What is a Voice of the Customer survey?

The ultimate guide for using VoC surveys to improve the customer experience.

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Customers these days have plenty to say. To keep them happy, you need to be listening actively and often. 

That’s where Voice of the Customer surveys can serve as your biggest advantage.  

The definition of Voice of the Customer, or VoC, is “the in-depth process of capturing customers’ expectations, preferences and aversions.” In short, it’s how your customers think and feel about you. 

Voice of the Customer surveys offer a proactive and consistent way of gathering feedback from customers to gain greater insight into what they love, like or dislike about the experience your company provides, and areas where they believe there is room for improvement. 

Voice of the Customer research can be conducted in a range of ways: online surveys, phone surveys, mail surveys and even more in-depth interviews. What all these methods share in common is that they use Voice of the Customer questions to capture feedback from customers, which can then be leveraged to enhance the customer experience (CX) and address persistent challenges. 

Employing VoC surveys adds consistency to the structure of your Voice of the Customer program by helping to prevent feedback from slipping through the cracks so you can readily access real-time insights.

Feedback gleaned from VoC surveys can ripple through to your company’s bottom line. Research has found that 86% of customers are willing to pay more for better customer experience. The best way to improve that experience is to proactively listen to your customers, and then take actions based on what they’re saying. 

What is a Voice of the Customer survey?

It’s important not to confuse Voice of the Customer surveys with a Voice of the Customer program. VoC surveys are a key part of a broader VoC program–but they aren’t the end-all.  

Think of it like this—Voice of the Customer surveys are a tool. The Voice of the Customer program is the toolbox that includes different elements and activities, all aimed at listening to and better understanding your customers—and then taking actions to increase satisfaction and, ultimately, retain existing customers and attract new ones. 

As such, a Voice of the Customer program relies on VoC surveys as one of the essential means of capturing customer feedback that can then be analyzed and shared throughout your company. 

Teamed with feedback captured through other channels such as social media and online reviews, VoC surveys give you a clear and consistent view into how your customers are thinking and feeling about your company. 

Why use a survey to listen to your customers?

Everyone’s got an opinion. And odds are your customers aren’t shy about sharing theirs, often via social media posts, online reviews, word-mouth and more. This steady flow of feedback is essential and needs to be monitored and acted on. Yet because it is typically unprompted, this feedback often comes primarily from those highly motivated to share their thoughts—namely, your biggest fans or your loudest Detractors. 

Conversely, using a VoC survey to capture customer feedback, allows you to take a proactive approach to draw from a broader, more diverse pool of your customers while also framing questions that can provide deeper targeted insight into what they think about your company and its offerings. Through this, you can better identify blind spots and deficiencies, while also continually making improvements to bolster your overall customer experience. 

Companies that invest in customer feedback programs grow two to three times faster than those that don’t. Using Voice of the Customer surveys to listen to your customers is essential to driving that growth. 

Voice of the Customer example questions

So what do VoC questions look like? There are a range of possibilities depending on what your company does and who its target customers are, but there are some good questions that provide valuable insights regardless if you’re selling fresh flowers or high-tech finance solutions. 

Here are a few examples of Voice of the Customer questions.

  •  Overall, how satisfied or dissatisfied are you with our company?

  • How often do you use our product or service?

  • Does the product or service help you achieve your goals?

  • What is your favorite aspect of the product or service?

  • If you could change one thing about our product or service, what would it be?

  • What’s the single biggest challenge you have encountered with this product/service?

  • How responsive has our company been to your questions or concerns?

  • What can we do to improve your experience with us?

Raw customer comments and sentiment

Bill Gates once said: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

Gates’ insight speaks directly to the value of raw customer comments and sentiments. This type of feedback offers the unvarnished truth from both your most delighted and most disgruntled customers along with everyone in between. 

This can unlock key insights into lost sales opportunities, training concerns, and churned account analysis. 

By developing surveys that consistently capture this type of raw feedback, you are taking a big step toward ensuring that you are fully in tune with your customers, enhancing your ability to nimbly course-correct to address problems or further improve on what’s working.  

Customer sentiment–how your customer feel about your brand–can be gleaned from VoC surveys and then reviewed through a process called sentiment analysis to determine the opinion, judgment or emotion behind customer responses.  

