The Voice of the Customer (VoC) can be thought of as a cumulative statement of your customers’ experiences, feelings and expectations regarding your brand. The practice of gathering VoC data from and about customers is typically accomplished through feedback, reviews, surveys, one-on-one interviews and metrics. All of the gathered VoC data is then used to gain a better understanding of customers’ likes, dislikes, needs, expectations, preferences and desires concerning a brand’s products, services or perceptions. Let’s look at the ways brands are using VoC data to better align themselves with their customers.

Shawn Herring, CMO of airSlate, a document workflow automation platform provider, told CMSWire that successful brands are using VoC data to anticipate shifting consumer preferences, test new products and solutions, ensure customer satisfaction and maintain high retention rates. “Collecting, analyzing and acting on insights and sentiments revealed in VoC data helps companies stay closely aligned with their customers,” Herring said.

Voice of Customer Requires Genuine, Organic Feedback

An effective VoC initiative requires that brands obtain genuine, organic omnichannel customer feedback, a process that requires multiple methods and avenues. “Marketers are employing a range of tools to secure authentic feedback for VoC initiatives, including customer surveys, interviews, regular business reviews, data collection from product review sites, sentiment analysis on social media and customer feedback software,” Herring explained.

Online surveys can be useful for collecting feedback if they are quick, convenient, impersonal and anonymous. By providing customers with an unobtrusive survey option, brands are enabling them to easily provide genuine feedback in a way that will not take much time and effort. There are many survey solutions available, and many of them, such as Survey Monkey, Qualtrics and Qualaroo, allow users to create free trial accounts, enabling brands to see if the survey solution is effective for their goals.

Social listening is another option that brands are using to obtain genuine, organic feedback from customers. Social media is the preferred channel for many customers, and it’s where they regularly post about various aspects of their lives. Research from SmartInsights revealed that as of July 2022, there were 4.7 billion social media users worldwide. Additionally, a 2022 GlobalWebIndex report indicated that from January to March 2020, social media users were on social networks (and associated messaging apps) an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes per day. 

Social listening enables brands to obtain feedback from not only their own social presence but also their customers’ social media profile pages. Unlike surveys or interviews where customers may feel pressured to provide positive feedback, social media is a place where users feel free to post their genuine beliefs, likes and dislikes, and they are not afraid if their views are seen as negative. This allows brands to obtain actionable insights that will enable them to eliminate pain points in the customer journey, fix problems with their products or services or add new features that customers want to see.

Brands don’t have to manually search for mentions of their products, services, or brand name on social media, but rather, they can use social listening platforms to do the grunt work. Platforms such as Brandwatch Consumer Research, SproutSocial, Notified, Talkwalker, MeltwaterSocial and Mention all have functionality that includes social listening, analytics and reporting. 

Customer reviews are an excellent source of VoC data and are typically very positive or very negative, each of which is useful for obtaining actionable insights. Daniel Lemin, customer experience author and strategist at Convince & Convert, a marketing consulting service, told CMSWire that online reviews are another area rich in data. “This holds perhaps the most promise, as it reflects a customer's real-world experience with products and services. Companies like eCommerce are applying machine learning to help organizations respond in real-time to customer experiences.” Lemin believes this is one of the most interesting areas in VoC work because it's happening in close proximity to product usage.

Use VoC Metrics for Specific Goals

Metrics are simply a way of measuring something or measuring the results of acting and are a tool for measuring the effectiveness of a particular effort. People use metrics for measuring financial, software delivery and Voice of Customer performance. “Beyond understanding standard business metrics representing sales figures and growth rates, successful businesses must pay close attention to customer needs, expectations, perceptions and perspectives,” said Herring.

There are a few metrics that are typically used in VoC campaigns, including:

  • Customer Effort Score (CES) – Describes the effort a customer has to make to do business with a brand.
  • Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) – A way of determining whether a customer is satisfied with the overall experience they have when interacting with a brand.
  • Customer Loyalty Index (CLI) – Informs a brand about a customer’s loyalty to the brand, and whether they will be a repeat customer. 
  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) -– A valuable measure of how much potential revenue is attributed to a customer; determined from the customer’s past, current and future spending trends.
  • Repurchase Ratio – Enables a brand to know if a customer is likely to do business with them again in the future. 
  • Would You Miss Us? (WYMU) – Connected with the Customer Satisfaction Score and the Customer Loyalty Index, this metric asks a customer if they would miss the brand if it no longer existed.

