What if you could were tasked with an exercise that could promise the following: 

  • 10x greater year-over-year increase in annual revenue
  • 55% greater customer retention rates
  • 23% decrease in year-over-year customer service costs

It certainly sounds amazing, but these are stats backed by data. 

The tool that can help manifest that growth comes from Voice of the Customer (VoC) data. 

In this post, we’ll review what it is, how to develop it, and how to leverage it to your advantage. 

It is a helpful way to frame the needs of the customer, and prioritize those needs, driving towards the end result of greater customer satisfaction, trust and retention. 

What Is Voice of the Customer?

The Voice of the Customer (VoC) is a market research methodology to focus on customers (and target market’s) needs, challenges, expectations and experiences as it relates to your product. It captures customer feedback and insights, and prioritizes improvements in the customer experience to create more satisfied and successful customers. 

This distills down everything that your customers are hoping for from your product, based on direct feedback gathered from customers. 

The goal of creating a VoC is to gather customer feedback and insights in one easily-accessible place, to be distributed and acted upon by relevant parties. 

Once the data is gathered and organized, it can become quickly apparent where there are gaps between the customer expectations and their actual customer experience.

Why Is The Voice of the Customer Is So Important?

In today’s SaaS landscape–one that has increasing competition with more products of higher quality and lower cost–the customer experience is a key competitive advantage. Thus, gathering the direct feedback and engaging with customers is critical to understand how customers make their purchase decisions. 

There are two important outcomes from VoC: 

  1. Increase retention of existing customers by improving the customer experience
  2. Improve the product, and acquisition, for future customers by better understanding their needs

The beauty of a well-implemented Voice of Customer program is that it ties together siloed parts of the organization to center around a singular problem: the needs of the customer. The result is a coordinated effort to improve the customer experience, based wholly on what the customer has stated as a need. 

An important offshoot of running a VoC is that it closes the feedback loop, so that customers not only share feedback on their experiences, but also get confirmation from the company that their needs were heard, prioritized, and acted upon. This engenders trust with the company, and helps drive long term growth. 

Once the VoC is outlined, it becomes easier to connect with customers throughout the customer lifecycle. This is invaluable for a variety of reasons, including: 

  • Identify early indications of dissatisfied customers 
  • Spot shortcomings in the product or customer experience
  • Create new ideas or solutions, whether with product, marketing, support or customer success
  • Provide customers with more relevant and timely support 

Data that does not drive action is useless. VoC forces companies to not only gather data in terms of customer feedback, but also to understand the “why” behind the feedback. This applies to both positive and negative customer experiences.

How To Create A Voice of Customer

Alright, so the Voice of Customer sounds compelling enough–happier customers, faster revenue growth, lower customer churn. 

How do you go about creating this VoC strategy? And how do you go about doing this so that it actually becomes a useful reference for the team, as opposed to a fruitless exercise that gets completed and then never used again?

Creating a VOC can follow a five step process: 

  1. Gather – Collect customer feedback at various points in the customer lifecycle, through various channels. This can be structured data (like surveys and questionnaires) and unstructured data (support tickets, interviews, etc). 
  2. Analyze – Review the data, both quantitative and qualitative, to identify patterns in customer expectations and experiences. What insights can be acted upon? How has the feedback changed over time, and how has it impacted the higher-level numbers, of customer engagement, retention, and satisfaction? 
  3. Implement – Act on the various insights from the Analyze stage to improve the most important and relevant areas of the business. 
  4. Distribute – set up processes to share the takeaways and VoC with the rest of the organization. 
  5. Monitor – Keep tabs on changes in customer feedback, and improvements and setbacks based on changes made. 

 

How To Gather Customer Feedback

If you are sold on the value of creating a direct line of communication with customers, then you should have an idea of the ways that you can gather the feedback. 

Wordstream highlights three ways to categorize feedback:

  • Direct Feedback – This feedback comes straight from the mouth of the customer, in a channel that is intended for feedback. Examples of direct feedback are surveys, forms, interviews, or focus groups. 
  • Indirect feedback – Indirect feedback is captured when customers are discussing the company, but not in channels directly to the company. Examples include social media, online reviews, word of mouth. 
  • Implicit Feedback – Customer actions can speak volumes, even when nothing is said explicitly. This includes product engagement data, purchase history, customer sentiment in support tickets, and more. 

 

Specific Examples of How To Gather Feedback

When creating the structure for gathering feedback, you want to create a systematic way to improve the overall experience. 

A few markers of a good system: 

  • it captures feedback at different points in the customer journey (during onboarding, during product engagement, at the point of churn)
  • leverages different channels
  • flexible, and can change as customers’ needs change

Here are some of the channels at your disposal: 

DIRECT FEEDBACK: 

Customer Interviews: 

A classic method to build your Voice of Customer data. 

Interviews can be based on a particular customer segment, or centered around a singular question or challenge (ie experience with onboarding or a new feature). 

Interviews are detailed, structured conversations with customers that delve into the customers’ experiences with the current product, as well as competitive alternatives. From here, the needs of the customer are formulated, organized, and prioritized by the customer. 

But all involve a series of structured in-depth interviews, which focus on the customers’ experiences with current products or alternatives within the category under consideration. 

Sounds like a fair amount of work? 

One concrete upside: Gartner found that gathering customer feedback can increase the likelihood of upselling or cross-selling by 15-20%.

Moreover, companies that invest in customer feedback programs have a higher retention rate and lower ongoing costs for customer support.  

Interviews will typically take place in person, phone, or video call. They can be the most time-consuming, and also costly, depending on the resources and incentives included to get interviewees. However, the upside is that interviews can build the strongest relationships, and establish trust with customers, as they are typically the most personal interactions. 