This analysis gives you a big-picture perspective on what percentages of your customers view you in positive, negative and neutral ways, while also providing crisper insight into the specifics of how individual customers perceive your company. 

Ticket feedback

Customer support and tech help tickets generate feedback from customers without being asked or encouraged to do so. 

In fact, at many businesses, ticket-related interactions are likely the main channel of contact between customers and your company. Support tickets are created via the many channels you provide to customers whenever they have a question, need expert help, want to make a suggestion, or report an issue. 

Tickets play a key role in the Voice of the Customer process by providing a clear opportunity to conduct VoC surveys with a steady stream of customers that you know have had some direct contact with your company. This opens the door for follow-up surveys that can generate greater insight both into your customer’s specific experience dealing with customer service or tech support, but also capturing some broader takeaways on how they feel about your company. 

For instance, you can go beyond the standard questions focused on how their issue was handled to ask if the experience changed their view of your company or capturing suggestions on how customer interactions could be improved.

Training concerns

If your company offers training, tutorials, or how-to content to your customers, then VoC surveys can provide ongoing feedback into the effectiveness of those efforts, while also gleaning insights on how to improve these experiences for your customers. 

It’s often said that it’s critical to “meet your customers where they are.” This is particularly relevant when it comes to providing training on how to use and make the most of your products or services. The people in your company who conduct training or share their expertise need to have a clear view into how to most effectively interact with customers who surely have varying degrees of knowledge and understanding of how to effectively use your products or services. 

Surveys can reveal if those customers are getting the information they need in ways that they can easily understand. Without this type of feedback, you run the risk of creating frustrated and dissatisfied customers who likely won’t hesitate to air their complaints via social media or online reviews. 

Reasons for lost sales

No one likes to lose. And lost sales can significantly impact your business. 

Yet they happen to even the best of businesses. What sets the best of businesses apart, however, is that they make a concerted effort to dig deeper to find out why. 

A VoC survey focused on lost sales can be developed to directly capture this valuable insight which can then be applied to prevent similar situations in the future, and to potentially win some customers back.  

Yet, it’s important not to confuse lost customer surveys with lost customer recovery efforts. If your customers feel the focus of your survey is a veiled attempt to lure them back, they may balk at participating or not answer with candor. 

With that in mind, asking the following five questions can get to the heart of the reasons for lost sales.

Question 1: Why did you choose our company to do business with? Leading with this question reveals what customers expected of your firm and its products and services. 

Question 2: What caused you to leave our company? This question cuts to the core of the issue and because it follows the first question focused on initial expectations, you should get visibility into the potential disconnect between what’s being promised, and what is actually being delivered. 

Question 3: Which of our competitors did you choose? Identifying which competitors are winning your lost customers helps you detect trends and focus your efforts on assessing how top competitors are interacting with their customers and position their offerings.  

Question 4: Why did you choose our competitor? This question provides some clear direction that allows you to assess what the competition may be offering that you aren’t so your team can then take steps to shore up any gaps.

Question 5: Is there anything we can do to earn back your business? Asking this as an open-ended question allows you to plant the seed to potentially win the customer back but without any explicit sales pressure. 

Churned accounts analysis

The old cliche goes, “your best customer is the one you already have.” 

Obviously, the goal is to keep as many customers as possible for as long as you can. A way to track how you are doing is measured by what’s called customer churn, also known as customer attrition. Put simply, it’s when someone chooses to stop using your products or services. 

While churn rate provides a high-level perspective on how many customers you are losing and how often, surveys can add depth and context that can ultimately help reduce churn. 

Similar to lost sales, surveying some or all of your customers who have chosen to stop patronizing your business can offer up insights that can reveal common themes as to why people are heading for the gates. These insights can then be used as the basis for making changes that aim to reduce churn and improve the bottom line. 

Repeat customer stories 

It’s important to keep in mind that VoC surveys are not simply an exercise in fielding complaints or assessing why customers went elsewhere. They are also highly effective tools for identifying what your customers love about your company.

Often, the comments shared by customers via VoC surveys can unearth some great stories that demonstrate why they have an affinity for your brand. These could be stories of excellent customer service, great products, or ways in which your services helped them deal with vexing problems. 

