At the heart of any customer experience initiative is an effective Voice of Customer program. It’s all about capturing, analyzing, and reporting on every piece of feedback you receive. Without an established VoC program, you can’t hope to meet or exceed the needs of your customers.

VoC: No longer just for elite brands

Delivering incredible customer experiences is no longer a “nice to have”. 

Where once it was the sole preserve of global corporations like Amazon and Netflix, today even small businesses are striving to differentiate themselves on the way consumers perceive their brand. Indeed, business professionals have named customer experience as their number one priority over the next five years, ahead of product and pricing.

That’s hardly surprising. After all, the business landscape has arguably never been more competitive. Technology has removed barriers to entry, enabling startups to disrupt markets and go toe-to-toe with far larger organizations. It has also made the world a smaller place. Whereas once, your competitors were businesses based in your state, region, or country, today your biggest rival could be located on the opposite side of the planet.

In such challenging conditions, driving business growth is often about delivering highly personalized experiences, based on an in-depth understanding of what customers really want. 

That’s where voice of the customer (VoC) programs come in. These initiatives help businesses identify customer needs, then accurately depict the gap between expectations and reality by learning what customers are saying about their brand, product, or service.

VoC and Net Promoter Score dovetail (NPS) neatly. Gaining a stronger understanding of your customers, and what they like and dislike about you, should naturally help you drive up your NPS.

But how do you run an effective VoC program? One that enables you to identify the necessary learnings and improve your customer experience? Read on to find out.

What You Will Learn – What’s in this article?

I’ll be discussing how to capture the customer feedback that’s key to powering your VoC program. Then I’ll look at how to pick out the key learnings from all the data you’ve acquired, and how to leverage that VOC data to deliver real change.

What to read first

3 steps to running an effective VoC program

Essentially, a VoC program is about listening to your customers.

Simple, right?

Well, not necessarily. Unless you only have a handful of customers, it’s all too easy to get bogged down in endless data, unable to discern actionable insights from unhelpful noise. 

For that reason, implementing a VoC program requires some upfront planning. You need a clear picture of what you’re trying to achieve and a roadmap for how to get there. Following these three steps will help you do it.

Step #1: Gather audience feedback

Clearly, your VoC program isn’t going to work unless you have plenty of audience feedback. Without it, you’re essentially operating on guesswork, which is the opposite of what an effective VoC program aims to deliver.

Before I start talking about how to get your hands on that all-important data, it’s worth spending some time considering the different types of feedback that exist, and what they look like. There are three broad types of customer feedback:

Type #1: Direct feedback

As the name suggests, this type of feedback is provided directly to your company. The customer giving feedback knows that you’re paying attention, and likely expects a response. They might leave direct feedback by filling out a complaint form (physical or online), leaving a support ticket on your website, or contacting you on social media.

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A lot of companies tend to avoid feedback and simply keep their head down and continue ‘sticking to what works’ but the companies that truly progress are the ones that treat customer feedback like liquid gold. I would say do not just create a form for customers to reach you, ask them for their feedback instead.

For example, Aura, an Amazon repricing software, allows customers to suggest new features. They even encourage customers to give them suggestions by adding a little popup right there blow their free trial sign-up form:

Type #2: Indirect feedback

Not all customers who talk about you will be talking to you. Often, they’ll be speaking to their peers. Clearly, you can’t gather feedback from in-person conversations – but you definitely can from online discussions on forums, reviews, and social platforms. 

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Type #3: Inferred feedback

This is all the data you collect during a customer’s path to purchase, and even beyond. It might include things like website behavior, transactional information, purchase history, and data captured by customer service agents.

These three types of feedback can be gathered in various ways. The most suitable methods will naturally depend upon your audience and product. Here are some of the most popular – and useful – ways to collect the data you need to drive your VoC program:

  • Support tickets: An interaction between a customer and your support team. When a customer reports an issue, a ticket is opened; it should only be closed once that issue has been resolved.
  • Online surveys: Surveys might appear as pop-ups on a brand’s site, or be emailed to customers following a purchase or customer service interaction. They’re designed to gauge satisfaction, understand whether expectations were met, or more generally to glean market intelligence.
  • Chat logs: An archive of instant messaging conversations between a customer and your support team, typically generated from chatbot interactions. For example, LawRank, an SEO company, uses a third party chatbot software to deal with all of their live chat requests. This data can then be used later to better understand how their customers are responding to their services. 
  • Social media comments: As discussed above, comments on social media might be directed at you, or may be given indirectly (i.e. without “@-ing” your brand).

