The nine steps to designing a Voice of the Customer programme
Experts share step-by-step guidance on building a Voice of the Customer programme.
While Voice of the Customer (VoC) programmes are now commonplace, there is still a big range in the maturity and rigour of these projects within enterprises.
For many organisations, the temptation is to tackle customer feedback by simply blitzing it - collecting lots of data from lots of customers, gathering as much feedback as possible. However, unless there are concrete plans about what to actually do with the data being collected, then this is futile – it’s just listening for the sake of listening, rather than listening for the sake of improving the experience. And this is common.
Brands must build a VoC strategy, and design their VoC programme if they are to optimise the feedback gathering process and the delivery of insights and, ultimately, the process of using these insights to bring about change.
The following is a list of tips for designing your VoC programme.
1. Set a VoC strategy
Before the data starts flooding in, you should ensure that your VoC programme is part of a broader long-term strategy, and that it fits in with the defined wider company goals.
It is imperative to define the key business issues that you need to address – increasing revenue, decreasing costs, driving culture change – at the outset so you can build a programme that will influence business and customer KPIs.
The VoC strategy will give you clarity on business and stakeholder goals, and provide valuable steer when it comes to the programme.
“A survey should be an integral part of an overall company, division or business unit strategy. As such, the survey has to reflect the strategic intent and what the company is ready to act on,” adds Lior Arussy of Strativity Group. “It is the starting point that dictates the fate and effectiveness of every survey. As with any dialogue, what you are seeking to achieve will dictate the tone and quality of discussion.”
See our previous article about how to build a Voice of the Customer strategy.
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2. Centralise the VoC programme
A central, integrated team responsible for all the listening, analysis and reporting can provide numerous efficiencies, as well as ensuring that the initiative is running on a single standardised set of tools are used.
“Having a centralised team is not easy, but it does mean you can look for patterns across all the feedback, and look for the themes that apply across the whole business,” says Adele Sage Budovsky, principal advisor at Forrester Research. “If you have siloed VoC teams, they are not necessarily coordinating about the themes that are applying across everything, so they may be doing things to help their particular silo that are actually hurting other parts of the business, or they are not being leveraged enough in other parts.”
3. Tie questions to your goals and ensure they are actionable
“The purpose of a survey should be to identify problem areas and effect change,” says Arussy. “Even in cases where questions are geared to behaviour validation, the goal should be to answer questions of ‘how’ rather than ‘what.’ Questions should be an invitation for meaningful discussion and feedback and should offer customers the opportunity to be part of a change process. Questions that only provide customers with the ability to validate existing company behaviour will be self-defeating and negate the real benefits that a survey can provide.”
To ensure that questions are actionable, a good tip is to ensure that the questions are geared to allowing you to achieve your or your stakeholders’ desired outcomes. Again, this is where having an overarching VoC strategy, replete with goals and definitions, comes into use.
4. Choose the survey methodology
The type of survey you will ultimately use will be influenced by what it is you’re querying. The research will either be a transactional survey (a sales call, support call or other interaction that takes place after a transaction to survey the customer while the interaction is still fresh in their memory) or a relationship survey (fielded in between transactions and focused on gauging the customer’s overall feelings related to a brand/product).
With the growing number of channels used to interact with consumers, a choice also has to be made when it comes to which should be the primary platform for the research: face-to-face, mail, phone, online, social media or mobile.
5. Ensure good survey hygiene
Survey fatigue is becoming more of a problem for brands these days, with the suggestion that businesses are now over-surveying their customers. Therefore, to optimise survey returns, brands must ensure a good customer experience, carefully considering factors such as length and wording, as well as the timing of when you field the survey.
“There are two parts to the problem,” says Sage. “One is getting people to take the survey in the first place and the second is getting them to finish it.
“To get people to start, it is important to have a compelling invitation. This could be some kind of incentive, but often the most effective thing is to show that you get value out of the feedback. If I could give one piece of advice, it would be to demonstrate that your brand does something with the results. In the invitation, describe the kinds of things you’re doing as a result of feedback. If people taking the survey think it is worth them taking the time to tell the company about the experience because their feedback is going to be used, then that is very powerful.
