How to run a successful Voice of the Customer (VoC) program

The Voice of the Customer (VoC) is the core foundation of any successful customer experience program.

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The Voice of the Customer (VoC) is the core foundation of any successful customer experience program. This guide will teach you how to launch a VoC program, take action with your customer feedback, and prove the ROI of your efforts.

The value of a Voice of the Customer (VoC) Program

A Voice of the Customer (VoC) program, also known as customer voice and Voice of Customer, captures, analyzes and reports on all customer feedback—expectations, likes, and dislikes—associated with your company.

The VoC is the heartbeat of any customer experience (CX) program. In fact, at GetFeedback, we believe that brands can’t meet or exceed expectations without having an established Voice of the Customer program in place. Think about it—without customer feedback, you won’t know where to begin to improve your customer experience.

When done properly, a Voice of the Customer (VoC) program will give you real-time insight into your customers’ experiences. And from this feedback, you can identify trends and opportunities to improve CX across the customer journey, meet customer needs, and build better customer relationships.

The way a brand gathers and responds to customer feedback is also a reflection of the CX maturity of the organization. The more advanced your VoC program is, the more you’ll be able to meet or exceed customer expectations.

How to launch a Voice of the Customer (VoC) program

Although each company’s Voice of the Customer (VoC) program will vary based on individual goals, there are standard launching steps that always apply.

The following insight is from CX expert, Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CEO of Experience Investigators™ by 360Connext, who recently published an article on this topic.

Set up your VoC program for success 

Gather your champions

The best organizations have leaders who support these programs from the ground up. These are the leaders who understand that customer feedback is the top driver of successful customer experience strategies.

These champion leaders need to understand what the investment is worth. Communicate how you will measure success. Will VoC feedback help you live up to your customer experience mission and brand promise? How will you act on your VoC feedback on an ongoing basis? How will increased happiness from customers drive bottom-line results?

Don’t only gather champions from the highest levels. Find those managers and supervisors who need to understand your Voice of the Customer program and their role in it. Help them see themselves as the important parts of this process that they are.

Communicate clearly the value of a VoC program 

Get your leaders and champions to see how these efforts will help your overall goals as an organization—this will earn their investment in your vision for VoC. Explain how these programs help you see customer issues before they become widespread company challenges. They help you hear what customers are seeking before they go to your competitors. Customers have a chance to really tell you what will keep them loyal and where there are gaps to close in their experience.

Understand the customer’s journey

Your customers are following their own customer journeys, not necessarily the processes you created for them. To know what to measure, it’s important to understand the actual customer. This means knowing where there may be friction in the journey, and how to ask about that to get the best results for customer success. Can you start a VoC program without a customer journey map? Yes, but it will be a lot better with one.

Create your VoC feedback mosaic

There is no perfect formula for what to measure in a VoC program. There are key ingredients to consider when gathering both structured and unstructured customer feedback on an ongoing basis. And a bonus is that customers want you to ask them for feedback.

Here are the three key ingredients to customer data collection:

  • Consistency: Measuring anything consistently is better than no measurements at all. Once you have a baseline of your Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), Net Promoter Score (NPS) or customer sentiment or the like, you will have a way to gauge if you’re doing better or worse for customers.

  • Combined viewpoints: Customers are complex and nuanced, just like each of us is. Using both structured feedback like CSAT scores and NPS ratings with unstructured feedback like customer’s verbatim responses on surveys and social media provides a richer, more robust picture of the customer. This wonderful combination is what helps us really hear the Voice in Voice of the Customer.

  • Storytelling: Your VoC program should tell the story of your customer. Use real quotes, call center recordings, and other powerful emotional data to share what’s really going on with your customers. And guess what? 75% of marketing leaders are failing to understand shifting consumer behavior. That means all the data in the world can’t tell a story like the actual voice of your customer. Use what they tell you to share their story to the leaders who matter. (In other words, don’t be afraid of anecdotes and direct quotes!)

