Designing a Voice-of-the-Customer Program: Understanding Your Customer

The first step in improving customer understanding is listening – to their opinions, concerns, perceptions, objectives and expectations. Yet while most organizations understand the importance and value of customer feedback, many haven’t worked through how this customer data turns into customer understanding.

Even more concerning is that, on average, Fortune 1000 marketers depend on data for just 11% of all customer-related decisions; the reason? The “right” data is often in the “wrong” places. For any company wishing to improve customer experience or become more customer-centric, this is a significant problem. The answer? Listening to your customers in a strategic, consistent manner.

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Gain customer understanding, informed by relevant customer feedback.

This is where a structured Voice-of-the-Customer (VoC) program comes into play. By planning for customer feedback to flow into and through your company in ways that inform and drive action, you’ll have a lens through which to see progress against business goals or improvements in customer experience.

By transforming data into relevant information for stakeholders across the company, you’ll glean insights into customer needs, attitudes, and behaviors that produce actionable insights. As a result of a formal VoC program, companies like yours gain the ability to align with customers in ways everyone understands, while focusing on opportunities rather than simply solving problems.

The primary objective of your VoC program is to provide the customer-driven, “outside-in” insights which are at the heart of any organizations’ ability to deliver on its business, brand and customer experience strategies.

Why would a VoC Program need to be “designed”?

While at heart a research-driven capability, customer research alone is not a VoC program: in addition to gathering insights, a VoC program gives you what you need to systematically analyze and take action on what you learn.

Program design is important for many reasons, not least of which because it sets a framework for and drives deployment of the tactics which monitor the quality of customer interactions, and it stipulates what is done with the data once collected.

The fact is, many organizations already have multiple “customer listening posts” in place, from customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys in one division or group to Net Promoter Score (NPS), brand awareness or social listening in another. The data that comes from listening posts like these often isn’t available to be interpreted – much less acted on – in ways that inform organization-wide, strategic decision making.

This is why a successful VoC program will gather customer insights at key interactions across the customer journey regardless of group or channel, then integrate the use of these insights into the “rhythm of the business”, systematically and sustainably incorporating outside-in, customer feedback into the established decision-making processes to more predictably deliver better customer experiences, drive greater loyalty, and deliver specific business results.

VoC Program Design Considerations: Questions to ask, actions to take.

There’s no denying that VoC software is a great tool to underpin the data gathering and distribution process – especially if you’re collecting and analyzing data from multiple sources and in various formats. But don’t allow yourself to be sold the software without understanding how it fits in the broader context of your VoC Program. A few of the questions to ask include:

  • What are your business objectives? Greater loyalty? More revenue? Understand where you want to go, before you begin.
  • What customer insight data is already being gathered, and by whom? Look to corporate or group marketing, research and channel management teams, for example.
  • How is existing data being used? For example, customer data is often part of job performance targets.
  • Where are your gaps in customer understanding? Consider key customer interactions and perceptions across all stages of the customer journey.
  • How will information be analyzed? You’ll want to glean insights into customer needs, attitudes, expectations, perceptions and behaviors.
  • How will information be shared, and with whom? It needs to be relevant, accessible and actionable for employees across the company.
  • How do you drive accountability for action on that information? Move beyond “insights” to “actions,” to systemically integrating customer insights into decision making, experience design.
  • How will you empower customer-facing employees with the data you gather? For example, can your people follow up on customer feedback, one-to-one, to “close the loop”?

Though the undertaking does require some effort, the results are well worth it. A formalized VoC program will help your company systematically gather, interpret, react to and monitor what you hear from your customers – and do so in ways that drive measurable business value.

Remember – while software is very useful in the management of your VoC program, it’s only one component; others include cultural alignment and program governance to help guide adoption, allowing you to truly turn customer insights into action. The result? A radically increased understanding of your customers. And, the institutional capability to use customer understanding to more effectively drive customer-related decisions, employee behaviors and actions, to design and deliver the experiences that drive customer loyalty.

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