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Why We Believe in the Voice of the Customer (and you should too!)
CloudCherry | Featured | February 21, 2017
Consumers nowadays have a ridiculous number of options on where and how to make their purchases, which has led to them becoming pickier than ever, according to a number of studies. The factors that influence their decisions regarding who to give their business to vary significantly from one consumer to the next, but there is one common denominator among them all and that is that they want to be made to feel special. In fact, a study from Wunderman shows that most consumers want brands to prove they understand and care about them before they even consider making a purchase.
“The big takeaway was how much people want brands to make them feel special. The majority [79%] of consumers said that brands have to actually demonstrate that they understand and care about me before they are going to consider purchasing.” – Jamie Gutfreund, Wunderman’s Global CMO.
In other words, the customer experience has become more important than ever. In fact, it has become the main element companies should be competing on, a fact that 89% of firms are aware of, according to a study conducted by the Gartner Group.
To make consumers feel special and show them you care, you need to understand them, which is also essential if you truly wish to compete with your peers on customer experience. You also have to understand and be aware of the experiences you’re delivering to your consumers today. And this is where an effective Voice of the Customer program comes in because it gives you the ability to listen to your customers but also to understand what drives them.
Understanding What Voice of the Customer Means
Voice of the Customer or VOC is used to describe a process businesses use to capture the preferences, aversions, and expectations of their customers. It’s a market research methodology that has the ability to create an in-depth profile of a company’s customers, covering their wants, needs, and problems, within a structured hierarchy. Each aspect can then be assigned a priority based on its importance in the satisfaction of the customers with the options that are now available.
A Voice of the Customer program is vital to any business because it allows you to gather data that can be used to improve the experience of your customers across every touchpoint. It is one of the most effective ways to gain in-depth insights into your customers’ preferences, complaints, and problems. The goal of such a program is not only to identify what customers want and desire from an experience with the business, but also to establish a framework that can be used to respond and act upon this information in order to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.
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Unfortunately, a common problem is that many businesses gather the data but then end up not using it at all, thereby negating any benefits of having a Voice of the Customer program in the first place. The aforementioned study from the Gartner Group shows that while 84% of companies regularly ask their customers for feedback, only 29% of the companies that have implemented a VOC program actually include insights they gain into their customers’ desires and needs into their decision-making processes.
Furthermore, only 25% believe that the VOC program they have helped to drive the company’s actions. In fact, an article from Harvard Business Review showed that senior management in Fortune 100 companies only uses the information generated by a VOC program 11% of the time when making decisions that directly impact customers.Clearly, this is a sad state of affairs, especially since numerous studies have proven that there is a direct correlation between increased customer retention rates and revenues and having an effective VOC program in place.Thus, simply knowing what the voice of the customer program does doesn’t guarantee its effectiveness, which is why in the next section we’ll be looking at how to build an effective VOC strategy.
How to Build an Effective Voice of the Customer ProgramIf you’re just starting out in the world of Voice of the Customer, you might be tempted to go crazy and collect tons of data from as many customers as possible. The problem is that if you don’t have a clear plan on what you will be doing with that data, you are wasting your time. Essentially, instead of listening to improve the customer experience, you’ll simply be listening for the sake of it, which is quite common.
To optimize the data gathering process, to ensure that important insights are delivered, and to then use these insights to affect change, you must create an effective VOC strategy based on which you can design your program. When designing a Voice of the Customer program, take into account the following:
Create a Strategy:If you were driving to a destination you had never been to before, you wouldn’t leave without a GPS or a map. Well, not unless you wanted to get lost and take much longer to get to your final destination. That is precisely why you need to create a strategy, because without one your VOC program will be akin to you driving around, dilly dallying, trying to find the right route.
Thus, the first thing you need to establish is what key business areas you will be addressing, such as growing sales, reducing costs, decreasing customer churn rates and so on. Once you have a purpose, you will know how to design the program to achieve maximum effectiveness.
Avoid Silos:A common problem, especially with large companies, is that they tend to silo their VOC teams, which means that many key insights and patterns are missed. This is why it’s important to have a central team that is in charge of not only listening but also analyzing and reporting on the data that is gathered. This will not only make the process more efficient, but it will also ensure that all insights, actions, and themes are beneficial across the entire business, rather than just one silo.
Ask ‘How’ Not ‘What’:When conducting a survey, your goal should be not just to identify the areas that are problematic, but also to affect change. In other words, asking questions that simply validate existing behavior is a waste of time. You should be asking your customers how you can meet their needs, thereby instigating a meaningful conversation that will offer your customers the chance to become part of the whole process.
Thus, the questions you ask should be designed to allow you to fulfill the objectives you’ve set, meaning that these questions should result in actionable information. A good VOC strategy will make this much easier.
Pick the Right Type of Survey:How you survey your customers will be determined by the questions you are asking. Thus, you have to decide between a transactional survey that takes place right after the transaction has been concluded while the customer still remembers the interaction clearly, and a relationship survey designed to determine how the customer generally feels about your business or product.
Another aspect to consider is the channel you will be using to interact with your customers, such as mail, face-to-face, online, mobile, phone or social media. The choice of channel will also depend on the length of the survey, as longer surveys might be more suited to email or other online channels, allowing the customer to fill them out at their leisure.