Customer Surveys

Surveys are another great way to capture customer data. 

Surveys are the most scalable way, as they are completely automated and create an easy way to collect structured data. 

The questions that you ask in a survey are best when contextually relevant. For example, the information that you are gathering will differ based on the mindset of the customer at the time–whether it is a quick pop up on a marketing page on your website, during the onboarding process, or at the point of churn. 

Live Chat

On site chat is a great way of gathering real-time customer feedback, and offering a ready solution to remove any customer frustrations. 

Live chat feedback is unstructured data, so there is some manual work necessary to review, categorize, and draw insights from. 

Net Promoter Score

Net Promoter Score is a measure of your customer loyalty and advocacy. It is a quick way to quantify feedback from your customers, based around one simple question: “How likely are you to recommend our company to a friend or a colleague?”

Emails

Emails are a great way to connect with customers–flexible for individualized personal emails, or can be scaled to automated mass emails. Moreover, you can gather open-ended unstructured feedback, for example in answer to a question like, “What is your main goal with our product?” 

Or you can leverage email as a way to gather structured feedback via a survey included in the email. 

Focus Groups

Focus groups differ from interviews in that they are small groups of people discussing a specific issue or question, with a moderator guiding the conversation. Focus groups can be very helpful in helping to prioritize the product roadmap, getting inside the customer mentality in understanding the problem, and understanding the competitive landscape. 

INDIRECT FEEDBACK

Social Media

Social Media is a great tool to listen to conversations that your customers are having about you. But even better is that you, as the brand and product, can jump into the conversation and create a dialogue directly with customers in these channels. 

These channels include the usual suspects–Facebook, Linked In, Twitter–but also relevant sites like G2 Crowd, TrustRadius, Capterra, TrustPilot, blogs, forums, and product reviews sites. 

All of these channels combine to form your online reputation, and the larger perception of your brand and product. 

Regardless of the sentiment of the feedback, whether positive or negative, you will get a better idea of your customers’ opinions. 

Some of the methods available to capture customer data, per Medallia: 

Source

Interview questions

It’s important to take the right mentality when gathering VoC information. The goal is to generate unbiased, constructive feedback from customers, even if it surfaces painful negative comments. It is those comments that can drive improvement. 

Some questions to answer: 

  • Why did you purchase our solution? 
  • What did we offer that competitors did not offer? 
  • What was the most important criteria in your purchase decision? Price, features, testimonials? 
  • Has our product helped you solve your pain point yet? 
  • How can we improve our product? 
  • How do we help you succeed, or solve your problem? 
  • Are we helping you solve your problem? 

 

How to analyze VoC Data

Once you have gathered the feedback, you need to categorize the feedback and identify patterns and themes. 

What topics do customers bring up repeatedly, in terms of: common problems, frustrations, needs, areas of improvement, positive experiences? 

From here, you can prioritize the feedback into what you will tackle first. 

This is the first step in directly improving the customer experience, which is the best benefits of creating the VoC documentation. 

Some examples of categorizing all of the research might look something like this: 

Source

Or this, which quantifies the value by placing a number against each customer need:

Source

Best Practices

We promised that the Voice of Customer data would drive tangible results, most notably in terms of dollars and improved customer experience. 

There are a few ways to ensure that the VoC has maximum possible impact: 

Accessibility

“Customer Experience” is one of those all-encompassing words that can be interpreted by different teams and roles in different ways. However, every team within an org has work that impacts the customer experience, from developer to customer support reps on the front lines. 

Everyone should have access to, and reference, the VoC data. 

This includes real time data and dashboards that captures how customers are experiencing the product over time.

Comprehensiveness

In order to create a holistic honest picture of the customer, the VoC data must in inclusive multiple channels and touch points. Restricting feedback to only certain points in the customer lifecycle, or limited channels, would limit the breadth and depth of customer feedback, and therefore an incomplete picture of customer preferences and needs. 

Action-Oriented Insights

There is no value in gathering and analyzing data if there is no actionable outcome. Always try to conclude any report by answering the, “So What?”–how can this be improved, what should be changed, what action can be taken as a result of this data? 

A Voice of Customer Dashboard Example in Qualtrics:

Source 

The Steps: 

  1. Collect feedback with Surveys – this is the quickest and most scalable way to gather feedback, and quickly identify the current state of Customer Experience, and areas of improvement. 
  2. Prioritize the quick wins – if you are just starting to roll out a Voice of Customer program, find those areas that can be fixed with relative ease. Base your decisions on the analysis and reporting from the feedback gathered in the survey
  3. Act On Negative Feedback – If you receive negative feedback that you can act on and rectify, then take action on improving those things and notify the unhappy customer. This is the premise of the VoC data, improving the customer experience based on actual feedback!
  4. Prepare To Scalelay the foundation to scale your VoC program with additional channels of gathering customer feedback–both direct, indirect, and inferred data. 
  5. Create KPI dashboards and monitor progressYour customer base is dynamic, and their opinions will be in flux. Organize the structured and unstructured data that you collect, and share the feedback reports across the organization. This helps connect the dots between the day to day work that the team does, and how it impacts customers, and quantifies the impact of establishing the VoC program.

Conclusion: 

The Voice of Customer findings will uncover opportunities that your customers are sharing with you. This will lead to an improved customer experience for current, and future customers. The upside of this work is improved customer retention and recurring revenue. 

The benefit of going through the process of establishing a Voice of Customer program is that it removes any chance of relying on assumptions, and instead using data and direct feedback to inform future decisions. 

As a start up, there are endless opportunities to pursue, and therefore the opportunity costs of pursuing one initiative over another. The VoC process can crystallize what should be prioritized, and improved, based on customer preferences, challenges and complaints.