CFO World

The do’s and don'ts of voice of customer programs

From measuring impact to understanding customer stages, there’s a treasure trove of things to consider when crafting the perfect VOC

Voice of customer (VOC) programs are becoming increasingly popular with marketers, but there are some general do’s and don’ts to follow if they're going to succeed.

CMO reached out to three industry commentators to reveal what’s hot and what’s not on their voice of customer approach and what it takes to successfully create and implement a program.  

But first, let’s be clear on what a voice of customer program is comprised of. According to InMoment customer experience expert, Andrew Park, a comprehensive voice of customer programs is comprised of four distinct components: Listening (collecting data), understanding (analysing data for insights), sharing (distributing the insites across the enterprise), and taking action.  

“For the listening component, many brands rely primarily on structured surveys, such as scores and rankings, with a smattering of unstructured comments. With the multitude of channels and forms customers are talking about their experiences, surveys are simply not sufficient anymore,” Park told CMO.

Andrew Park
Andrew Park


“Brands should collect as much structured, and especially rich unstructured data from social comments and reviews, voice recording, chat logs, community postings, and so on. They should also be collecting contextual data about the customer. This includes CRM, loyalty, financial and operational information.”

So what are some of the all-important ‘do’s and don'ts’ of a customer voice programs?

The Do's

Start from the end

First and foremost, Park said marketers need to design the program with the end goal in mind.

“Start by understanding that your program needs to tie directly to your brand promise, corporate objectives and initiatives -- including financial goals," he advised. "Next, design the insight roadmap and reporting based on the user personas in your organisation. Then design your collection strategy and feedback plan. Only then will you ensure you will have all of the data you need to create an actionable program."

Get your tech in order

Another key component is ensuring marketers have a comprehensive VoC technology that allows them to provide automated actionable insights throughout the entire organisation.  

“Your people cannot take action if they don't have enough information, or if the information does not reach then in a timely manner," Park said. "The right technology should be smart enough to recommend the right actions by persona and area of the business. A solution that requires too much interpretation - especially at the front line - can cause more harm than good.”

Remember your people

Then it comes down to leveraging the best resource you have - your people.

“Your front-line employees are an amazing resource. They understand the customer experience better than anyone because they work closest to it every day," Park said.

"Create a voice of employee program that allows employees to provide insight into the customer experience, identifying points of friction, root causes, and inefficiencies that prevent them from providing the exceptional experiences you are hoping for. Give them opportunities to get creative and recommend new ideas as well.”

Focus on growth

For growth marketer and CX leader, Christian Bowman, investment into a CX strategy and specifically a VOC program should be motivated by a desire to grow the business.

“This means that the organisation should believe that by listening to customers via a voice of customer program coupled with brand leadership, is driven by a desire to grow, whether it be market share, customer engagement or plain old simple sales,” he said.

Christian Bowman
Christian Bowman


Pick a touchpoint and metric

Bowman also suggested companies need to “just get started” by picking one touchpoint and one survey question. This could be deciding between Net Promoter System (NPS), Customer Effort (CE) or Customer Satisfaction (CSat).

On the measurement front, organisations then need to split-test new activities or set controls to ensure the treatment group is isolated well enough to prove impact. “This could be as simple as removing a percentage of your customers from VoC workflow to determine the variance,” Bowman said.

It’s also important to be clear on the company’s strategic goals. Aligning with these ensures clarity on why activities are undertaken and helps define the language used.

“If you're a challenger brand and you know your company is in the consideration set and it's about conversion to a trialist, then you may have a lot of phrases within the customer journey from your frontline like ‘Thank you for choosing Brand X’,” Bowman explained. “Or your surveys might be ‘Why did you choose Brand X instead of Brand Y’.”

Get a grip on the customer journey

Additionally, Bowman said it’s important to understand the different customer stages.

“Customer experience is really an evolved version of the traditional sales process, where you are clear on the objectives on each stage and who are responsible. If you haven't done one already, a customer journey mapping workshop will help with this process. This is also how you ensure clarity on your KPIs and targets,” he noted.

Close the loop

Bowman’s last steps involve taking action (closing the feedback loop); connecting the VOC program into the company’s innovation or product review process; and measuring impact.

“If you're going to do any survey, let alone run a full voice of customer program, make sure you have planned how to close the feedback loop,” he said. “How will you manage complaints - small or big and will these complaints require a case to opened to investigate? Which feedback do you escalate?  How do you keep the customer up to date with the progress?”

Follow the money

Meanwhile, Ellipsis and Company managing partner, Tim Tyler, said following the money is key, and suggested marketers need to spend their money on CX improvement in line with customer value. It’s crucial to retain high value customers, even if there’s a smaller opportunity for short term sales lifts.

“Make changes where there is the most opportunity for financial returns. Start with those customers who are important to keep or who can increase their value to you the most,” he advised. “Keeping valuable customers happy and loyal is more profitable and as important as the never-ending new customer acquisition treadmill.”

