person holding a balloon in front of their face with a face drawn on it
PHOTO: Charles Etoroma

To paraphrase advertising legend David Ogilvy, the customer is not an idiot; he or she is your spouse.

This means you should listen to — and understand — what your customers have to say. And more importantly, you have to act on it.

Basically, you want your customers to tell you what they think in their own words. Then you need to analyze their responses and categorize the responders. Who, exactly, are they? How do they feel about you? Why do they feel that way? Has anything changed their opinion of you?

Why is Voice of the Customer So Important?

A successful VoC program helps you achieve a consistent, effortless and repeatable customer experience by providing a measurement of that experience from the customer’s point of view.

To get insightful answers, you need to listen to your customer at the right moment. That’s usually immediately after a key interaction with your company. You need to have various and frequent ways to listen at those moments, not a once-a-year effort. You can do that with surveys, online feedback prompts, product feedback sessions and communities, as well as more personalized customer interviews. In all cases, the combination of customer input is important, and what you do with that input is even more important.

To get actionable answers you need the right strategies, including the ability and willingness to turn customers’ feedback into action. Gathering verbatims from your customers whenever possible, and performing sentiment analysis and other analytics to that feedback will allow you to systematically categorize, quantify and study opinions expressed in a piece of text or voice message to determine the customer's attitude — be it positive, negative or neutral — towards a particular topic, product, etc. As you study that feedback, you can group into various categories and start looking for patterns and root cause for these areas of concern, which will lead you to actionable improvement recommendations.

Related Article: Voice of the Customer Strategies: Effectively Turning Feedback Into Action

Choose the Best Time to Listen to Your Customer

The customer journey is a set of desired experiences and outcomes delivered to each customer — from awareness to contract signature to renewal — over various communications channels. You need to think about your customer lifecycle and plant various listening posts within the customer journey. That way you can identify the moments of truth among all the touchpoints and start your improvements with those in mind.

Moments of truth are the memorable touchpoints (interactions the customer has with the company and its people) with high amounts of emotional energy, good and bad, that affect the customer journey. These few touchpoints are the most critical areas to focus on, the low hanging fruit, especially if they are negative ones. Improving the negative moments of truth can positively impact your brand. 

Choose the Best Way to Survey Your Customer

Companies used to conduct customer satisfaction surveys to gain an understanding of their customers. These surveys generally consisted of 20 to 30 questions, sometimes more, and were done once a year. Possibly because of their length, response rates were not particularly high and the results were not very enlightening. More often than not, they were filed and forgotten, until another one was done the next year.

Fortunately times, and VoC strategies, have changed. Today, many companies use Net Promoter System (NPS) surveys. These are much shorter, and therefore easier for the customer to respond. The relational type of this survey, usually conducted annually, often has just one question, namely, would you recommend the company to your friends and family. The touch point type is one to three questions. It’s typically conducted after a specific event in the customer lifecycle, such as the closing of a deal. Using the calculated net promoter score for each touchpoint set of surveys, you can easily determine your moments of truth: which areas in the customer lifecycle you have to prioritize and change immediately as your low hanging fruit to produce effortless customer interactions.

Customer Effort Score (CES) surveys are designed to get more action-based feedback. Most often used by services providers, it asks questions like how much effort did it take to get our service or use our product, and how easy was it to deal with us. Depending on your VoC strategy, you could deploy a combination of NPS and CES surveys to measure the customer experience at various touchpoints in the lifecycle.

Related Article: Not All Customer Feedback Requires Change

Closing the Loop: From Insight to Action

Following up, or closing the loop, is, in fact, possibly the most important part of a successful VoC effort.  This is where most VoC programs fail to come to fruition and the customers lose faith that their comments will be listened to and actually make a difference.

The purpose of following up with your customers is two-fold: it’s a way to empathize with your customer and try to understand more precisely what caused this bad interaction before you try to fix it; it's also how you show your customer you care and want to make this better so no one else has to have the same bad experience.

Customer segmentation is an important part of any VoC strategy. The right people have to be targeted with the right questions. They also have to be contacted for follow-up calls by the right people in your company. The higher up the customer ladder, the more senior the responder should be.

Once a survey is completed, from customer response to analysis to follow-up, the next step is getting everyone in the company on board with the results. Every department has to understand the customer’s feedback, look for the root cause and take appropriate steps to implement whatever changes are necessary. Although there may be a lot of areas for improvement, taking on the most critical ones from the customer’s perspective would be the ideal approach. A senior executive in the organization should be tasked with insuring this happens in a timely manner. The Chief Customer Officer (CCO) or CEO, if there is no CCO, should be responsible for insuring this happens in a timely manner and that the organization, starting with its leaders, is kept accountable and motivated.

It’s All About Motivation

You need to motivate two groups: your customers, to get them to respond, to take your follow up call  and be your champions as they see you making positive changes, and your people, to get them on board with what you’re doing.  Some companies offer customers a small reward like a gift card, and follow up with some of them with a personal phone call. As a consumer, I will take the gift card and provide my feedback whether good or mediocre. I won’t wait for a company to provide me with any gift cards, however, when I want to tell them how bad their service was.  And those detractors are the ones you especially need to listen to.

Companies should also explain to their employees how the survey and the actions that will be taken will improve their jobs and will positively affect their employee experience. Communication around needed changes, complete with reasons and expected impact, is typically welcomed and helps improve employee morale and overall company culture and performance. Tying survey score results to compensation is a great way to ensure everyone in an organization is motivated, empowered, and will assist with the needed improvements.

Related Article: How Thoughtful Surveys Generate Valuable Customer Feedback

Are You Ready for Change?

A successful VoC strategy can lead to significant changes in a company’s culture and brand recognition. Those changes may not always be welcomed by everyone in the organization. But making them will be well worth the effort. After all, the responses you receive really don’t come from idiots. They came from your spouse, your mother, your son. In other words, they came from your most important constituency — your customers.