The most critical element to improving your company is not having a visionary CEO, leaders who have “been there/done that,” or teams working long hours to deliver the product: it’s actively capitalizing on the voice of the customer feedback. Voice of the customer feedback is any comment or concern given by a customer to your company. 67% of customers are willing to pay more for better customer experience and the best way to improve is to listen to your customers. Your customers know what they like and dislike better than anyone else could, so listening for and actioning this data can significantly improve your offerings.

Often this type of feedback slips through the cracks, not because employees consciously ignore it, but because no process exists to submit it for review and action. Building a cross-functional voice of customer program will give your customers a greater presence within your decision-making process and help create positive experiences, generate more referrals, and overall improve your customer satisfaction.

In this article, let’s explore how to recognize and gather Voice of the Customer (VoC) feedback, how to organize, collate, and action the feedback, and how to prove the value these programs have to your organization.

Receiving Voice of the Customer feedback

Meetings happen every day in which a group of subject matter experts gathers to make design decisions, develop release schedules, or prioritize product changes. No matter how intelligent the people in that room are, they are seldom the target audience for your product. They may have never used it in the same way as your target customers or haven’t used it in several months or years.

While they may be correctly positioned in the organization to make these choices, they need the information to make customer-driven decisions that will have the most positive impact. This data should be heavily weighted towards Voice of the Customer feedback. Companies need to capture feedback at every opportunity—everything from a sigh during a training session, to a question during a sales demo or a ticket to your support team, should be noted.

What to capture

Capturing VoC feedback has to start with agreement across all functions that are directly involved with customers. Teams such as Sales, Support, Success, Implementation, and Marketing all need to be able to submit this data into a common process. The data includes essentially any avenue the customer may use to connect with you in both positive and negative contexts.

Some examples include: 

It is also essential that your program contains a mix of solicited and unsolicited feedback. Solicited feedback is more focused on the areas your company wants to research. For example, you could use a survey to ask about usage patterns or gauge sentiment about a specific service/interaction. Examples of feedback of this type are NPS or CSAT surveys, company questionnaires, or customer meetings set up by Product Management to discuss a potential feature. While incredibly valuable to understand the pulse of the customer, these methods typically approach customers with your needs as a company at the forefront.  

Conversely, unsolicited feedback, also known as unstructured feedback, is the unfiltered or unframed requests of the customer. These comments can have a significant impact on your business because they come directly from the customer and are often suggestions about which you would never have thought or asked. Social media platforms like Twitter are full of these sentiments. If you are not openly harvesting these channels for voice of customer feedback, you are losing out on a major opportunity to improve your product and services.

There are tools that can group and perform sentiment analysis on social media posts, leading you to both the good and the bad perceptions of your offering. Unsolicited voice of customer feedback is the hardest to capture, but if you train your team correctly, the results will help you to build products and services the market is demanding, and strengthen trust along the way.

Finally, it is also crucial that all feedback is captured as part of this process. It is tempting to ignore the negative feedback, especially if there is an abundance of positive feedback, but history is littered with stories of brands that ignored negative feedback and (eventually) paid the price. Don’t fall into the trap of advertising the good, and relegating criticism to the trash can.

VoC feedback training

Train all employees how to recognize Voice of the Customer feedback. You cannot capture what you haven’t defined and, to ensure consistency, the definition has to be clear. If a customer comments off-the-cuff “That action is unintuitive” or “I would never have guessed that’s how it works,” that’s feedback! Comments like those represent a genuine view into pain points your customer’s experience.

These little complaints rarely come up through specific support tickets, quarterly business reviews or survey comments because we as consumers are trained to accept annoyances in all of our products. Give examples from all of the above mediums on what feedback looks like and then build a process for capturing it.

What to do with Voice of the Customer feedback

Your team now knows how to receive VoC feedback: excellent! Now, what do you do with it? Only 52% of customers are confident about brands acting on their feedback. That is directly due to a lack of ownership and accountability for actioning the incoming data. Typically this responsibility falls within your Customer Experience team, or if you have someone whose role involves customer journey mapping. No matter how you assign the ownership of the program, that person or team must take responsibility for making sure feedback is actioned.

Tool selection

The right tool within which to execute the feedback process can be a repurposing of your case management tool, your CRM, or a purpose-built tool—really anything as long as the tool is able to contain or link to customer information. Specifically, you can create an effective feedback workflow when the tooling has access to metadata such as the customer’s vertical, account size, location, version/model of the product, etc.

Another useful feature is the ability to aggregate like ideas. Knowing how many customers have requested the same or similar changes can help you prioritize easier and helps you expand the use cases and business needs of your customers.

