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At its core, a VoC program is a structured approach to capture and examine peoples' feelings, opinions, and preferences regarding products and services and overall brand perceptions. Ideally, you want to collect feedback from your target market or persona early on when deciding new pricing plan, promotional offers, value propositions, app design, etc. A best practice is to do market testing and concept validation BEFORE investing time, resources, and funding to ensure you are solving real customer needs from the "outside in.

By talking to prospects and customers in the early stages and making improvements in an agile way, you can launch confidently with a high probability of meeting your financial targets with employees rallying behind your brand. Without VoC, you are flying blind! 

Best Practices for Building a VoC Program

1. Define VoC objectives and ensure alignment with broader strategic company goals: 

Determine what you want to improve to create a plan that solves actual pain points. For example, do you want to activate your most engaged customers to recommend your products and services? Or convert dissatisfied customers into brand promoters? Perhaps, reducing churn is most important at the moment if customers aren't buying or renewing contracts. In any case, determine what's essential, prioritize high-impact issues, and fix the root causes. 

Author's Tip

Bring cross-functional teams together often to discuss goals and align so everyone is committed to solving customer problems. It’s a sure way to build and sustain a customer-centric culture.

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2. Collect data from multiple sources. One is not enough.

Most people rely on surveys as their Voice of Customer source because surveys are: 

  • Easy to analyze quantitative data and compare insights to other data sets. 
  • Simple to collect information from a large sample size for generalizing results for the larger population.
  • Low-cost versus in-person interviews.
  • Uncomplicated in administering and reaching many customers quickly and efficiently.
  • Useful for getting honest feedback (when designed to be anonymous.) 

While there are many benefits to deploying surveys, there are limitations too. Therefore, I recommend using surveys in conjunction with other VoC sources to ensure a comprehensive understanding of customer behavior and preferences. Additional VoC insights come from: 

  • Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
  • Customer care data, including call center logs and email interactions
  • Online reviews on websites like Yelp, Google, and Amazon
  • Company websites contact forms
  • Focus groups and in-depth interviews 
  • Online forums and discussion boards
  • Sales and purchase history
  • Point-of-sale (POS) data
  • Website analytics, including user behavior and clickstream data
  • Market research studies and reports
  • Competitor analysis and benchmarking
  • Chatbots or virtual assistants

Author's Tip

Designate VoC ownership in your company. Either create the position in your organization and hire the right skill set or outsource the work. Also, when designing questions, ensure you apply best practices, or the insights won’t be useful.

3. Use analytical VoC tools to inform decisions and quickly act upon insights.

While technology is not inexpensive, it pays for itself when you consider the time and resources saved in manually reading all customer responses and doing something with them. The great news is that there are many VoC platforms to choose from. The not so good is that when there are so many, it can be confusing. The following are some criteria I use when selecting a solution provider. Use these for conversations with your potential partner. 

Can the VoC platform and service provider: 

  • Handle large volumes and support a wide range of data formats. 
  • Provide visualization capabilities with interactive dashboards and charts.
  • Incorporate machine learning algorithms to detect data patterns and trends. 
  • Offer seamless data flow across systems and is compatible with your existing stack and tools.
  • Provide exceptional customer service and tech support to rectify issues and challenges quickly and effectively.
  • Meet budgetary requirements. Full transparency about license fees, maintenance costs, support, etc., is essential as you don't want surprises (just like your customers expect).

Author's Tip

While many platforms offer similar functionality, the User experience (UX) and system interface vary. Select one that is intuitive and easy to use; otherwise, it will be a wasted investment. Also, negotiate a trial period to gain trust before scaling across your organization.

4. Aggregate your VoC data and integrate with business systems.

Many VoC programs fail because of data silos. In other words, different teams within an organization collect, store and manage their own data, often without sharing it with other departments. As a result, data becomes fragmented, inconsistent, and difficult to access and use for enhancing customer experiences. Data silos also hinder collaboration and innovation and lead to duplication of effort. A better approach is to centralize your multi-sources of VoC insights (surveys, reviews, social media, and other channels listed above) in a customer relationship management (CRM) system, a data warehouse, or a business intelligence (BI) platform. Ideally, you want to get real-time customer feedback to resolve customer issues quickly and mitigate business risks. 

