Successful companies prioritize customers. They design products that meet customer needs, provide exceptional customer service, and build marketing campaigns around customer behaviors.
To do this well, businesses need to know a lot about their customers. Demographic data and broadly available market research can tell you what certain populations tend to think, do, or prioritize, but that information is not specific to your business. It can’t tell you, for example, what your existing customers think of your company or what their specific needs are.
Voice of the customer (VoC) programs fill this gap. By soliciting specific information about customer needs, VoC programs can help businesses improve the customer experience, increase customer loyalty, identify market opportunities, and boost sales. Here’s what VoC programs are and how you can successfully implement one.
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What is “voice of the customer”?
Voice of the customer is a type of customer research program that gathers direct and indirect feedback about your customers’ preferences, needs, and experiences with your business.
Voice of customer programs emphasize actionable insights and offer a basis for business owners to make changes based on findings. In many cases, they also involve following up with customers to address their feedback and communicate any changes.
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What to consider before starting a voice of the customer program
Before starting a voice of the customer program, consider your goals and what impact you’d ideally like to see. The first (and most obvious) reason a business would start one is to gain valuable insights into customer experience, which you can use to improve your customer satisfaction and ultimately increase revenue.
You can also use voice of the customer programs to conduct audience and market research or support a specific business goal, like improving a particular offering or boosting performance in a certain market. In fact, voice of the customer programs are highly customizable—you can design yours to gather just about any type of customer feedback you might need.
Business leaders often use voice of the customer programs to guide strategies that help their organizations achieve the following:
- Better products or services. Understanding customer needs can help product development teams improve current offerings or capitalize and market opportunities.
- More efficient sales and marketing efforts. Voice of customer data can provide immediate value for marketing and sales teams, allowing them to adjust campaign distribution channels and messaging to align with customer behaviors and preferences.
- Improved customer experience. Businesses can use customer feedback to make the customer experience more enjoyable and seamless.
- Increased customer loyalty and customer retention. Shaping your business practices around customer needs can help you provide more value to your existing customers, increasing the likelihood that they will remain loyal to and continue buying from your company.
How to gather voice of the customer feedback
The right methodology to gather voice of the customer feedback depends on your desired outcome, available budget, and team’s capacity. Here’s an overview of five popular methods and the tools they require.
1. Customer interviews
Customer interviews can be a heavy administrative lift, but they’re also a great way to gather direct input. Because interviews are a conversation, you can adjust your questions in real-time: If a customer says something particularly intriguing—like, for example, that they would recommend your product to everyone they know if it only had one additional feature—you or an employee will be right there to ask what that feature is.
Daphne Williams, chief growth officer at Sweet Beginnings, found a lot of useful insights in customer interviews. “One-to-one interviews can be particularly insightful,” she says. “One interview I did, a customer brought our product and showed me where they purchased the product from, and what else is in their cabinet. That provides a certain level of insight as to what they actually purchase. It's a good read to see what people say they do and what they really do.”
Interviews can also help you improve customer relationships. Facilitators can use one-on-one interactions to establish rapport with customers, express gratitude, and answer any questions the customer might have.
Businesses can conduct interviews over the phone, in person, or using video chat technology (like Zoom or Google Meet). You might also consider taking notes or having an assistant jot down the customer’s answers or any follow-up notes.
2. Focus groups
Focus groups are a market research technique in which a small number of people participate in a loosely structured discussion, often around brand perception, a current product or service, or a new idea.
Focus groups offer some of the same benefits as one-on-one customer interviews. In both cases, facilitators can ask follow-up questions, pursue promising lines of inquiry, and build relationships through personal interaction. Unlike interviews, however, focus groups don’t take place in a vacuum—participants will react to each others’ comments and may either disagree or reach consensus, a dynamic that can help business owners anticipate the larger social conversation around an issue or initiative.
Consider recording sessions so you can review customer insights in-depth at a later time. You can use a video camera or your computer’s native recording technology, using a screen recorder like Loom for virtual sessions, and using a transcription tool like Rev to simplify data processing.
In-person or online surveys are a common method of gathering voice of the customer feedback. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey is one popular example. NPS surveys ask customers how likely they would be to recommend a company, product, or service to a friend on a scale of one to 10, and use responses to generate a customer loyalty score.
You can also target survey questions to individual objectives. For example, if you want to increase the effectiveness of your social media marketing campaigns, you might ask customers how often they use each social media channel.
Ryan Zagata, founder of Brooklyn Bicycle Co., uses surveys to understand why customers don’t buy from his store: “To be frank, a lot of the best feedback is from people who didn't buy our bikes. What we've learned is, obviously there's a lot of bike brands out there that we compete with, but we compete more with somebody not buying anything. They don't buy any bike as opposed to somebody buying a bike. We don't lose to another brand as much as we lose to somebody not buying anything.”
Ryan continues, “How do you find out when people don't buy your product, what they did? Did they buy something else? Are they still saving up for it? We got all sorts of answers.”
