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PHOTO: Isaiah Rustad

Potential customers often mistake Synup for a full service marketing agency. It isn't — its product focusses solely on managing the local marketing and reputation of businesses. It doesn’t take care of, for example, content marketing. 

Another concept some customers don’t get is that Synup works on a subscription-based model, Synup's CEO Ashwin Ramesh said. Customers have told the firm they want to pay a one-time-fee rather than subscribing to the product.

These two features are integral to Synup’s business model — yet if the company were paying blind allegiance to the voice of the customer (VoC), something would have to give. This isn't to say Synup finds little use with VoC. In fact, Ramesh made it clear that, “VoC programs are the most straightforward way to understand what the customer expects out of a business and realize how their experience with a business has been.”

Marketing executives may be loath to admit it, but as Synup’s example makes clear, sometimes the VoC is wrong.

In some cases, such as with Synup, the VoC has misfired because of a lack of understanding about a product or service. But in other situations, active customers who know the product quite well still are communicating issues that simply don’t jive with a company’s business model or the expected customer journey. 

Here are some situations where the customer is not always right.

You’re Attracting the Wrong Customer ...

If a company's VoC is consistently misaligned with the strategy, but the company believes in the strength of its product, it may mean the business is unintentionally attracting the wrong customers, said Jay Coldren, a restaurant and hospitality consultant with Coldren Hospitality. “I recently worked on a hotel that got dozens of complaints on the lack of amenities and services being provided. The problem was not in the offering — it was intentionally a limited service hotel — but in how this was communicated to the customers.” 

Once the marketing messages and the brand positioning of the hotel were aligned with the product, the complaints fell off dramatically, Coldren said.

… Or You’ve Completely Misunderstood the Market

If a large percentage of your VoC feedback diverges significantly from your product development, either you're not hitting the audience you're aiming for, or you're not delivering the product the audience wants, said Chargebacks911 co-founder and COO Monica Eaton-Cardone. 

Let's say you have a website for finding and booking airfares, she continued. “VoC feedback is consistently suggesting you add the ability to apply for airline jobs through your site.” At that point, she said, you have to ask yourself whether these comments are coming from people who don't understand the purpose of your service — or is the need for an online job application site so much greater than the need for another booking site that the audience is turning to you as a desperate resort?

“In the case of the former, you need to look at your marketing, because you're clearly not reaching the market you need. In the other case, you might want to adapt your product to a niche that obviously needs filling.”

Related Article: Transforming Listening Into Action: Fortifying Voice of the Customer Programs

The Company Is Making a Pivot

The VoC may start to become misaligned if the company is making a pivot — that is, it is changing its services or it can no longer meet the needs of a group of customers due to a situation like a technology change, said Tom Eggemeier, president at Genesys. An example would be a tech company that has stopped supporting earlier versions of its software that a small and shrinking proportion of customers is still using. “The customer likely has its reasons and biases for wanting things their way,” he said. “The company does as well. The company’s next move is to listen — it must tread with care or risk losing the business.”

Your Customers May Be Embarrassed

One important point to keep in mind when doing any kind of marketing research is the potential for social desirability bias, said Vassilis Dalakas, professor of Marketing at Cal State University, San Marcos. “It is natural for all of us to want to be perceived in a positive way by others which, sometimes, may lead to giving answers/feedback on marketing research that may not reflect our true preferences or opinions, in an effort to look better.”

Examples might be customers saying they are concerned about the environment or healthy eating or limiting screen time for their children. “When the VoC seems to suggest very surprising or unexpected results — for example, 96 percent of parents tell the company they do not allow their kids to use smartphones or tablets for more than 30 minutes per week — it is wise to probe further regarding the validity of such results before implementing any major strategic decisions off such feedback,” said Dalakas.

Related Article: Looking for Your Next Big Idea? Ask Your Customers — And Really Listen

You’re Interpreting the Results Incorrectly

The VoC is never wrong — but companies can definitely interpret what the consumers are saying incorrectly, said Pamela Danziger, founder of Unity Marketing. The VoC data collected via social media, for example, are but one touch point in understanding the consumers and what they are saying and how they are feeling about the brand/company, she said. “Raw data from social media data gathering needs to be checked against real consumers in a personal research setting. It calls for a deep dive into the mind of the consumers, not just collecting data and charting it as good/bad.”

“The term ‘voice of the customer’ is actually a somewhat dangerous term because a great deal of what we learn from customers is about observation and indirect questioning, where VoC often can be interpreted as asking ‘what do you want?’” said Heidi Wisbach, SVP of Business Innovation of FROM. “Smart and experienced researchers allow the customer to first tell them their story and talk the researcher through the way they go about things and then ask how the customer could envision a better way to address their needs.”

You’ve Asked a Bad Question

Often times it’s the question being asked — or how it is asked, said Chris Byrne, co-founder of Sensorpro. “When a question is misunderstood, the survey result is skewed for everyone, not just the individual answer. So it's worth spending some time thinking about how to ask the question. It can mean the difference between a poor outcome and a survey result you can rely on.”

Byrne said a poorly-designed question has one of two common traits. The question posed a false equivalence, essentially comparing things of vastly differing magnitudes. Or it offered a false dilemma — i.e., other options were available but were not presented.