Brands must ensure that they are focused on the VoC metrics that align with the specific goals they have set for their VoC initiative. If a brand has made major changes to its clothing line, it may want to focus on the Repurchase Ratio and CSAT. A brand that has made updates to its website shopping cart might be concerned the changes they have made to the site have made it more difficult or tedious to use, so the CES may be more appropriate for them to focus on. Other brands may be worried about their customer retention rate, so they would be more likely to focus on the CLI and WYMU metrics.

Lemin told CMSWire that a brand’s departments are likely to look at VoC data with different goals in mind. “Marketing is in a better position to tailor their content to the right audience, and is more likely to find them in the right places. Sales better understands buyer motivations, and that can put them in a better position to convert leads to sales,” said Lemin. Likewise, Lemin said that product teams are better equipped to make the right incremental changes to a product to ensure it's filling the right market gap, while operations (including customer service) can use VoC work to improve how certain aspects of the business adapt.

Related Article: 4 Ways to Receive Better Voice of the Customer Input

Learning Opportunities

Ask the Right Questions for Voice of Customer Success

Along with a clear understanding of the specific goals one has for a VoC initiative, it’s also vital to ask the right questions for VoC to be successful. Matt Mudra, VP of planning and performance at SCHERMER, a global B2B marketing agency, told CMSWire that brands must know the right questions to ask because each VoC research request is unique and limited in some way (scope, time, coverage, budget, etc.). “It’s important to have solid questions or probes to ensure you get down to the true buyer insights. A great interviewer/researcher is worth their weight in gold when it comes to VoC,” said Mudra. 

By asking the right questions, brands are in a much better position to fulfill their goals. “Clients use this data to inform several parts of their business. From a strategy perspective, we have seen clients use VoC to guide business plans, go-to-market strategies, innovation and product roadmaps, and brand and messaging strategies.” Mudra said that clients also apply VoC to better understand the key challenges their buyers and customers face as well as to identify emerging trends that impact their organization, their competitive landscape and even their industry. “When clients know this about their customer base, they can build data-driven marketing programs, sales processes, product and service improvements, and more to better align with customer needs.”

Related Article: Is Your Voice of the Customer Program Silent? 

The Challenges of a Successful VoC Initiative

One of the biggest challenges to a successful VoC initiative is getting everyone on board, including leadership and employees. Often, it’s difficult to take action based on the opinions of those who don’t work for the company, especially for a brand that is not customer-centric.

To get everyone onboard, leaders must understand why VoC is extremely important and how allowing customers to participate in enhancing or improving the brand’s products, services and the overall customer experience is a win-win for both the brand and customers. Once leaders gain a greater understanding of how VoC data contributes to initiatives across all departments in the brand, such as sales, marketing, customer service, product and service development and, of course, CX, they will be in a much better position to proselytize the merits of the VoC initiative to department leads, management and other employees. 

Lemin said that in the Venn diagram of VoC for work, there are two clear variables: needs and expectations. “In theory, there should be a natural overlap between the two that becomes the nucleus of a customer experience initiative,” he said, adding that many VoC initiatives fall short of this goal because they fail to include the actual customer voice. “This isn't a complicated problem: many organizations — particularly large, enterprise-grade brands — simply don't know who their customer is or what they really expect,” said Lemin. “Ask an organization who their customer is and they may share compelling demographics about age, ethnicity, geography, income and education,” he said, adding this is a qualitatively incomplete description. Lemin said that some brands solve for this by elevating the role of customer focus groups, advisory panels and feedback sessions. “Social media listening is another way to fill those gaps, but that is somewhat operator-dependent.”

Another challenge for brands is that despite collecting and analyzing vast amounts of actionable VoC data, brands often fail to take any actions, which leaves customers feeling like their feedback is being ignored. Srikrishnan Ganesan, CEO and co-founder at Rocketlane, a collaborative customer onboarding platform provider, told CMSWire brands that proactively tell their customers how they value listening to them and how such feedback has been used in the past are more likely to be able to obtain feedback from their customers. Ganesan’s business, Rocketlane, works with B2B implementation teams and encourages their customers to collect survey inputs at key milestones of their project execution. “As a best practice, we also recommend that they prepare their customers for the feedback requests and share why their inputs are important,” Ganesan said.

The Takeaway: Listening to Customers Leads to Better Insights

A Voice of Customer initiative can enable a brand to more fully understand its customers, their needs, desires and expectations, along with what they like and dislike about a brand. By listening to their customers, brands are able to find actionable insights that can be used to improve products and services, customer service, ease of use, and customer loyalty, while eliminating the pain points in the customer journey and better aligning with their customers.