Do you know what the difference is between successful and unsuccessful businesses?
The successful ones use a Voice of the Customer (VoC) analytics program to understand their customers.
They pay close attention to what their customers are saying. They know that business metrics like revenue and churn tell only a part of the story. They understand that to know why customers make certain decisions, it's critical to understand the customer's perspective.
If you want to improve the bottom line and get more repeat business, then you have to listen to your customers.
Customer-perceived value is correlated to higher retention and more sales. That's why it’s important to know:
- Why your customers need you.
- What you can do to help your customers.
- What your customers are looking for.
- What their interests and behavioral patterns are.
You can find all of this out by creating a strong Voice of the Customer (also called VoC or Voice of Customer) program.
First, let’s go over the basics. What is Voice of the Customer?
Voice of the Customer
Voice of the Customer (VoC) is a research method that's used to collect customer feedback. A VoC program can help you capture how your customers feel about your business, product, or service, giving you insights that can help you create a stronger customer experience.
Businesses study VoC to visualize the gap between customer expectations and their actual experience with the business. =
Voice of Customer is imperative for business functions like customer success, operations, and product development. These groups use this research to identify and improve all stages of the customer's journey by working together to enhance their products and services.
By implementing a Voice of the Customer program, companies not only develop a closer bond with their customers but also improve their internal collaboration.
To create a VoC strategy, you’ll need:
- An objective and overarching question, e.g., Why have customer retention rates dropped for X product in the last quarter? Or how do customers feel about the recent changes in X offering?
- A tool to collect VoC data, such as a dedicated customer feedback software or a survey provider
- VoC feedback and data
- A team to analyze the feedback and identify patterns
How Voice of the Customer Impacts Your Business
According to research by Qualtrics, offering a strong customer experience is all but guaranteed to improve your sales. 94% of consumers report that they are likely to purchase more from a company with “very good” CX.
But without knowing how your customers actually feel, you can’t offer a strong CX experience.
By capturing VoC, you can connect and engage with customers at every touchpoint in the customer journey and programmatically improve their experience with your company. This technique helps you:
- Spot early warning and potential brand crisis
- Evaluate new concepts, ideas, and solutions
- Customize your products, services, add-ons, and features to meet the needs and wants of your customers
- Increase customer retention
- Serve your customers with what they really need
Voice of the Customer Methodology
The Voice of the Customer methodology is the way businesses collect customer feedback about their products, brand, and service. Interviewing customers, sending feedback surveys, hosting focus groups, and reaching out via social media can all be part of a Voice of Customer methodology.
Reaching out to your customer is the bulk of an effective VoC strategy. A successful methodology will provide you with all the insights you need to understand customer preferences, problems, and complaints.
Before choosing a method or technique, you should first outline a question and an objective for your program. If you start gathering data without an objective in mind, you won’t know how to use the insight to improve your business.
The question can be related to previous metrics, trends, and new customer behaviors. Here are a few examples of what that can look like:
- Only X% of customers made a repeat purchase of _____ product in Q2 of last year, a drop from a previous year. What changed? How can we improve?
- How many of our customers feel loyal to our brand? What can we do better?
Note: These are only meant for you and your stakeholders. Here are examples of a few questions you can use in a VoC survey or study.
Now, it’s time to establish an objective: either gauging current CX performance or improving a specific business function or product.
- Gauging current performance: For many businesses, it’s worth launching a Voice of Customer program to set a baseline to compare future results to. When you make this your objective, you usually ask the same questions during each iteration.
- Improving a business function or product: VoC strategies are famously used by companies to understand their customers’ needs and improve their products or service offerings.
After identifying a question and objective, you might naturally choose a VoC technique to capture the data, or already have one in mind.
For example, if you’d like to know how customers feel about your service team, you’d choose to survey previous contacts in your CRM who’ve contacted your service department.
It’s a well-known fact that it costs organizations five times more to attract a new customer than it does to retain an existing one. The value of retaining existing customers over acquiring a new one can’t be overstated.