As you’ve probably gathered, some of these feedback channels – like NPS and online surveys – rely on brands driving the conversation, while others – such as support tickets and reviews – are about the customer taking the first step. 

When it comes to brand-driven interactions, it’s important to ask the right sorts of questions in order to capture the most useful, meaningful feedback. Try to keep these questions open-ended, but also specific and focused on driving improvements. For instance:

  • Bad: “Do you like our product?”
  • Better: “What do you think of our product?”
  • Best: “What are some of the ways we can improve our product?”

Step #2: Analyze your data to find actionable insights

By this point, you’ve taken steps to gather the feedback you need to drive your VoC program. Now, it’s time to find some real meaning from all the data you’ve captured. Without meaning, all you’ve got is a spreadsheet full of random comments about your brand.

Finding meaning in your feedback is all about identifying insightful data. But what does that look like?

  • Non-insightful data: As a general guide, this encompasses all the things you already know about your brand. For instance, if you already know your web design is not as responsive as that of your rivals, it’s not insightful to be told: “Brand X has a better website than yours.”
  • Insightful data: On the other hand, this is everything you don’t already know. This data might go against what you thought to be true, or it might confirm your suspicions. It might also add weight to the importance of a certain issue. If you’ve long suspected that your slow fulfilment process was putting people off buying from you, but didn’t know for certain, then a raft of feedback on this topic would be both insightful and useful.

There’s also a difference between actionable and non-actionable insights. For instance:

  • Actionable: “People are talking more positively about our brand since we started offering free next-day delivery.”
  • Non-actionable: “Fast delivery is important to a lot of our customers.”

You’ve got two choices for acquiring those actionable insights. The best choice for your brand will naturally depend on the volume of feedback you generate. If it’s a relatively small amount, you may be able to analyze all the data and gather insights manually. However, it’s often far more efficient to automate the whole process.

Once you’ve begun to gather actionable insights, you’ll find they come in three main varieties. Your next step will vary depending on which category an insight falls into:

  • Category #1: Insight > Adaptation > Action: Some level of critical thinking is required to transform these insights into action. For instance, if customers tell you they love your speedy delivery process, your action could be to promote this through your marketing.
  • Category #2: Insight > No action: This type of insight doesn’t require direct action, but it might back up your existing approach, or invalidate an existing suspicion. For instance, if you think your slow delivery process is a big issue, but none of your customers mention it in their feedback, you don’t need to do anything.
  • Category #3: Insight > Strategic pivot: These insights indicate that your existing approach isn’t working. For instance, you might have assumed fast delivery was more important than low-cost delivery, but if lots of customers are complaining about delivery charges, you might need to rethink your strategy.

Step #3: Implement meaningful change

The final step is all about taking action off the back of gathering all that feedback.

Brands often fall down at this point because although they’ve got a ton of data, they still don’t understand the right action to take. 

Sound familiar? Here are a couple things to bear in mind:

  • Insights don’t have intrinsic value. They’re only useful if they’re communicated effectively to the right people within your organization.
  • Relying too heavily on a single feedback channel can be problematic. For instance, customer surveys can be useful, but by design they only attract the sort of people who like filling in surveys. That’s likely not a representative sample of your whole audience.

Philadelphia Insurance Companies offers an excellent example of how a successful VoC program can look, and the results it can yield. The company gathered feedback from almost 300,000 customers, representing a broad view of its customer base. That allowed it to:

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Wrapping it all up

An effective VoC program can’t be implemented overnight. You need to figure out the best ways to collect customer feedback, develop efficient systems for gleaning insight from that feedback, then translate it to action.

But the benefits are well worth it. Implement your VoC program successfully and you’ll deliver better customer experiences, which will have a direct impact on your bottom line.

More Resources – Further reading

Author bio

Freya is the founder of the personal finance blog CollectingCents that teaches readers how to grow their passive income, save money, improve their credit score, and manage debt. She has been featured in publications like Business Insider, Fox Business, the Huffington Post, and GoBankingRates.