Employees should start asking, what can we do to improve these results tomorrow? How can we engage with our customers more?” — Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CEO of Experience Investigators™ by 360Connext 

Structured and unstructured VoC data

A great VoC program includes a combination of structured and unstructured customer feedback. Here’s a breakdown of both.

Structured customer feedback 

These metrics are measured in a survey format and they’re referred to as structured feedback because you’re proactively using them to retrieve customer data.

Your organization may select a metric to use that helps capture how customers are feeling about working with you. Surveys may be collected in several ways, and they may measure different things. There is a place for a regular, relationship-based survey, as well as transaction-specific surveys, based on your organization and industry.

Below are the most popular ways to collect structured feedback.

Net Promoter Score (NPS) 

The NPS score is based on the “Ultimate Question” raised by Fred Reichheld: “How likely is it you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?”

This question leads to a scale of 1 through 10, with 10 being definitely will recommend or something of the sort. Those who rank the likelihood of recommending to others as 0–6 are considered Detractors. Those who select their likelihood of recommending as 7–8 are considered Passives. And those who select 9 or 10 are categorized as Promoters.

To calculate your company’s NPS, take the percentage of customers who are Promoters and subtract the percentage who are Detractors. This number (a percentage) is what you track as your overall NPS.

Such as: (% Promoters) – (% Detractors) = NPS score. 

Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) 

Measuring CSAT can be used to determine how a customer feels about the experience overall, parts of the customer journey, or even specific products or services. The question is typically presented to the customer using a 1–5 scale, with 1 being very dissatisfied and 5 being very satisfied.

VoC programs often include CSAT in a percentage. You can determine that approach with a formula to see the percentage of customers who selected very satisfied or somewhat satisfied against the whole of your customers surveyed.

To calculate your company’s CSAT Score, take the number of satisfied customers (those who selected the top two choices in your scale) and divide that number by the total number of survey responses. Multiply by 100 to see the percentage of satisfied customers.

Such as: (Number of satisfied customers (4 and 5) / Number of survey responses) x 100 = % of satisfied customers

Use our free interactive CSAT calculator to measure your Customer Satisfaction Score and its impact on ROI. You’ll get custom recommendations based on your score.

Customer Effort Score (CES) 

How much effort did it take for your customer to work with you? That’s the basic premise behind CES. If a customer feels he had to put in a lot of effort, he will most likely be more negative about the experience.

CES can be used as a survey to discover how specific parts of the customer journey are handled.

For example, after calling for support, a customer may be asked to complete a one-question CES survey that asks: “On a scale from 1-7, with 1 being strongly disagree and 7 being strongly agree, do you believe the company made it easy for me to handle my issue?” The customer will select the rating that best reflects the ease of accomplishing their goals.

To calculate your company’s CES, find the average of all responses. Use the total sum of responses, then divide by the total number of survey respondents.

Such as: (Total sum of responses)/(Number of responses) = CES score

Some organizations will want to include just one of these metrics, while others will have a combination of relationship-based and transactional results. To launch a VoC program, consider what you will consistently gather and act on.  

Focus groups are also something to consider. In a focus group, you select a number of customers to meet in a room, where they are asked a series of questions by a trained moderator. Questions are meant for data collection, focusing on perceptions, beliefs, and other opinions regarding your product or service. Consider using the customer surveys listed above (NPS, CES, and CSAT) to identify potential participants for your Voice of the Customer program focus group.

Unstructured customer feedback  

While surveys are key to any VoC program, they shouldn’t be your only source of truth. You need to also create listening paths that tap into unstructured feedback.

Where do your customers talk about you? What do they really want to tell you?

These are the questions to answer when gathering unstructured feedback.

There are ways we ask customers within our structured surveys, like asking the follow-up question “Why or Why Not” on Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys. Within that open-text field, customers give you amazing gifts.