Understanding your customers and building a solid customer relationship is a methodic, insightful process. There are certain techniques that you can follow to get reliable answers. Companies often use a mixture of different techniques to ensure they're getting the most from their research.
Let’s take a look at some of the Voice of the Customer methods that you can use to collect data.
1. Customer Interviews
Customer interviews are one of the traditional techniques to collect VoC data. It is commonly used to understand a particular customer’s point-of-view regarding product or service issues, attributes, and performance measures.
You can choose to perform this for either a particular customer or for a group of customers with some common attributes. This is usually executed in person, on the phone, or through email.
While the cost of in-person interviews is the highest among all forms of interview, it is still considered to be the most useful form for building trusting customer relationships. This is because customers perceive this type of interaction as more personal.
2. Online Customer Surveys
Another great way to capture VoC is by conducting online customer surveys. These surveys help you in understanding your customers and addressing the issues they face.
However, if you don't ask the right questions with the help of the right platform, you may never get reliable answers. That's why you need to put in a lot of thought while designing your surveys. With platforms like VWO or SurveyMonkey, you can choose from the different types of surveys available, such as multiple option-based surveys, drop-down surveys, and text box-based surveys.
HubSpot’s customer feedback software is another great tool for setting up online surveys. With this tool, your surveyees are automatically connected to a specific contact in your CRM, which requires less manual work from your service or VoC team.
3. Live Chat
According to a study, 48% of people use live chat to reach out to a company.
Having a live chat option on your website is an incredible method of collecting real-time customer feedback. It also reduces the possibility of your customers feeling unsatisfied.
The use of live chat is not limited to listening to customers complaints and resolving them. It is also a good tool to capture Voice of the Customer data. For this, you can schedule a follow-up survey of all the customers connecting with you through a chat.
Not sure how to start? You can use HubSpot Live Chat to get live chat up-and-running on your website.
4. Social Media
Social media is a potent ingredient of the feedback cocktail, as it provides you the opportunity to have a two-way communication with your customers.
On any of the most commonly-used social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, you can tap into relevant ongoing conversations, connect with those customers by actively participating, or quietly listen (while lurking and taking notes).
The core strength of social media is that it allows you to have a more direct and real-time conversation with the people using your products or services.
While a good way to gather feedback, look for trends, and create stories, it may be more challenging to turn this into hard data. But you are now hearing feedback — direct and unfiltered — from customers.
5. Website Behavior
Your website is a great place for you to capture Voice of Customer data. Besides chat and online surveys, another way to collect this data is by analyzing your customer behavior on the website. You can do it by leveraging tools like heat maps, scrolls, and visitors recordings.
You can also opt for a single platform that'll allow you do all this — like CrazyEgg — and you won't have to invest in multiple tools.
6. Recorded Call Data
If you're planning to leverage historical data, recorded call data might come in handy. Recorded calls with your customers can give you a broad overview of how they perceive your brand, what sort of objections they have, and what else they expect from the company.
Though this technique requires a lot of time, it is always advisable to do this every now and then. It will also help you train your customer support team with better objection handling, thereby enhancing your customer service.
7. Online Customer Reviews
Your online reputation isn't just the result of what you generate at your end — it includes all instances in which your business appears online, including online reviews. With online review sites like G2 Crowd, Finances Online, TrustRadius, TrustPilot, Capterra, and Angie's List, it's essential to understand the impact they have on your business and how you can use reviews to earn your online reputation.
Moreover, 86% of visitors hesitate to purchase from a business that has online negative reviews. With such statistics, it becomes crucial to not just ensure positive reviews, but also handle negative reviews.
8. In-Person Surveys
Opting for an in-person survey is yet another method to capture the Voice of the Customer. Although this may not be a popular method for large business setups, it's leveraged by lots of medium-sized businesses when conducting customer research — and it can be done using a tool as simple as Google Docs.
9. Net Promoter Score®
Net Promoter Score (NPS®) is a management tool that is used to measure the loyalty of a company's customers. This customer loyalty metric was developed by Fred Reichheld, Bain & Company, and Satmetrix Systems.