You also may need a set of tools that differ by channel. Does your telephony solution allow for sentiment analysis of phone recordings? Do you need a social media management tool? It is fine to have multiple places that can receive input, as long as the goal is to consolidate all feedback into one ultimate tool for review.

Having all of the captured voice of customer feedback in one place simplifies how you monitor progress on any actions and reduces the training burden.

Assignment & ownership

Once you have the tooling in place, you need to assign stakeholders from each of the functions where feedback could be used to improve its aspect of the business: for example, support processes, product decisions, and training materials. The program owner will assess incoming voice of customer feedback regularly, group like-comments together, and assign the items to the stakeholder who needs to take some action. The program owner is responsible for monitoring progress on the actions and for any follow-up with the assigned stakeholders.

These tasks are another reason why it is absolutely vital that your program has buy-in across the company. Recognizing the importance of Voice of the Customer feedback needs to be a part of the culture at your organization. Otherwise, there is no incentive for the stakeholders to care and you remove any authority the program owner has to request updates.

Taking action

Actually doing something with the feedback is the most critical step of this program. If you fail to show meaningful action on Voice of the Customer feedback, you will find that your customers lose their voice altogether and don’t even bother to submit their feedback to you.

In fact, 81% of customers are more willing to give feedback if they know there will be a response. Actions could be different for every piece of feedback. For example, if the feedback is validation that a recent decision had a positive impact on the customer, the action could be very little or nothing at all. Alternatively, the action could result in mass change for a company, such as the overhaul of a process, the addition or removal of documentation or training, or a new feature or product.

This disparity makes it hard to timebox actions, and your process to evaluate and respond to feedback needs to take that into account. There has to be a decision on what to communicate to your customers and when. You never want your customer to think their feedback has fallen into a black hole, but you also don’t want to inundate them with meaningless updates such as “we are assessing your feedback.”  

As a rough guide, a thank-you goes a long way. With positive comments or constructive criticism, a simple response of “thank you for your feedback” (and acknowledging what that specific feedback is) can show the comments have been read and that there is someone with whom to engage in a conversation if necessary. If the comments are particularly negative, the program owner or the correct stakeholder should engage with the customer through follow-up questions or training.

Remember, the goal of a VoC feedback program is to set your customers up for success by delivering actions based on their needs. A common mistake is to start to explain away the feedback. Resist that urge. It may be relevant to give context about why a decision was previously made, but to suggest it is immutable, unless it genuinely is fundamentally impossible to change, is a rejection of a pain point expressed by a customer. Instead, even when you can’t say “yes” unequivocally, use the opportunity to set an expectation.

If the expectation is that you won’t be addressing it in the short term, that is valuable information to the user. Context and expectation setting are the keys to any VoC feedback response. Always make the customer feel heard and let them know if or when they will see some action taken.

Measuring improvements

An important part of any project or initiative is to validate that your efforts are reaping value. At a minimum, every company should measure and trend key customer experience metrics such as NPS, CES, and CSAT.

However, the broad scope of VoC programs makes it harder to measure. For example, the success of implementing an improved process based on customer feedback will be measured differently than altering a design component of your product. Boiling down the success of the program to a single number is more-or-less impossible.  

To prove ROI on the effort put into your programs, you should categorize the goals of the voice of customer program. Consider what is important to your company and how you would measure against those goals:

  • Loyalty/repeat business: Two-thirds of customers report they churn because of a bad customer experience. Renewal rates or follow-on purchases are definitely a way to show your program is working.
  • Promotion/word of mouth: Set up a program to monitor and even reward referrals from existing customers.
  • Efficient processes: Can your employees do more than they used to in less time?
  • Ease of product use: In software, there are tools that can measure time-to-value for given paths within your product. In hardware, you can analyze how people use your product and if it becomes easier, or more intuitive.
  • The number of support tickets: Measure the reduction in questions of a certain type submitted to your support team. If fewer users have a specific problem, that means you likely eliminated that problem.
  • Customer ROI: Are your customers more successful, more quickly? If your customers achieve their goals faster, then you are probably doing the right things.

All of these goals can be measured for improvement. While it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact change that brought about that improvement, the program itself will show positive trends in all the areas on which you focus attention.

Is Voice of the Customer right for you?

Yes! Every company needs to execute some form of a Voice of the Customer feedback program.

Customer experience differentiates you from your competitors, improves your retention rates, increases referrals, and builds a trusting relationship with your customers. Going to market with solutions that provide the value customers want, in the way they want to get it, only works when you listen to them intently. Listening to customers is the new disruption in the B2B and B2C world. It has never been easier to collect insight and use it to deliver meaningful change to your customers.

These programs do not cost a lot, and the value of them can be significant. Voice of customer feedback programs give your customers a seat at the table and help you drive better products and services based on the ever-changing swings of the market.  

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