Are you listening? Why customer voice is taking on a whole new meaning

Voice of the customer programs are giving companies a new lease on life, offering insights on customer expectations, preferences and aversions

It’s no longer good enough to listen to customers just for the sake of listening. In the age of the experience, brands need to listen to improve the customer experience if they have a hope of staying relevant.  

Enter voice-of-the-customer (VoC), a concept used in business and IT to describe the in-depth process of capturing customer’s expectations, preferences and aversions.  

According to Forrester, companies are using VoC programs to collect and analyse customer feedback, inform customer experience (CX) improvements, and track the results of those improvements. But while VoC has been on the radar for several years, maturity across companies and their VoC programs is at extreme ends of the spectrum and many are just getting started.  

According to Bain & Company partner, Katrina Bradley, there are many ways to capture, understand and act on the voice of customer. She describes VoC as a systematic approach to capturing customer feedback, thoughts, reactions, ideas and feelings, on a company’s products/services and other elements of the customer experience.  

“It is important to understand just ‘listening’ to the voice of the customer is insufficient. It is important to have a systematic approach to understand and learn from the voice of the customer feedback, and then take action to improve,” she tells CMO.  

For Bradley, an effective VOC system can also improve employee engagement and advocacy through engaging employees in listening to customer feedback and taking actions to improve the customer experience.

The Net Promoter System (NPS), created by Bain & Company more than a decade ago, stands out as a holistic management system that encompasses processes and systems to help an entire business focus on earning the loyalty of both customers and employees and drive organic growth, Bradley says.     

“Enabling closed learning loops between a company’s frontline and other employees and customers to drive continuous improvement in the customer experience, and understanding which actions are growing promoters and leading to detractors are the foundations of a Net Promoter System,” she says.  

So why is VoC gaining the headlines now? Bradley points to a number of key trends loyalty leading companies are deploying to improve their VOC game. The first is broadening VOC measurement beyond customer interaction points such as calling a contact centre or visiting a branch.  

“Increasingly, loyalty leaders are embedding VoC measurement at the end of end-to-end customer experiences [or episodes],” she explains.  

Additionally, companies are implementing “predictive NPS” by linking operational data to the drivers of a company’s NPS, and understanding which customers are likely to be promoters or detractors based on the real time customer experience they are receiving. Companies are also implementing proactive service recovery and next best servicing messages, by tailoring customer communications based on the recent experience a customer has received.

Building momentum  

Growth marketing and CX leader, Christian Bowman, who positions VoC as a strategy for planning, capturing and utilising customer feedback, says VoC programs including the use of NPS, customer satisfaction and customer effort are gaining traction mostly due to increasing focus on being data-driven.  

“It can be as simple as a survey after an interaction with a customer to click on smiley faces to show how they feel, to a comprehensive multi-page customer survey sent to a customer yearly,” he says. “While it’s only one element of a CX strategy, it’s probably the most important one.”  

While the concept of surveying and capturing feedback from customers isn’t new, what is new is utilising the voice of the customer to prioritise product and service delivery.  

“It’s very tempting to utilise technology and data to better understand customers and their preferences, but in reality, it’s sometimes smarter just to ask the customer what they want and build a relationship from that,” Bowman continues. “I’ve seen many examples of people spending buckets of cash on propensity and preference modelling. But it rarely includes the voice of the customer, only their behaviour.”  

The main benefits of VOC programs come from being able to measure the experience of a customer at critical touchpoints in real time. The goal is to be able to get feedback on whether or not, as a brand, the company has done a good enough job of creating memorable experiences customers will love.  

Bowman suggests companies doing well with their VoC programs have embedded it as part of each key touchpoint or with appropriate feedback mechanisms.  

“You can measure customer effort or customer experience as part of a signup process on-screen and then measure customer experience via an NPS survey email to the customer after the first 30 days, as part of an onboarding program,” he says. “The better companies are now introducing non-traditional CX metrics such as social sentiment and public reviews, even to the point of being able to direct people to provide a public review if they’re considered a promoter.”

3 VoC styles    

While every industry and sector have differing needs and ‘moments of truth’ in their customer engagement strategy, there are some common critical factors in designing a VoC program.  

The first step is setting a VoC strategy, followed by creating a centralised program. From there, it’s important to tie questions to goals and ensure they are obtainable; adhere to good survey hygiene; combine insights from across the business; and act and review.  

For co-founder and managing partner of Ellipsis & Company, Tim Tyler, VoC programs are used by companies to focus management and service staff on the customer experience and expectations. They’re gaining popularity because immediacy makes it much more likely the customer is rating, describing or critiquing the particular transaction or interaction the company is asking about.  

What’s new is the use of digital and near-real time communications is fresh to the world of VoC. “The use of loyalty program data so responses can be tied to individuals and tracked longitudinally is new,” Tyler says. “Historically, market research on brand sentiment has been anonymous and at a point-in-time. VoC is increasingly constant.”  

Tyler says the market is dividing into three ‘styles’ of VOC: Transactional – within minutes the customer receives a request for feedback on their transaction experience; episodic – after numerous calls and in-home visits, when the consumer is asked to give feedback on the episode; and market or brand, a longer-term view of how the customer views and feels about the brand. “Social media has made negative experiences much more dangerous for companies as the reach of criticism is magnified. Getting the customer experience right and keeping it right is more important,” he says. “And the arbiter of a good experience is the pesky, fickle customer so you have to keep asking her.”

Up next: how Bupa, Bendigo Bank and Suncorp are deploying voice of the customer programs, and the challenges they face

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