Man with zippered mouth can't speak
PHOTO: Shutterstock

Customer engagement and customer experience (CX) are too often used as buzzwords without a company making a true effort to shape their strategy and the way they do business around the customer. Moreover, companies feel that simply installing a technology product will be a silver bullet to providing better customer engagement. This shortsightedness creates an unsustainable environment that gives customers the sense of a disjointed company and employees  left confused on how they can provide the best experience for their customers.

By definition, Voice of the Customer (VoC) is used to describe the process of capturing customer's sentiments and feedback on their experiences with products, services, and brands.  VoC is more than a technology product and more than just sending out a survey, getting a rating, and making tactical changes. If enterprises insist, though, on focusing too much on technology, they are not likely to get a true sense of the customers’ needs and wants. There are several obstacles that must be overcome. Here are ten.

1. Defining your Customers?

Nate Masterson is Marketing Manager for the online store Maple Holistics. He points out that because of the nature of VoC many of the best ways to gain access to valuable data is overlooked as corny or phony.  “If you receive a bad review on a product it’s because the product failed their expectations your job then becomes to find out how it failed their expectations and if there's anything to be done about it,” he said.

Companies should foster a culture that encourages employee feedback, especially if they have close contact with the prospective clients or customers, they may have invaluable insight as to what the customer expects. This is all to say that the biggest challenge is knowing where to look.

Related Article: Why Your Voice of the Customer Data Isn't Actionable (and What to Do About It)

2. The Right People Need Decision Making Powers

Cristian Rennella is CEO and co-founder of elMejorTrato, a digital marketing company based in Brazil. He argues that the biggest obstacle for enterprises with VoC is not giving employees in customer service the decision-making powers that they need to properly "hear" a customer’s voice. They are the ones, he said, who are in direct and permanent contact with the client.  “They are the ones who know what the customer needs, what we are doing wrong and what we could add value for the end user,” he said.

3. Lack of Senior Level Engagement

San Francisco-based Ignite 360 is a consumer insights and strategy firm that works with retail and CPG brands. Rob Volpe is its CEO and according to him, one of the big problems is a lack of true engagement and support at senior levels. He said that when a proposal is on trend it's easy to say "yes" to it, but putting a head nod into action takes conviction. “We encourage clients to find one senior level champion of a VoC program, enroll them and collaborate to model the expected behavior to the organization. We have had clients where leadership says ‘yes we need to do this’ but then fails to make the commitment to clear their schedule and make time,” he said. 

That tells people down the chain that it’s ok to skip these sessions or do things half-heartedly. As a coach and facilitator of these programs, senior managers must guide their participants in how to hold and use the information they are taking in. It’s not just data points — the voice of the customer is about building empathy, he shared. 

Related Article: Voice of the Customer Decoded: 4 Tips to Make the Most of Feedback

4. Two-Way Communication

According to customer experience expert, Esteban Kolsky, 70 percent of companies that deliver best in class customer experience use customer feedback. VoC is framed around a brand’s desire for feedback, willingness to adapt, and the ability to go above and beyond to deliver excellent service., according to Kolsky. But one of the biggest obstacles is the failure to create a two-way flow of communication between an organization and its customers. This prevents feedback and leads to the development of unrealistic expectations.

Creating a company culture that encourages this customer-first approach involves making sure employees of all levels have the same service-oriented mindset. “Emphasize the importance of listening to your customers if you’re looking to boost the bottom line — increased retention and customer satisfaction are the linchpin to your brand’s overall success,” he said.

5. Customer Language

Andy Peart is CMO at Barcelona, Spain-based Artificial Solutions.He also believes communication is a key, but he believes on of the biggest problems is ensuring customer and enterprise are speaking the same language. Customer engagement is only possible if you’re talking to your customers in language they understand, on the service, channel, and platform they prefer, he said. 

“Most customers are prepared, in fact very willing, to solve a query themselves online. Whether it’s sales advice or a technical issue, people like the idea of being able to have all the information they need at their fingertips. However, enabling this over multiple channels, in multiple languages, 24/7, in a way that makes it easy and fast for customers to access can prove a challenge, even for the biggest of brands,” he said.

6. Platform Compatibility & Single Build Strategies

Supporting customers as they move around from location to location and device to device isn’t easy if you treat them as separate interactions. Peart adds that while an intelligent conversational interface bridges the gap between complex knowledge bases and impersonal customer self-service by providing a more human-like interaction, customers are frequently left stranded on one or two platforms only—typically iOS or Android, and a website. Customer engagement is impossible if you’re not on the services your customers are using. What happens when the connected car really takes off, how will your customers talk to you then? 

Unless organizations develop a build once and deploy many times strategy, it will be difficult to develop a single experience across all channels. Being able to develop intelligent, conversational applications to capitalize on emerging opportunities and then easily port them to be multi-lingual, over any device or service, is critical in making AI-based applications commercially viable for enterprises.

7. Failing to Implement Virtual Customer Assistants (VCAs)

Virtual customer assistants (VCAs), virtual agents, chatbots, are a key enterprise technology now for listening to and responding to VoC. Without them, it is hard to hear what the customer is saying. VCAs allows companies and their customers to communicate in a natural, conversational manner through automated channels and when they do this, they reveal significant amounts of information about their views, sentiment, likes and dislikes, and much more.  Conversational analytics allows you interpret and make sense of these massive volumes  of unstructured natural language data generated by the conversations held between you and your customers every day, often in near-real time.

8. Purchase Journey Difficulties

Jon Leicht is Senior Vice President for Product Integration at Watertown, Mass.-based iProspect. He says that two key areas are starting to gain prominence with iPropsect’s clients are in Needs Based Marketing and Media Optimization. He says since companies are constantly looking for ways to extend their product awareness upstream in the consumers’ purchase journey. This can be a big challenge as driving awareness is relatively expensive and often difficult to understand where to cast your net. Query mining, consumer interviews, card sorting and other tactics can provide great insight into what needs your customers are trying to solve for and what challenges they are having finding products to fulfill that need.

9. Tools and Processes

Erin White is Hexagon Outsourcing Group’s CEO. She says that while there are many tools and processes that can be used to support Voice of the Customer, the tools and processes shouldn't be the focus. The focus should be the ideology behind it, but too much emphasis on the tools, or enterprise processes can stifle creative thinking. If crafted strategically, VoC can help to grow any business. 

The most effective way to work it into an enterprise business strategy is to ensure every employee understands the customer’s expectations from the beginning and meets or exceeds those expectations. This plays out in how you hire, retain and develop the people who are engaging with customers every day. Albeit in person or through technology. A business’s employees are the key to shaping the Voice of the Customer.