Capturing these stories has multiple benefits. It can help direct investments that will offer the most value while also serving to recognize and inspire great employees. Positive stories can also be the source for great content that offers a compelling customer testimonial about your company. Just make sure that if you aim to create content that will be made public that the customer is aware that their story will be shared.  

So once you have captured feedback, there are myriad ways to analyze and measure it.

Some established metrics for measuring how your customers view your company offer key benchmarks, as well as perspectives on how you are performing compared to others in your industry.

Net Promoter Score® (NPS®)

Net Promoter Score, or NPS, measures customer experience and predicts business growth. This proven metric provides the core measurement for customer experience management programs.

NPS groups your customers into different categories based on a single key question: “Using a 0-10 scale: How likely is it that you would recommend [brand] to a friend or colleague?”

Respondents are then grouped as follows:

  • Promoters (score 9-10) are loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and refer others, fueling growth.

  • Passives (score 7-8) are satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who are vulnerable to competitive offerings.

  • Detractors (score 0-6) are unhappy customers who can damage your brand and impede growth through negative word-of-mouth. 

Subtracting the percentage of Detractors from the percentage of Promoters yields the Net Promoter Score, which can range from a low of -100 (if every customer is a Detractor) to a high of 100 (if every customer is a Promoter).

Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) ratings

CSAT is short for Customer Satisfaction Score. It’s a commonly used metric that acts as a key performance indicator for customer service and product quality in all kinds of businesses. While there is a range of ways to track and measure customer satisfaction, CSAT offers a more defined metric that’s expressed as a percentage—100% is great, 0% means you have a lot of work to do to create a better customer experience.

CSAT is measured through customer feedback gathered via one or more variations of this question: “How would you rate your overall satisfaction with the [goods/service] you received?” 

Respondents use the following 1 to 5 scale:  

  • Very unsatisfied

  • Unsatisfied

  • Neutral

  • Satisfied

  • Very satisfied

Customer Effort Score (CES) 

Customer Effort Score (CES) is a customer experience metric that measures how easy it is for a customer to do business with you through a CES survey. 

Customers rate you on a scale of 1-7 based on how much effort it takes to complete a transaction, resolve a support issue, and otherwise interact with your company/product online or in person.

The insights from Customer Effort Score surveys help you increase customer loyalty as you take steps to make it easier for customers to do business with you. 

Voice of the Customer survey tips

 Here are some quick tips and tricks to optimize your VoC surveys. 

Tip 1: Aim for a goal

When it comes to surveys, it’s best to begin with the end goal in mind. Ask yourself what are you looking to learn and why? Then craft a survey with questions that aim to provide insight and context into what you aim to achieve. 

Tip 2: Go small

Attention spans are short these days and shrinking fast. With that in mind, consider a series of short focused surveys instead of one longer survey.

Tip 3: Open with an overall rating ask

Ask for the customer’s overall rating first. That way, you are getting a gut reaction out of the gate that isn’t influenced by more in-depth questions that follow.  

Tip 4: Ask more than yes/no

Yes or no questions have their place—they provide definitive answers that are easy to analyze and offer a snapshot of how your customers feel about different aspects of your business. Yet, make sure to also use some open-ended questions that allow for more in-depth responses that provide you with detailed, actionable feedback. 

Tip 5: Avoid asking leading questions

Consumers are savvy and can quickly sniff out when they are being manipulated. Don’t let your opinions or preferences subtly encourage respondents to answer a question in a certain way. This can compromise trust and skew your survey results.

Measuring changes in Voice of the Customer over time

Change is a constant–particularly when it comes to customer sentiment. That means that VoC surveys shouldn’t be viewed as a one-and-done, but rather an ongoing commitment to capturing your customers’ evolving views on your company. 

By making a commitment to include VoC surveys as a standard part of your VoC program, you can continually track and respond to your customers, and ultimately enhance your overall customer experience. By periodically using the same survey, you can establish a baseline and then measure against that in subsequent surveys to see if you are making progress or need to adapt to changing customer expectations.  

The bottom line? Your customers have plenty to say. Voice of the customer surveys help assure you hear them loud and clear, so you can quickly respond in ways that continue to make their experience better.

That’s a win-win for your customers and your company. 

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*Net Promoter, Net Promoter System, Net Promoter Score, NPS and the NPS-related emoticons are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.