Be sure you are leveraging text analytics and tools available to you to look for patterns, stay updated on critical complaints and find those wonderful examples of your customer’s voice to share with others in your organization.

But there are other places where your customers provide unstructured feedback that you need to leverage.

Your customers are talking about you on social media, in user groups, and at events. Your salespeople and customer service agents are talking to customers every day. Is there a place to gather that feedback in a centralized location? Encourage your employees to capture what customers are saying.

If you are just setting up a VoC program, another powerful tool is often overlooked: conversation. Pick up the phone and call your customers. Ask for a chat about what’s important to them. Listen for tone and implied disappointments so you can set up your key listening posts around moments that matter to them.

VoC is not just about where and how you ask customers how they feel, it’s also about how they act. Operational data like First Call Resolution (FCR) in your contact centers and customer churn and retention rates help you understand the big picture results in your VoC strategy.

Including customer behavioral analytics like service call frequency, purchase data, and last payment helps us see how to connect the dots between what they tell us and how they actually behave.

Putting it all together 

The leaders in VoC have a few things in common. There is a centralized hub of information, typically a dashboard, that employees throughout the company can review and share.

Dashboards include the metrics gathered along with graphs, charts or other tools to tell the story over time. Dashboards should answer the question: How are we doing today compared to yesterday?

Employees should start asking, what can we do to improve these results tomorrow? How can we engage with our customers more?

As employees begin to see this information, it’s critical to communicate about what this means. Engage your employees to understand why numbers moved up or down and not just reporting they did. Voice of the Customer results should lead to innovation around customer experience.

A few creative ways I’ve seen organizations use VoC feedback to engage their employees:

  • USAA created the Innovation Community for Enterprise (ICE) to encourage employee suggestions and proposals to improve customer experience. Based on the feedback gathered and data shared, every employee has a chance to submit ideas. A remarkable 94% of USAA’s 30,000-plus employees have participated!

  • Share the dashboard throughout the organization, highlighting one “metric of the month.” This will help employees understand the difference between overall NPS and transactional CSAT.

  • Highlight a handful of customer quotes from survey open-text field verbatims. Use a rotation of good and not-so-good to show what drives these reactions.

  • Recognize and reward those employees who did something worth noting by name! If a customer takes the time to mention Sylvia because of her empathy, let the company know what a great job Sylvia did.

Checklist for launching your VoC program

We know this is a lot of information, so we’ve put together a brief checklist to help you confirm that you’ve got all of the right foundations in place for your VoC program.

A Voice of the Customer program must do all of the following:

  • Listen: Establish key customer listening paths for collecting unstructured and structured feedback.

  • Interpret: Analyze this feedback, identify key trends and insight and share it in real-time with employees across the company.

  • Act: Set up a process to act quickly on real-time feedback. This includes many activities, such as reaching out to a disgruntled customer, to changing employee training programs.

  • Monitor: Track progress over time. This is the only way you’ll truly be able to prove the ROI of your VoC program.

The 3 stages of Voice of the Customer (VoC) maturity 

Companies can’t master all essential VoC activities from the get-go. It takes time. In fact, there are three stages of maturity for any VoC program: Foundational, Advanced, and State of the Art.

A Foundational VoC program 

This is the stage where CX professionals focus on getting the basics right and setting the foundation for scaling their VoC program.

Below is what you should include in your checklist for the Foundational stage. 

  • Collect structured feedback from multiple channels with surveys: Qualitative survey data will help you measure your current CX and identify areas of improvement.

  • Begin your VoC in one part of the company: Start with the team that is most passionate about customer experience. By demonstrating their success, it’ll be easier to convert other teams to participate.

  • Find the low-hanging fruit via basic analysis and reporting: Focus on the relatively easy-to-solve problems first. If you can prove the value of these fixes, you’ll be setting the groundwork for a larger-scale VoC program.

  • Perform service recovery: When someone gives you negative feedback, analyze it and see if you can fix the problem. Once you’ve made those changes, share them with the unsatisfied customers.