NPS gives you quick and reliable feedback from customers. The way the system works is easy. Customers need to answer this simple question on a scale of 0–10:
"How likely are you to recommend our company to a friend or a colleague?"
HubSpot’s customer feedback software is an easy way to get NPS scores, allowing you to keep a pulse on customer sentiment and loyalty.
10. Focus Groups
This is where a group of eight to twelve customers meet in a room, where they are asked to share their perceptions, beliefs, and opinions about your product or service. The group participants are free to openly talk with one another.
This data collection method is used to gain insights into customers' prioritization of needs, or to test concepts and get feedback. Focus groups are sometimes used in addition to interviews and surveys as the last step to further investigate and understand the Voice of the Customer for each of the company's touch points.
This method can be as informal or as formal as you want it to be. You can send highly personalized emails to particular customers or create a template that can be used for the entire target. You also have the option to either ask for feedback as a response to your email (which might be unstructured and time-consuming) or add a link in the email body to one of your surveys.
12. Dedicated Feedback Form
The last option is to have a dedicated feedback form on your website — and this is really more of a mandate than an option. No matter which other methods you plan to choose to capture VoC, you cannot skip having an online feedback form.
Give your existing customers and website visitors the opportunity to share their feedback at any point in time. Don't make them wait unless you feel that there is a need to capture their voice.
Another detail to note here is that the majority of these techniques will help your team derive qualitative information from your customers. That means you'll need to ask thought-provoking questions that motivate participants to provide insightful answers.
For some companies that may be easy, others not so much. Keep in mind that it's not the customer's responsibility to provide you with any feedback, let alone productive feedback.
Voice of the Customer Questions
If you're not getting the results you're hoping for from your VoC techniques, then you may need to reassess the questions that you're asking your customers.
Here are some of the best VoC questions to get effective survey results.
- What characteristics do you look for in a company/product?
- What matters most to you when selecting a company for [product or service]?
- What comes to mind when you think about [company/product]?
- How can [company name] improve your customer experience?
- Name a competitor you would prefer over our product or service and explain why you would choose them.
- Would you recommend [company/product] and why?
- Which company have you purchased the most [product] from in the past 12 months?
Let’s go over these one-by-one.
1. What characteristics do you look for in a company/product?
This question is often a great starting point for a survey or questionnaire.
It removes your company from the conversation and directs the attention to the customer's interests. By asking this type of question first, you give the impression that your interests are more customer-driven.
Pay attention to the vocabulary that your customers use when responding to this question. Even if the responses are similar, the vocabulary that's used can indicate different characteristics of your customers.
For example, if there are responses that use a lot of slang or shorthand, then you can deduce that this feedback is coming from a more casual audience. This will help your team when making big operational decisions like changing a product or restructuring your pricing.
Multiple choice or open-ended? Open-ended. That way, you can get to know your audience with much more detail and depth.
2. What matters most to you when selecting a company for [product or service]?
This question is an excellent way to find out what your customers care about the most. Whereas the previous question asks about general characteristics, this question helps your team learn what influences the final purchasing decision.
Is it quality? Price? Availability? Sustainable production? Customer service? Free shipping? Or express shipping regardless of the price?
This question can help you launch an audit of your services and products to ensure you’re meeting customer expectations. Even more importantly, it can help you deduce whether your current business practices are getting in the way of the customer experience.
Most customers won’t reach out and tell you what they prefer when choosing a brand, and some questions skirt around the topic. This question will get straight to the point and give you a clear, actionable directive.
Multiple choice or open-ended? Multiple choice. Because most of us make purchasing decisions on common factors such as convenience and price, there’s no need to leave it open-ended. Consider giving customers the ability to choose up to three answers (preferably in order of preference).
3. What comes to mind when you think about [company name/product]?
This question provides your team with an immediate customer reaction to your company or product.
This essentially acts like an approval rating that lets you know how customers feel about your business in the present moment. You can monitor responses to see how they change over time to determine whether or not your company is actually addressing the feedback.
