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New Rules for Actionable Voice-of-the-Customer (VOC) Research

Published May 18, 2009

In today’s “experience-based” market space, organizations should leverage research programs to move beyond data and information to drive actionable customer insights.

VOC Action_McorpCXThere’s little doubt that Voice-of-the-Customer (VOC) research is more important today than ever. As customer experience drives more and more customer choice – and competitive advantage – it continues to work its way into the collective consciousness of organizations worldwide as a critical business issue.

That’s why getting at the insights which help leverage customer wants, needs and perceptions to improve service, drive loyalty and carve out market share has always been important – and is even more so today.

Whether your goals are around improved brand, customer experience, service delivery and internal systems, marketing efficacy or some combination, the importance of VOC research is increasing along with the ability to get it. From listening tools that leverage Web 2.0 and Social Media to methodologies such as Customer Experience Mapping, you can track opinions and attitudes across the Relationship Lifecycle, getting at the customer insights which drive market perception.

Moving beyond data and information sets to drive genuine customer insights.

Today’s VOC programs must do more than “ask” customer opinion. They should also consider the range of research disciplines that combine asking and listening, moving beyond data and information sets to innovative, strategic perspectives that can drive business, brand and customer experience improvements.

Here, we define asking as the more traditional but still critically important task of primary research, gathering customer, prospect and employee perspectives across their relationship with your organization. These are the research conversations that you “control”, setting critical benchmarks for you and your competitors by asking opinions, measuring response and analyzing perspectives.

Leveraging both qualitative and quantitative techniques, among other outcomes you’ll understand what drives loyalty to your brand (and find ways to improve it) or prioritize customer experience touchpoints (eliminating those that are redundant or irrelevant).

Listening to the market across touchpoints that are outside your control.

Equally important is the ability to “listen” to the market. Here’s where Social Media and Web 2.0 tools come into the mix, providing a portal into what’s being said about you by customers, prospects and competitors. Understanding that many of these influential touchpoints are outside your control - and that these conversations are taking place across the internet – it’s impossible to influence them unless you know what they are, what’s being said, and how you’re brand (and your competition) is perceived.

Again leveraging both qualitative and quantitative strategies, you can dip your research toes in the water by looking through the lens of some do it yourself Social Media research tools or dive in by regularly measuring brand influence, mentions, competitors and other online activity over time, with the goal of identifying (and closing) negative perceptual gaps.

The most important VOC research outcome of all: The ability to act.

It sounds self evident. And it is. But the number of organizations that begin VOC programs with the best of intentions only to end up alienating customers is sobering. Quality VOC programs are not inexpensive; they require significant strategic and tactical resources, and whether conducted internally or with an external insights research firm such as McorpCX or others, the cost in time and/or budget can be significant.

But the cost is not nearly as significant as the marketshare increases and business results which can result. After all, ROI is key on all such initiatives. It’s the ability to act on these insights is what drives the most dramatic results.

Yet many VOC programs are destined to ultimately fail. Why? Because these insights often drive change. Occasionally, these changes are dramatic. Without buy-in from the highest levels of the company, some of these changes simply won’t occur. After all, we’ve seen reporting structures changed, business units sold or merged, service and product delivery systems reengineered as a result of our work, all to better serve the customer and meet unmet needs.

But these kinds of “game winning” changes require executive buy-in. Without that, the incremental improvements you’ll gain will never be as powerful, meaningful and profitable as they could be.

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