will be used to prompt customers to share their thoughts?
- Collaborate with your CX Champions. Great VoC programs require collaboration, co-creation and consistency.
- Assure inquiries are aligned with outcomes. Once you know what you’re looking for, where and who you’ll ask, and what teams are involved, it’s time to determine what you’ll actually measure.
Your customers are ready to tell you all about their experience, how the moments you create in their journey make them feel, and what they want to deliver more loyalty and higher lifetime value.
Once you’ve set up your Voice of the Customer program with these five steps, you’ll be ready to start listening.