One area where this is exceptionally helpful is during crisis management. If you're not sure whether a crisis is resolved or not, you can use this survey question to get a general feel for how your business continuity plan is affecting your customers.
If you're still seeing negative comments toward your company, then you know that you need to continue working to resolve the crisis.
4. How can [company name] improve your customer experience?
Admittedly, this question probably won't yield many groundbreaking ideas. No matter how loyal your customers are, they might not understand how your business operates nor might they fathom how hard it is to implement even small changes to the customer experience.
Making changes takes time and costs money — two assets that most businesses will be hesitant to put at risk. So, why do we see this question included on nearly every survey we take?
So, when they're sorting through responses to this question, they use their CRM to pinpoint feedback that's left by their most valuable customers. This way companies can be sure these customers are being included in every business decision.
Multiple choice or open-ended? Either/or. A multiple-choice question can have common answers such as “Offer free shipping,” “Offer chat on the website,” or more, depending on what you feel your brand needs to improve. This can help you get clear answers on what you should prioritize without having to sift through paragraphs of writing.
On the other hand, customer experience varies from customer to customer, and a single person’s bad experience may be a catalyst for a major and important change within your organization.
To strike a balance between the two, you can add a text box where customers can elaborate.
5. Name a competitor you would prefer over our product or service and explain why you would choose them.
This question gives you two pieces of information. First, it tells you who your direct competitors are, or at least who your customers believe your competitors are.
This difference is important because your customers may be using a competitor that you're currently unaware of. For example, customers may be supplementing your product or service by using a competitor who's in a completely different marketplace.
The next piece of information that this question provides is why customers would switch to a competitor. It could be because of price, functionality, style, etc. Whatever the reason is, knowing why customers may prefer a competitor can help you address any weaknesses that exist in your products or services.
Multiple choice or open-ended? Open-ended. That way, you can find out who your customers think you’re competing with, thereby offering greater insight into where your product lacks.
6. Would you recommend [company/product] and why?
One way to determine customer satisfaction is to see if customers would recommend your company to others.
Customers trust other customers and won't advocate for your product or service if they don't like it. That's because if they recommend a bad product or company, they risk ruining a personal or professional relationship in their own lives. If customers are hesitant to recommend your company, you may need to assess how your marketing, sales, and customer service efforts are affecting the customer's experience.
A good addition to add to this question is to ask to whom they would recommend your product or service. This not only gives you an idea for potential lead opportunities but also helps you gauge how invested customers are in your company.
For example, if a customer said they would recommend a product to their boss or potential lead of their own, you know that your product is significantly meaningful to that customer. If they would only recommend it to a peer or acquaintance, then there may be an opportunity to enhance the customer experience for these users.
Multiple choice or open-ended? Both. For the recommendation part, you can create a multiple-choice with simple answers like “Yes” or “No.” After, include the option to elaborate with a text box.
7. Which company have you purchased the most [product you offer] from in the past 12 months?
This is a great question to find out who your strongest competitors are.
It’s similar to number five in that it also mentions your competitors, but this question tells you who your customers have actually done business with, not who they would do business with. Both are important data points, but offer slightly different insights.
After gathering answers for this question, you’ll know who is stealing your business, which can help you bolster your competitive analysis efforts. If you get repeat answers, you can take a closer and much more thorough look at that particular competitor to see what they’re doing that you’re not.
Multiple choice or open-ended? Multiple-choice. This makes it easy for customers to choose from your competitors. Don’t forget to include giants such as Amazon or Walmart if you offer a product that can be purchased from those retailers. Last, include a write-in option.
These questions will help you gauge how customers feel about your brand, product, or service, and tell you in what instances they would do business with your competitors.
Now that you have robust data to work with, it’s time to analyze it all and create an action plan.
Voice of the Customer Analytics
A Voice of the Customer analytics program is the systematic method by which companies examine the data from VoC surveys. The purpose of a VoC analytics program is to identify and track trends in customer sentiment, resulting in an action plan to improve the customer experience.