  • Set the foundation for scaling up: Set up your VoC program infrastructure in a way to easily enable additional customer feedback sources, such as social media posts, call center transcripts, etc.

An Advanced VoC program

During this stage, CX professionals build on the fundamentals of the first stage. This means expanding on customer data sources and doing a deeper analysis to prove the value of their VoC program.

Below is what you should include in your checklist for the Advanced stage. 

  • Collect and analyze both structured and unstructured customer feedback: There are various ways to collect and analyze unstructured feedback, such as text analytics and experimenting with the right categorizations.

  • Establish formal processes for taking action and closing the loop: These processes should enable employees to take corrective action on customer feedback. For instance, you could group CX problems into different buckets based on the effort it takes to fix them and their importance.

  • Include the voice of your employees: This is particularly relevant with frontline employees who hear from customers directly. Create a process for them to pass along their findings to the VoC team.

  • Ensure the executives are on board: To expand your VoC program you need the support of at least one executive. If you’re struggling to get your executives on board, you should help them connect to their customers’ feedback and needs.

  • Create role-based reporting dashboards: Share detailed feedback reports across the business, on all operational levels, to ensure that every employee has the real-time feedback they need to provide a better customer experience.

  • Introduce reward programs for your employees: Reward your employees for positive customer feedback. This will make them feel appreciated and incentivize continued efforts for better CX.

  • Put an emphasis on quantifying business results: In this advanced stage, CX professionals must be able to make a clear case for the business results they produce with the VoC program, such as reduced costs due to CX improvements.

  • Centralize your VoC team for efficiency: This can consist of a shared VoC dashboard shared across departments, as well as quarterly plans and regular review processes.

A State of the Art VoC program

This is the final maturity stage that all CX professionals strive to reach. A company’s VoC program is State of the Art when it drives better decisions, outcomes, and revenue across an entire organization. Voice of the Customer data is infused into the way employees do their daily, regular jobs.

Below is what you should include in your checklist for the A State of the Art stage. 

  • Achieve full data integration: To find the key VoC insights that will drive CX change, you need to first collect customer feedback across all channels. By doing so, you’ll be able to identify the important patterns hidden in your VoC data.

  • Develop a framework to prioritize improvements: Prioritize your findings across listening channels by established a process that focuses your attention on issues that are related to your most important metrics. This can be as simple as a ranking system.

  • Justify the broader business value you’re delivering: At this stage, CX professionals must go beyond specific project outcomes and demonstrate the improvement that all the listening efforts have had on the business overall.

  • Have a customer-centric company culture: At this point, your employees should embrace and demand a VoC program. They should also have access to all of the tools and insight to enable their individual contribution to improving customer experience.

  • Include VoC as part of the design and product development process: Your customers’ feedback should in part influence the company’s decision on product changes and updates, as well as the design of your website, marketing material, etc.

The following is a cheat sheet of these three VoC maturity stages.  

(Source: Forrester Report—How to Build Your VoC Program) 

How to take action with your Voice of the Customer (VoC) data

Once you’ve properly collected both structured and unstructured customer data, analyzed and interpreted it, it’s time to take action. This can be anything from responding to individual customer complaints to re-training your employees or updating your product.

How you act on customer feedback will vary based on the trends and opportunities that you identify through your VoC program. However, all companies must have a plan on taking action for all types of feedback: positive, neutral and negative.

The following insight is from our friend Jay Baer, founder of Convince & Convert, who recently published an article on how to tackle this approach. Below are the key takeaways.

Respond to positive feedback

We all love to hear what we’re doing well or how we’ve made someone’s day or life more awesome. While good for the ego, positive feedback is the least informational. Praise makes you feel terrific, but it’s not very illuminating because chances are you almost already know what you’re good at, don’t you?