Broadcast internally

On the broadcast front, Tyler said he’s amazed so many Australian companies are afraid of their customers, and afraid to publicise both criticism and praise.

“VOC works better if you broadcast internally, share results, engage employees. Let everyone know about your service and encourage (even empower) employees to improve the service,” he said.

Think about your promoters

Additionally, preserve some energy and budget for promoters, not just complaining, squeaky detractors. “The temptation is to focus exclusively on ‘fixing’ problems or detractors. Though this should remain the priority, picking up some powerful word of mouth from promoters may be as simple as asking them to post a review,” Tyler said.  

And finally, persistence is key. “VOC-led customer experience optimisation is not a ‘do once and forget’ task,” Tyler said. “Customer expectations change, sometimes unpredictably, so you need to keep asking, checking, and improving - or risk drifting away from competitive service levels.”

Up next: The don'ts of VOC programs

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The Don'ts

Now that you know some of the steps to take on the journey toward success in the world of VOC, here’s some crucial things to avoid.

Seek the permanent fix

InMoment’s Park dished out tips on the strategy front, saying don’t “fall into the trap” that just because you get  feedback from customers that the customer experience will improve.

“Many companies start out with a great strategy, but they forget that this is a never-ending journey. Don't think that because you create your program and launch a feedback and reporting technology once, that you will permanently fix your customer experience,” he said. “Strategies have to be updated and continually refined to ensure the program continues to create the customer-centric culture needed to address the ever-evolving needs of your customers.”

Wait for perfect

Another thing is not to wait for a “perfect strategy” to act. “You can wait forever refining your strategy.  Move forward now with what you have and refine as you go,” Park said.  

In the same vein, Bowman warned organisations from getting too bogged down in the technology.

“There's lots of ways to provide feedback. Work within your budget. It's more about the actions you take based on the feedback and not just the method of feedback capture - the action should be the hard part.”

Get stuck on numbers and measurement

Bowman also advised marketers not to use a percentage  calculation for the final NPS score.

“It's an absolute number where you deduct once percentage (detractors) from another percentage (promoters) so your final NPS Score is a range between -100 and +100. Also, whilst you can benchmark between similar industries, there is no such thing as a good or bad score initially as it's a measure of progress over time and not a magic number that says your company is good or bad.”  

Getting caught up in the methodologies is another big mistake. “In the past, I've set customer effort questions up totally against convention which provided the same strategic outcome,” Bowman said.

“I changed a customer effort response options for the question  ‘Brand X made it easy for me to register today’ to yes or no instead of the usual ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’ range and got the same benefits.”

Also on the numbers front, Tyler urged marketers to be careful not to tie management bonuses to NPS targets prematurely, which many large companies have done in order to give their VOC programs “teeth”.

“Action is more important than precision, but don’t compensate your employees on the ‘score’ or ‘score improvements’ without confirming the changes are real, not random. So don’t ignore the maths,” he said.   

Changes in NPS/customer satisfaction scores can be due to random sampling variations, not real changes, Tyler suggested. “If bonuses are based on random chance they are de-motivating, so run statistical significance tests to make sure improvements/mistakes are real before paying or denying bonuses. The maths needed is well established and straightforward.”

And finally, don’t try to compare the company’s VOC scores to other industries, other brands or the same industry in other cultures.

“Internal improvements or decreases are what matters. Your own performances are the best benchmarks,” he added.

Ask too many questions

Additionally, Bowman said avoid asking too many questions - and particularly don’t ask questions you already know.

“If you're going to do a discovery survey, don't waste your customers’ time by asking them information you already have just because you couldn't be bothered sorting out the technology requirements,” he said. “One thing that guarantees a lower completion and submission rate is asking too many questions because you asked them things you already know.” 

By the same token, don’t assume getting feedback is a waste of time because it will only attract complaints, Bowman said.

“Remember, customers complain because they actually care about their relationship with you - so you should too,” he said. “Also, you'll find that it's rare to have more complaints compared to compliments, so it's always worth getting customer feedback.”

Succumb to analysis paralysis

What’s also important is not to avoid action by analysing endlessly before you change process, staff training, adjust rosters or vary products.

“Make changes and measure changes in customer feedback. If you get it wrong, learn and adjust again,” Tyler said.  

Park agreed taking action is the most essential component of a successful and comprehensive VoC program, and a place many brands fail.

“While it seems like the obvious outcome of all of this work, many brands struggle to take action on what they find in their customer data. Sometimes, it's a matter of institutional commitment or leadership,” he said.

“However, many times the problem lies in not having the required discipline around the first three processes. A weak data set won't give you strong intelligence, and sharing less-than-compelling insights doesn't instill confidence or inspire action. Each piece of the puzzle is essential, and taken together, can provide a powerful guidance system for your business.” 

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