Author's Tip

While eliminating data silos, focus on breaking human silos too. Both matter in achieving VoC program objectives. A popular tactic is data-based journey mapping, where cross-teams design experiences and improve customer pain points as a cohesive organization. Journey mapping helps individuals see the domino effect of how every job function and role impacts CX. Learn journey mapping techniques and best practices to increase collaboration and improve customer experiences. Also, check out my podcast interview with Kerry Bodine.

5. Close The Loop. Continuously improve based on VoC. 

Building an effective VoC program is an ongoing process. You must continuously iterate and enhance your program based on feedback and results. If you ask customers what they think, inform them what actions you took because of their feedback. For example, if you lead a focus group to design a new product, follow up with participants to show what you built because of their input. By closing the loop with customers, they are more likely to provide additional feedback when you want it.

I recommend offering a special discount not available to the general public to express appreciation. It doesn't need to be expensive. Likewise, apply the same principle to internal customers too. If, for example, you have a centralized survey team who calls customers for transactional feedback and relationship insights, share recordings and notes with your sales, product, pricing, and marketing teams, etc. They need to know what customers are saying and can optimize experiences based on VoC. 

Author's Tip

Don’t ask for customer feedback if you don’t plan to close the loop, and inform them what you did because of their valuable perspectives. Lack of time is not an excuse. Also, to make sure meaningful changes happen based on your VoC program, there needs to be ongoing effective communication with stakeholders across the organization, including senior management, back-office staff, and frontline teams. Finally, remind people that customer experience is everyone’s job, not just one person or group.

The Future Of Voice of the Customer (VoC) 

The adoption of VoC has increased over the years as more leaders understand that customer experience is their competitive advantage beyond price. And, VoC will continue to be a priority; however, a shift is happening. Leaders are making more strategic decisions based on customer feedback with less reliance on traditional surveys. According to Gartner, Inc, "by 2025, 60% of organizations with Voice of Customer (VoC) programs will supplement traditional surveys by analyzing voice and text interactions with customers....analytics technology is also anticipated to have significant growth in development and value." Knowing this, plan your budgets accordingly to capitalize on CX advancements. Invest in emerging technology and human resources. It's not either/or!

In conclusion, a top-notch Voice of the Customer (VoC) program is crucial for any business aiming to retain loyal customers, reduce churn, and drive business growth. By building a VoC program that incorporates best practices such as setting clear goals, assigning ownership with close-loop processes, integrating VoC into decision-making, communicating results, and continuously monitoring and adapting, you will meet customer expectations and, in fact, likely exceed them. Finally, remember to collect and analyze feedback from muli omnichannel sources, not just surveys, and break down silos (human and data). I repeat, break silos as they are detrimental to long-term success! I'll share more tips about how to break silos in another article.

Bonus Tip: Your Game Changer  

Top-performing companies combine Voice of Employee (VoE) and Voice of Customer (VoC) for decision-making. Asking employees for feedback makes them feel heard and valued. The same applies to Customer Service Agents (VoA) too. And when that happens, their commitment and engagement to deliver customer satisfaction increases. It's no secret that happy employees fuel happy customers. This golden rule applies to companies across all industries and business sizes. Use it to your advantage to get, keep and differentiate your brand.

Continue Learning and Paying It Forward. 

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Read the other installments of Stacy Sherman's Voice of Customer series:
By Stacy Sherman

Stacy Sherman is a customer experience and marketing global keynote speaker, journalist, co-author of two books, coach and host of the award-winning DoingCXRight podcast. Known for her Heart & Science™ framework that produces profitable clients and brand loyalty—fueled by empowered agents and employees. Stacy's been walking the talk for 25 years as a strategist and practitioner at companies of all sizes and industries, such as Liveops, Verizon, Schindler Elevator Corp, Wilton Brands, and AT&T. She's also a board advisor at multiple universities, featured in Forbes and other top-rated publications.