The most important step in a Voice of Customer program is analyzing the data that you’ve gathered.
With the techniques and questions we listed above, you’ll be sure to have some valuable insights. Now, it’s time to analyze all of that data.
Here‘s how to get started.
First, measure the success of your program on the number or percentage of responses. If you sent out 200 surveys and only received 30 responses, it would be worth taking a second look at the methodology that you used. If you target a young audience, for example, they might prefer social media outreach instead of surveys.
Second, identify trends and common themes. Do most of your customers wish you offered chat? Are most customers happy with the responsiveness of your service team? It’s important to know what percentage of people agreed, because that way you can prioritize initiatives.
Third, after analyzing the feedback for trends in consumer behavior and preferences, consider adding your findings into a simple reference document (such as a Google Docs) and adding these new insights into your buyer personas. This helps you gather a more complete picture of your target audience.
Fourth, visualize these trends and compile them into reports. You can visualize trends using simple tools such as Google Sheets or a more dedicated reporting software such as Lexalytics. Don’t present these reports just yet.
Fifth, create an action plan. Depending on the themes and trends you found, your action plan will look different. Extending on the chat example, your next step might be to look into investing in a live chat software.
Last, present your report and action plan to your team. It’s important to leave the presentation last because that way you have a plan for improvement, rather than discouraging your team with potentially negative insights.
By pairing these results with an action plan, you can ensure your team will understand the actions they can take to improve right now.
Still not sure what this can look like for your company? Let’s take a look at some of the best examples of VoC analytics strategies in the industry.
Voice of the Customer Examples
If you're still not sure how your business can benefit from the VoC methodology, then it may help to look at some real companies who benefited from following this method.
Below, we highlight three businesses who profited from applying VoC to their organization.
Subbly is an SaaS ecommerce platform that's used by entrepreneurs and marketers. When the company adopted VoC, it added a feedback page to its website and set up a feedback monitoring system for its Facebook page. Now users can comment on others' feedback that's posted to the company's website and vote on ideas that they like best.
Subbly's CEO, Stefan Pretty, believes that "between all these methods of collecting the voice of the customer, [they] harness their [opinions] on the best way to run Subbly, to shape [their] product roadmap and the features [they] roll out." Pretty notes that this approach has paid off too, as the company has become much more customer-centric and has even rolled out two new features based on the voice of the customer.
Plainview is a B2B SaaS company that offers software for strategic planning and resource management. It regularly hosts meetings called "Inner Circles" where customers participate in interviews and attend focus groups. Since 2006, Plainview has hosted about 40 sessions and has met with over 1,000 customers from 300 companies.
This VoC approach helped the company make a major design change to its product. Plainview's CMO, Brian Urioste, discussed how the "Inner Circles" pointed out flaws in the software's navigational design, which was preventing customers from achieving their goals. Urioste noted that "even though the feedback and changes extended [their] product development cycle, [they] ended up with a product that better served the needs of all of [their] customers."
Convertize is a content management software that lets customers A/B test their content when publishing it to their website. They benefited from the VoC methodology by gathering feedback during product releases and using that criticism to improve their new products.
For example, when they released their persuasive notifications feature, they also sent out surveys and sought out reviews to see how users felt about this product. Some users reported issues with the feature blocking important content on their site and had to remove it because they could not adjust it.
After seeing these reviews, Convertize moved quickly and resolved the problem two weeks after it was first reported. Convertize's CRO Project Manager, Benjamin Ligier, highlighted that not only did this feedback "solve the customer's immediate problem, but also gave [them] a much-improved feature."
For all these companies, a Voice of Customer program was critical in their improvement and growth. The bottom line is to be highly customer-centric to engage and retain your existing customers.
A Voice of Customer Program Will Lead To Growth
Implement a Voice of the Customer program to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. You can be a pathfinder and hero in the industry by investing in products, enhancements, and services that will make your company stand out and grow better.
Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in April 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Mar 11, 2021 11:00:00 AM, updated March 11 2021