According to a recent Forrester podcast, succeeding with voice of the customer (VoC) can be a struggle: only 12% of customer experience (CX) pros give their program a maturity rating of high or very high. Today’s programs are often survey-obsessed, flooding customers with unwanted survey emails while failing to show value.

Treasure troves of customer insights are waiting to be unearthed, especially in the contact center, according to Forrester analyst Colleen Fazio. She said companies can make big progress by closing the loop with customers.

“Our research shows that just reaching out can reduce churn by double digits,” Fazio said. “Internally, start sharing positive feedback in addition to negative, like Amex does. This can improve employees’ perceptions of the program and make them more willing to change behaviors and processes based on the program’s recommendations.”

Below are four other ways to improve a company’s VoC program.

1. Break out of the Survey Mentality

Voice of the customer programs with any degree of history will have surveys as a foundational pillar, said Rick Blair, Verint vice president of product strategy, experience management. The organization might also be conditioned to continuously ask the customer experience/VoC team to “add this question” to a survey to get more insights.

By layering in an opt-in feedback program, which uses a universal tab or embedded link, a company enables customers to engage or provide feedback on their own terms, which is superior to the traditional survey approach, according to Blair.

“Opt-in feedback tends to be context-specific, asking questions you’d expect to see based on the page or step you’re in during the experience,” he explained. “It also tends to be respectful of the user — it doesn’t force you to leave the experience, generally doesn’t ask more than a question or two and is user-initiated. There’s also no multi-page, branching logic to prolong the agony.”

The right feedback solutions can also be highly actionable, Blair added. “The feedback collected is focused on a specific page or step and includes enough data to troubleshoot issues. For example, the device type, browser and OS version all help quickly identify common patterns and do it without asking a single question.”

Related Article: We Listen to Our Customers. Really?

2. Form Council Groups

While surveys still have some value, there are better ways to get a true VoC picture, according to Vaclav Vincalek, virtual CTO and founder of 555vCTO.

"Voice of Customer programs are ineffective because people running these programs don’t actually talk to, or listen to, the voice of the target audience: the customer,” said Vincalek. “In the name of scalability and technology, the VoC programs are just surveys with questions that are created by people who have not actually spoken to customers in real life."

One way to improve VoC is to create customer counsel groups and invite your customers for in-person sessions, he continued. “It demonstrates your commitment to the VoC process and shows how much you value your customers. And it will give your company a leg up over the competition.

“Imagine sitting in a room with users of your product, and learning about problems that you never knew existed — all because you gave your customers a place to express their opinions through conversation, rather than clicking a bunch of 1 to 10 scale questions."

3. Employ Passive Analytics

A variety of passive analytics systems are also great alternatives to traditional surveys, according to Blair.

Learning Opportunities

Speech analytics can mine millions of monthly calls for the rich experience comments hidden inside. Though a customer may have called to change an address, they might have a lot of comments about all kinds of experiences with that company. With survey response rates as low as they are, the call data can be an exponentially larger source of insights.

Digital behavior analytics, which record how customers navigate a website — while keeping their identity private — still deliver the rich signals needed to fine-tune an experience, Blair added. “Digital behavior analytics sessions can be integrated with feedback submissions, delivering the why with the what — all without surveys.”

Related Article: What Is Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)?

4. Create a Customer Portal

By providing customers with an easily accessible way to submit their ideas on a whim and make recommendations on how to enhance a product further, a company can gain valuable VoC feedback, according to Vincalek.

“If someone is fiddling around with your product and thinks to himself, 'wouldn't it be great if it did this' and could actually submit that idea? The portal would create a community around the product, where customers can collaborate and share — not just with the company, but with each other,” he said. “This is hugely valuable to a company as the VoC team learns far more than through any survey."

The most important lesson for companies is to listen and show that you've actually taken action, Vincalek added. “Surveys are almost meaningless because customers don't see an end result to their issue."

Final Thoughts: Voice of the Customer Is Truly About the Customer

VoC programs are becoming increasingly important as companies look to improve their CX and provide products and services that customers are more likely to purchase.

The key to any VoC program is to truly listen to what customers have to say. While surveys can still provide some valuable input, they alone are limited in the feedback they can offer. Additionally, when customers see a survey at the end of every interaction, they are much less likely to provide the company with insightful information.

With the four suggestions above, brands can gain more valuable VoC feedback and put it to good use.