“And in terms of getting people to finish the survey once they’ve started, I recommend things like keeping it short, and not asking questions that you already know the answers to, not asking questions that you don’t have any plans for what you’ll do with that data –which is a common problem.”
6. Ensure good sample hygiene
“You need a representative sample, and the big fear is non-responsive bias,” says Sage. “Just because you find something, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true, because of the non-responders. And that keeps people up at night – am I getting responses that accurately reflect what customers think as opposed to what the people who take my surveys are passionate about? There are ways you can overcome the non-responsive bias in your data and it is really important to take the time to perform the right data hygiene measures so that you can confidently say the sample is representative and the data is representative as a result.”
Key points include ensuring that a sufficient sample size is obtained, ensuring that demographics are obtained and aligned properly, with the results appropriately weighed to ensure alignment with the target market. By following data cleansing best practice, organisations can ensure sample quality. If external sample providers are being used then it’s important to work with reputable vendors.
7. Combine insights from across the business
If you have centralised the programme, then this process will be part of the dedicated VoC team. But even if you haven’t set up a centralised group, it is important to combine all the cross-functional and cross-business insights together, not forgetting to include the voice of the employee in the insights – remember that your frontline staff receive feedback via their customer interactions and need somewhere to share this information. This can complement the direct customer feedback.
"Make sure you collect information from across your organisation – add VoC data to ERP and CRM platforms, employee feedback systems and external benchmarking data to create a single view of the customer," advises Claire Sporton, SVP, CX innovation at Confirmit.
Even if you haven’t set up a centralised group, it is important to combine all the cross-functional and cross-business insights together, not forgetting to include the voice of the employee in the insights.
"Analyse data to create a clear view of the issues and opportunities. Tactically, this means using alerts, for example about dissatisfied customers or poorly performing team members to improve problem resolution and retention, or about happy customers to motivate employees and leverage positive word-of-mouth. Strategically, aggregate data to identify key drivers from your customers’ point of view to help you to prioritise long term investments that will drive business change."
8. Disseminate actionable insights
While programmes are focused on feedback collection and sophisticated analysis, sometimes they don’t disseminate the insights as successfully as they should. So how insights are communicated needs to be examined. But even if you get the right insights to the right people, it still may not be enough to effect change.
The VoC programme team is rarely responsible for making any changes to the experience – they are not the people who own the website or the call centre or own product design, for instance. Therefore there is a limit to what they can do, which is trying to convince others that the data is important and should be listened to.
“It’s not just necessarily disseminating because they’re probably cranking our reports and doing presentations and so the challenge is less about getting the information out and more about getting people to do something with the information they send out,” says Sage. “Companies can use reports and dashboards and presentations as a call to action – to say based on this data we need to do this and fix this. It must be directly spelled out what needs to actually be done and why. And this can become a good challenge for people in the organisation – they know they need to fix something, so they must figure out what is really wrong and identify the right solution. And that is something that is manageable versus receiving a whole bunch of data and now knowing what to do with it.”
Properly disseminating insight means communicating the Voice of the Customer in a way that makes the insights come to life, perhaps using narratives, storytelling or real customer examples. It can also be useful to have VoC ‘champions’ spread out across the organisation to help the centralised team get the message across.
“If you have people who are champions within the business, then you are far more likely to be successful because these people can support you and they can understand the business and the VoC programme, and act as a bridge,” says Sage.
9. Act and review
Arussy says: “The tendency to over-analyse results and endlessly discuss proposed actions can severely limit change. Rather than attempting to fix everything, use a prioritisation mechanism to identify a few critical areas that can make an immediate and positive impact on customers. Move quickly from identification to execution.”
“Close the loop with individual customers,” says Sporton. “This allows you to deliver quick wins, and is often easily linked to short-term financial benefits. In parallel, build the foundations that will deliver long-term results: tailored reports that give insights on a larger scale – i.e. what you need to know about your most profitable opportunities.”
She adds: “It’s vital that you review your goals and revise them regularly. Examine all aspects of the programme with a cross-functional team of experts, to seek continuous improvements, to re-focus on new issues as they arise and to adjust your priorities along the way.”
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Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.