Tools like SurveyMonkey and Google Forms can help you gather quantitative and qualitative feedback and organize customer responses by question. You can also use a post-purchase survey tool like Grapevine to automate survey sends based on customer activity.
4. Feedback forms
Including a customer feedback form on your website can help you gather direct feedback on an ongoing basis. Feedback forms also give customers a private way to lodge customer complaints, allowing your team to address issues without that information necessarily becoming public.
If your web builder offers a native contact form application (like Shopify’s), you can customize it to solicit customer feedback. If not, use a plug-in like Formidable Forms or WPForms.
5. Review analysis
Online customer review analysis is a common method to gather indirect feedback. Monitor popular review sites like Google Business, TrustPilot, Yelp, and Capterra for mentions of your company, gather reviews in a spreadsheet, and analyze results.
Reviews are a type of qualitative feedback, which can make it hard to process data—particularly if you have a lot of them. You can use tools like MonkeyLearn to process text, automatically categorize reviews by sentiment, and extract quantitative insights.
How to create a successful voice of the customer program
- Determine your objectives and select a methodology
- Develop questions and collect customer feedback
- Analyze feedback
- Follow up
- Make changes to your products, services, or processes
Implementing a voice of the customer program requires planning. Here’s how to start your own.
1. Determine your objectives and select a methodology
Determine your objectives, which can be to understand how customers perceive your brand, test the concept for a new product or service, or learn more about customer behaviors. Think about what your desired outcome is from the feedback.
Then, select a method for collecting data, considering your available resources and the type of customer input you need. If your goal is to evaluate your overall customer service efforts, you might select a low-cost method that will allow you to reach a large number of respondents, like an online customer survey. If you’re interested in testing the concept for a new product or service, you might organize a focus group to dig deeper into audience reactions.
2. Develop questions and collect customer feedback
Develop your voice of the customer questions and use your selected methodology to collect and record customer feedback. VoC programs often aim to answer some versions of the following questions:
- What needs do your customers have?
- Which customer needs are you currently meeting, and how effectively?
- What customer needs are you not currently meeting that could potentially be solved by your company?
- Are your existing customers satisfied with your company?
- What are your customers’ expectations for a particular product or service category?
- What does a typical customer journey look like in your industry?
- What are your customers’ other interests?
- What are your customers’ media consumption habits?
3. Analyze feedback
Analyze customer feedback, using digital tools as applicable. Depending on your voice of the customer methodology, you might review qualitative responses manually, process quantitative data, or combine both approaches.
For example, if you asked your customers what they consider when making lunch for their children, you might review responses and find that nutrition, convenience, mess, and child preferences show up repeatedly. You can then use a data analysis tool to calculate the percentage of responses that name each factor.
4. Follow up
Send an email thanking all respondents for their participation in your program. Follow up with unhappy customers to discuss their specific concerns, and address customer feedback as needed.
5. Make changes to your products, services, or processes
Voice of the customer programs emphasize meaningful, data-informed action. Your research will tell you what’s working for your business and what’s not. To translate this information into improved business outcomes, you’ll need to adjust your business products, services, and processes based on findings. Address major problems and implement easy changes right away, and schedule time to plan and implement other adjustments over the following weeks or months.
How to analyze the success of a voice of customer program
Businesses measure the voice of customer program success using both direct and indirect methods. At a high level, a VoC program is successful if your customers are happier and better served after it.
- Indirect methods. This includes tactics like monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) like customer churn, customer acquisition, and total sales. Improvements not related to other business activities or market forces can be at least partially attributed to your voice of the customer efforts.
- Direct methods. More direct ways to measure voice of the customer is seeing if your initial methodology, findings, and corresponding actions generated your desired outcome. Did it receive enough responses? Was your internal team staffed to analyze it? Knowing this will help you either replicate your initial survey methods or adjust your strategy to gather new information.
Your specific analysis process will depend on the method you choose to gather feedback. When analyzing VoC data, remember to:
- Measure response rates. Evaluate your overall response rate and response rates by customer segment.
- Process qualitative data. Identify trends or themes in responses and record key findings. You can use data analysis tools to quickly analyze open-ended responses.
- Process quantitative data. Use data visualization tools to compare findings across questions and customer segments.
Voice of the customer FAQ
What are some common challenges businesses face when implementing voice of the customer programs?
Common voice of the customer program challenges include the following:
- Limited internal resources
- Poorly defined goals
- Low response rates
- Difficulty processing feedback
How often should a company gather and analyze voice of the customer data?
Some companies implement ongoing voice of the customer programs (for example, through post-purchase surveys or customer review analysis) and process data monthly or quarterly. Many also repeat larger initiatives (like Net Promoter Score surveys) once or twice a year to monitor for changes and support continuous improvement.
What industries commonly use voice of the customer to improve their operations?
Voice of the customer programs are popular among companies across all industries. They can be particularly valuable for businesses that serve a large number of customers, because without a structured program, it’s difficult for these businesses to gather and process customer feedback.