Positive feedback provides validation, and it can also tell us what to continue doing and what to keep alive. If you’re beginning to get positive feedback on a touchpoint in your customer journey that you set out to improve, you’ve got an insight into your CX process and the decisions you’re making.

Take that positive feedback and evaluate how you can repeat your approach for another priority in your customer experience improvement plan.

Respond to neutral feedback

People who take the time to give a three-star review or answer your survey question with a middle-of-the-line neutral are neither encouraging nor are they warning off future behavior.

But they are doing something.

They are documenting their satisfactory experiences, and they are giving you operational nuggets of insight. Look for trends in their experiences. Middling reviews are authentic.

By analyzing the topics that repeatedly come up in this feedback, businesses can address persistent issues that annoy customers but are not deal-breakers. Instead of taking this feedback as indifference, see the gold lurking behind it. Look at the content. What’s the actual commentary you’re reading? Break it down, categorize it, and score it. In doing this, your business can resolve minor complaints before they become larger problems.

Most companies today want to hear from their customers, but they are also afraid of what customers might say. Here’s what I want you to remember: Feedback of any kind—positive, neutral, or negative—is a gift. — Jay Baer, founder of Convince & Convert

Respond to negative feedback

When your customers complain, they are the canaries in the coal mine. What these customers are doing is providing you an early warning detection system for your business. The real problem isn’t people who have a poor experience and let you know about it. The real problem for businesses is people who aren’t passionate enough about your company to take the time to say anything.

For as big a deal as they seem, complaints and negative feedback are the mathematical minority. Ninety-five percent of disgruntled customers do not complain to the entity responsible for their dissatisfaction. Be thankful for the 5% that do. They’re giving you a roadmap to fix whatever it is that ails your business.

So when they do complain—take advantage of it.

Your customers will most likely complain both offstage (in traditional communications channels like email or phone) and onstage (in social media, discussion boards, forums, et al.). For most businesses, offstage complaints are the majority.

There are slightly different expectations between offstage and onstage complaints. Here’s what we mean:

  • The issues communicated in social media, review sites, forums or message boards are more frivolous than those communicated on the phone or via email. When complaining in public, onstage complainers expect a response roughly half of the time. In many cases, they’re airing grievances onstage and want an audience, not necessarily a response.

  • When people tell you what they think in private or offstage, they almost always expect a response. This is because they are looking for an answer.

Regardless of the type, the problem is that many complaints go unanswered. Answering complaints increases customer advocacy. Not answering them decreases customer advocacy.

Here’s how you can take action and leverage negative feedback: help your customers who don’t expect you to respond. Customers have come to anticipate a particular style and speed of response from businesses. If you can defy or exceed those expectations, it creates an effect, making customers more likely to advocate on your company’s behalf.

While the negativity can be maddening, it’s anything but. Not only does it provide you with valuable information about your operational performance, but it’s also an opportunity to create advocacy with your customers.

How to prove the ROI of your Voice of the Customer (VoC) program 

An established VoC solution is capable of finding the true pulse of the customer and use it to improve a business.

Key methods to prove the ROI of your VoC program 

Below is how Jay Baer, founder of Convince & Convert, judges the overall health of a VoC program:

  1. Participation rate in measurement mechanism (e.g., surveys, website studies, or the number of customer service interactions on Twitter).

  2. The number of insights gleaned from the data.

  3. Subsequent NPS/CSAT scores and retention rates.

It is a challenge to broadly benchmark these indicators because the number of variables is infinite. This is why organizations should begin by establishing internal benchmarks through a pilot program.

Use that test as an opportunity to see how many surveys were filled out, to understand the quality of the feedback being received, etc. Then, work steadily to move the mark. (For more on this topic by Baer, check out this article).

Customer retention rates deserve a large spotlight because it isn’t just key for proving the ROI of a VoC program, it’s also a key metric for the larger customer experience program.

To measure customer retention, you have to listen to customers across the key journey touchpoints and understand what behaviors, outcomes, and interactions are making the biggest financial impact on your organization.

