Silhouette of a customer with a bullhorn shouting
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So it turns out that the voice of your customer is pretty darn important. Gartner found that 95 percent of companies regularly listen to their customer’s feedback, and yet rather worryingly, Gartner’s research also concluded that only 29 percent of firms with VOC programs in place incorporate VOC data into their decision-making processes, while nearly three-quarters of brands don’t consider their VOC programs to be very effective at driving actions. In other words, the benefits of VOC data collection are clear and well received — but brands are struggling to make their VOC programs impactful.

To help bring structure, purpose and measurable results from your voice of the customer program, CMSWire's Kaya Ismail has spoken to thought leaders to piece together a step-by-step guide to running a successful VOC program.

Related Article: Pave the Way to Better Customer Experience by Dismantling Internal Silos

Step 1: Define What VOC Means to You — And Your Customers

According to Chris Newton, VP Marketing at Toronto, Canada-based Influitive, the first step in every successful VOC program is to understand what the program means to you, and your customers. “Before you can launch a VOC program, you need to understand exactly what this means to your company and the value you want it to deliver. Is it to drive your product roadmap? Inspire new services? Improve the customer experience? Once you understand the main goals of the program, you can start to make a success plan,” he said.

However, as important as it is to get your objectives aligned internally, Newton asserts that brands should work just as hard to understand what will motivate customers to participate. “Talk with them to understand what kind of feedback they’d like to share, what areas of the business they want impact, and what would motivate them to participate. You could invite all customers to participate, or just your most Vocal advocates,” Newton advised.

Step 2: Arrange Stakeholder Buy-in & Investment

It's well documented at this point that silos can be bad for business. As it turns out they are good for VOC either, according to Newton. He went on to explain that once brands established a program owner — which could be the CMO, for example — it’s time to recruit key senior stakeholders across the organization who can champion your initiatives in different departments. “I also recommend finding a mechanism for getting more team members to contribute ideas to your program. This will make it more robust, and therefore more valuable to your entire company as a whole. It will also make it more interesting to your customers, since they’ll have the opportunity to have their voices heard across more areas of the business,” he said.

Related Article: 10 Common Voice of the Customer Mistakes

Step 3: Set Your KPIs & Success Metrics

After you have an idea of what you want to accomplish, Newton says, it's crucial that brands set clear goals and find a way to measure the impact the program is having on the business. “[Setting measurable goals and objectives] will [help] hold your team accountable and give you a way to effectively communicate the program direction and priorities. The goals should be agreed upon by key stakeholders and senior-level team members across the organization, and be regularly reported on at a high-level. Hitting these targets will make it easier to justify support for the program year over year,” he explained.

Tara Ryan is the CMO of Chattanooga, TN.-based Skuid. She echoed Newton’s point, citing that brands should focus on a small number of KPIs. “Pick 3-5 distinct KPIs that you and the customer define and measure together, and then stick with them. This ensures that you and the customer are aligned on what you want to achieve, and it’s a clear win-win in partnering together to tell their story,” Ryan urged.

Step 4: Know, Engage and Recruit Your Customers

The fourth step involves understanding the role of, and engaging, your customers. Musa Hanhan, Global Head of Customer Experience Design and NPS at Daly City, Calif.-based Genesys, explained how his organization approaches this phase of their VOC program. “In our practice, we use the Net Promoter System [a management tool that can be used to gauge the loyalty of a firm's customer relationships]. This simple method allows us to get a quick snapshot of who are our customers and how they feel about us. As part of our greater VOC practice, we expand beyond NPS to also journey mapping, customer ethnography and Customer and Product Advisory Boards so we have information about our customer at all levels,” Hanhan said.

Newton also highlighted the importance of recruiting the right customers for your VOC program, noting that it’s important to determine how you’ll recruit customers into the program. "While you may want to offer special perks and rewards for top contributors, it’s important to also focus on the intrinsic benefits of the program for your customers. Will they get to influence product direction? Impact your messaging? Get closer to your team members? Receive special support? If you did your customer research, this process should be easy.”

Ryan also gave her two cents on the subject, “It’s about the customer, not you. ...focus on the customer’s true mission. This gives you organic, honest responses that lend credibility to their success story,” she said.

Finally, Newton pointed out that brands should make the recruitment process an ongoing one, “Make sure your recruitment strategy includes a continual process for recruiting customers to the program as they progress through their journey — not just a one-off email campaign. This will make sure you have a growing community of customers to draw insights from and reduces the chances of burnout,” he said.

Step 5: Communicate, Collaborate and Act

Your VOC campaign shouldn’t stop with sending a survey and collecting data which sits idle. Your next step should be to bring together a dedicated team of cross-functional leaders and team members from within your organization to review the responses and outline a plan of action based on the feedback. This is an opportunity to break down silos and enable different departments to collaborate on an effective remedy to whatever is concerning or frustrating the customer. “In this step [of collaboration], owners [of the VOC data] are identified so that there is clear accountability that the proposed solutions and actions take place. Moreover, these solutions and actions require continued cross-functional work — rarely do we see [impactful] actions or solutions being shouldered [by just one] department,” Hanhan said.

With internal lines of communication set up, your organization can act on the VOC data with far greater efficiency.

Step 6: Update Your Customers

The sixth step involves getting back in touch with your customers — those who gave you feedback, and those who did not — to notify them of the actions you are taking in line with customer feedback. “After action has taken place, brands should inform their customers in regular cadence of the progress they’re making based on customer feedback,” instructed Hanhan.

He also highlights the importance of this step, calling it a critical step to ensure the brand builds confidence and trust with its customers.

Step 7: Keep Going And Keep Growing

The final step is to "rinse and repeat." In other words, so long as your organization is in business, your VOC program should never cease. "Markets are constantly evolving, so a brand’s [VOC program] should reflect that," said Ryan. She urged organizations to never assume that their work is done when it comes to collecting VOC data. She says you need to adopt a mind set that this is never over, it'san ongoing evolution that you should revisit periodically.

Moreover, Hanhan advised brands to, “continuously monitor the health of their customers,” through regular contact and VOC data collection.

Gleaning The Voice Of The Customer, One Step At A Time

Don’t just roll out a survey to your customers and consider your VOC program to be in full swing. Take the time to follow the steps above to create a foundation for your VOC program, and take the time to carve out channels that will allow VOC data to flow through your organization in a way that brings about action. That way, you might just overcome common voice of the customer program challenges and avoid the common voice of the customer program pitfalls that entrap many organization today.