Don’t Forget about Survey Fatigue:If we were to judge how attentive companies are to their customers based simply on the volume of surveys being conducted nowadays, we’d swear that businesses don’t even buy toilet paper without consulting their customers, worried that it might affect the experience in some way. However, what this ridiculous volume of surveys has led to is survey fatigue. In other words, customers are sick and tired of filling out surveys.
What’s worse, it has alienated consumers even more as they realize that all this feedback seems to be for naught as most companies do not act on the insights they gather. This is extremely problematic because it makes customers feel as if these companies really do not respect or care about them since they’re quite happy to waste their time for nothing.
“Consumers know that brands have all this data on them, and so they expect that companies will use it to build and deepen relationships.” – Jamie Gutfreund, Wunderman’s Global CMO.
Thus, you have to remember that serving your customers is just another touch point, which means you need to focus on offering a great experience. This means you need to carefully take into account different variables such as how long the survey is, the wording of the survey, and even when you will be conducting the survey. Remember, you have two issues you need to overcome, namely convincing consumers to take your survey and, secondly, making sure they finish it.
You will find it much easier to get people to not only start but complete a survey if they think it’s worth their time because their experiences have shown them that their feedback will be used effectively. So, you must find a way to prove to your consumers that your brand will do something with the feedback you gather.
Take Action:Perhaps the most important part of an effective VOC program is to take action on the insights you have gathered. Many companies pride themselves on their ability to collect and analyze the data, using sophisticated tools and resources, yet they often do nothing with it. Though it is not the responsibility of the VOC team to enact these changes, it is their responsibility to communicate to the rest of the departments how important actioning these insights is. They need to be able to get the message across so that the other key players in the business take action and close the loop with each customer.
It’s also important to avoid analysis paralysis, where the VOCs team is stuck over-analyzing the results and the rest of the company is mired in endless discussions on proposed actions that are never implemented. So, instead of being tempted to fix everything at once, it’s better to prioritize and work on a few vital areas that can generate immediate results and thereby have a positive effect on your customers. The faster you close the loop, the more you will win in the long run.
5 Reasons VOC Is Essential for Any Business
Though you most likely have an idea, already, as to why we believe so strongly in the Voice of the Customer, we feel it’s important that we provide you with concrete examples of why instituting an effective VoC program is essential for any and every business.
Helps Build Customer Loyalty
Improving customer satisfaction, and eventually customer loyalty, is impossible to do without understanding your customers. In fact, listening to what your customers need and want is not an option, it’s mandatory. And any business that feels differently quickly realizes the truth when they start losing important clients and find that their operating costs are on the rise.
A VOC program will help you discover how customers really feel and what they want, which will give you the opportunity to act accordingly, rather than flailing about and making assumptions that might be completely off the mark. And by showing customers that you care, you will significantly improve their satisfaction.
In fact, the aforementioned Wunderman study found that 88% of consumers in the United States want to engage and do business with brands that are going above and beyond when it comes to their expectations. Of these, 74% stated that one way businesses can achieve this is by offering better customer service, while 56% stated that they are more loyal to a business that understands them.
In other words, you can increase the loyalty of over half your customers by simply showing them that you understand what drives them and, basically, that you care about them.
Helps Increase Customer Retention Rates
A study conducted by the Aberdeen Group dubbed “The Business Value of Building a Best-In-Class VOC Program” discovered that companies with a best-in-class VOC program have 55% higher customer retention rates compared to other companies.
Helps Increase Profit Margins
While increased customer retention rates and loyalty already signal an increase in revenues, the same Aberdeen Group study shows us that companies with excellent VoC programs also generate better profit margins.
Thus, these companies generate an increase of 15.7% year-over-year growth in average profit margin per customer, compared to other companies that registered a decline of 1.7%. Likewise, these companies also generate higher revenues from customer referrals and also from net-new customers.
Helps Decrease Costs
Another area where VOC helps businesses is by reducing costs. Thus, companies with an effective VoC program in place exhibit a reduction in customer service costs of 23.6% year-over-year, while other companies only register a meager 1.2% by comparison.
Increases Employee Engagement
Companies with a best-in-class VoC program exhibit a 37.2% increase in employee engagement on a year-over-year basis, compared to 9.5% reported by other companies. This is essential because a company’s employees interact with customers and they are the ones that are mainly responsible for the customer experience. A high level of engagement means that employees are driven and focused and that their main desire is to contribute to the success of the business by ensuring customers are happy.
Helps Dominate Your Industry
Some of the biggest companies in the world are also leaders in the VOC field. Companies like Zappos, Apple and Amazon are well-known for the amazing experiences they offer and the dogged loyalty of their customers, which are the result of an effective VoC program. What these companies do well is turning the data they gather into action.
If you take a page out of their book and are able to collect and analyze data and then consistently take action on the insights you gained, it won’t be long before you become a dominant force in your industry.
A VoC program is really the only way you can listen to your customers in a systematic way, then act on that data and finally monitor how your company performs over time. If you don’t know how your customers perceive your company or what their experiences are when interacting with your company across all touchpoints, it’s practically impossible to meet their expectations, let alone exceed them.
However, it’s important to remember that having a VoC program won’t set you apart from the pack. What will truly differentiate you is if you act on the insights you gain through the VOC program. The companies using VoC that show the best performance are the ones that convert customer feedback they obtain into tangible business process improvement initiatives.
If you implement an effective VoC program to gain the insights needed to exceed customer expectations and then act on those insights, there will be nothing to stop you from dominating your industry.