Once you’ve identified these opportunities, you take action. This could mean reducing customer wait time for speaking with a support agent, improving the product or website UX to remove pain points, etc. Over time, you’ll be able to identify trends and predict what the customer will do next, which will amplify your financial impact.

Other methods to strengthen the justification for a VoC program 

Below are some other suggestions on how to demonstrate the value of your VoC program.

  • Cutting costs due to the VoC program: If your company is using multiple surveying and feedback tools, having one VoC solution in place will reduce tool and associated maintenance expenses. A successful VoC program can also help reduce the cost of customer retention programs.

  • Improving resource allocation decisions: Over time a VoC program will highlight key drivers of customer engagement and loyalty as well as less important ones. This will allow you to make smarter decisions on where to allocate your resources.

  • Reducing risks (which often also means reducing costs): By collecting and analyzing customer feedback, you’ll be able to catch a problem early and correct it. This often saves companies a lot of time and money. For instance, reducing the likelihood of a product failing in the marketplace because it doesn’t meet customers’ expectations will reduce significant costs and time.

  • Acquiring new customers through referrals: Loyal customers can become brand advocates. And brand advocates are four times more likely to refer your product or service to friends and family. This means that increasing customer referrals will reduce the effort and cost for marketing and sales to acquire new customers. In other words, a great CX program can lower acquisition costs.

  • Faster or more formalized closed-loop process: Despite having the technology to help employees close the loop on customer feedback, most companies don’t have a formal process. A VoC program will help establish a process that will ensure customers feel they are being heard and therefore lead to customer retention.

How to calculate the ROI of your VoC program  

To estimate the ROI of your Voice of the Customer program you need to compare the value of your business outcomes (e.g., retention, new customers, reducing costs, etc.) before and after you’ve launched it. See the image below for an example.

How to calculate the voice of the customer voc program

Forrester created a very simple formula that you can leverage to measure your ROI. See below.

ROI formula

They recommend that every company create a one-sentence business case that follows this formula, such as:

We intend to transform our customer experience to increase customer-generated revenue while reducing customer-related expense, which will bring $X of incremental benefit, at a cost of $Y, for an ROI of Z%.

Leverage external data to make your point 

If you’re at the very early stages of your VoC program, it might be hard to prove the value. That’s when external data on VoC is advantageous.

For instance, here are some well-known CX program statistics:

  • Poor customer experience is costing U.S. companies $136.8 billion per year due to avoidable churn. (CallMiner)

  • 73% of U.S. customers say CX is the key factor in their purchasing decision. (PwC)

  • 95% of customers have taken action as a result of one bad experience. (Zendesk)

Forrester has some great findings:

  • 5.1x revenue growth for CX leaders versus laggers.

  • 4.5x willingness to pay a premium of customers who have excellent versus very poor experiences.

  • 2.7x the operating margin with engaged employees.

  • A 1 point improvement in the Forrester’s CX Index can result in anywhere from between 5 to 873 million dollars in revenue.

Voice of the Customer (VoC) program cheat sheet 

We know this is a lot of information, which is why we’ve created a cheat sheet that highlights all of the key takeaways from this guide.

Voice of the Customer Program Infographic

Don’t be shy, embed this cheat sheet in your own blog post or website. Actually, we dare you to. 

Voice of the Customer (VoC) educational video 

We’re not the only ones obsessed with the Voice of the Customer. In fact, we recently partnered with our friends at Forrester and launched a webinar on how to build a simple and effective VoC program that impacts the bottom line.

The webinar covered:

  • Why VoC is a critical pillar in a strong CX strategy.

  • How to build a simple and effective VoC Program.

  • How to quantify the business impact of your VoC efforts.

Check out the full webinar recording below.

Simplified CX YouTube Episode on VoC

The CX Impact Summit 2021 (November 4 | A virtual event)
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