The "voice of the customer" (VoC) refers to the feedback, opinions, and preferences expressed by customers regarding a product, service, or overall customer experience.
It is a term commonly used in business to emphasise the importance of understanding and meeting customer needs and expectations.
Why? Because more and more businesses are putting their customers first.
Sales and profits are still significant. But building long-term customer loyalty and nurturing those business-to-consumer relationships is the best way for brands to flourish in a hyper-competitive era and when customers can be swayed elsewhere in just a few clicks.
The key to building that loyalty and nurturing those relationships is giving your customer an amazing experience. It needs to be seamless across channels. It needs to be personalised. It needs to make them want to come back and, better yet, shout about that experience to their friends and family.
Why is Voice of the Customer important?
To create amazing customer experiences, we need to know what our customers think and feel.
We can understand something about our customers from the hard numbers – the kind of data many of us are used to seeing in website analytics – where we can dig into things like on-site behaviour, returning customer traffic, or conversion rates.
But this is only part of the story.
Voice of the Customer takes on board customer sentiment. It tells you what the customer’s perception and expectations are of your products, service, or brand as a whole.
This is crucial. After all, Perceptions drive behaviour.
We know that whether you are the most expensive retailer compared to your competition doesn’t really matter. If customers perceive that to be the case, then it might be something that needs to be addressed.
You can only really know what perceptions your customers have about your brand by listening to them.
The benefits of a Voice of the Customer program
A VoC program gives you the most comprehensive understanding of your customers.
First, it allows you to gather feedback from various sources. Whether your customers are talking about you in support emails, live chat, on social media, or reviews on your product pages – a Voice of the Customer program will draw all of this together to start building a picture of what your customers think throughout the path to purchase and beyond.
Where are your pain points? What is prompting shoppers to look at competitors? Why are we seeing such a massive spike in customer returns?
From here, your VoC program can unify this feedback with other forms of data.
To make it usable, you need to assign quantitative (numerical) tags to the qualitative (free text) content your customers provide. What trends are emerging? Can this data be used to segment particular groups of customers better? What about customer lifetime value (CLTV) or net promoter scores (NPS)?
Beyond this, a VoC program can make this unified data genuinely actionable.
What within your CX needs to be addressed, and who within your business is best placed to take the necessary steps to make improvements?
You’ve got the feedback from your customers. You’ve turned it into usable data. Now it’s time to actually use it.
The real benefit of a VoC program is using that feedback to make positive changes for your customers and brand.
How companies are changing the business landscape with VoC
Customer feedback is not a new phenomenon. But our ability to truly analyse that feedback and to unify it with other data to create a single source of customer truth is the real opportunity for businesses in the post-Covid era.
Gartner predicts that by 2025, 60% of organisations with VoC programs will supplement traditional surveys by analysing voice and text interactions with customers. Here at Chattermill, we work with many brands to help them do that. It is already our reality.
H&M are one such brand, as Ross MacFarlane details in our CX Leaders Roundtable: How to solve customer friction in eCommerce. The company was founded in Scandinavia but scaled up to include both UK and US markets. MacFarlane found that particular language nuances only came to light when digging into customer sentiment.
‘We had a European size model that did not work for our UK customers, it did not work for our US customers, and it did not work for our Asian customers,’ MacFarlane says. ‘We went on a long journey on listening to customers and getting customer input and really trying to decentralise the way we standardise our sizing.’
The significant discovery for H&M was that there was a different perception between size and fit. In short, the issue was more on sizing – which called for tweaks to product pages with more images and detail to give customers a better idea of what they would receive after ordering.
VoC is not, however, just the priority for well-established name brands such as H&M. UK-based musicMagpie emerged in the late 2000s into a vertical already dominated by the likes of Amazon and eBay.
Since then, musicMagpie has positioned itself as the number one platform for buying and selling the country's refurbished tech and physical media products.
Although customer support had always been at the heart of the business, it was only through implementing a VoC program with Chattermill that the company could automatically tag the 70,000 or so monthly user interactions it would receive.
By properly analysing VoC, the brand was able to overhaul its fulfilment and delivery offer – especially during the peak shopping season. The result significantly boosted customer sentiment and shopper satisfaction, saving their staff around 200 hours of work time every month.
How to build a successful voice of customer program
There are three steps to building a successful VoC program.
First, collect customer feedback.
Different brands across varying industries will see customers providing feedback at different touchpoints. Customer support emails, social media channels, and online review sites are critical places in the digital context. It is also important to note that the types of feedback will vary from channel to channel and dependent on when in the path-to-purchase your customers are providing it.
Often, brands must be proactive in ensuring the lines are open for users to be forthcoming with their reviews. Feedback surveys with open-ended questions can be sent out at specific times across the customer journey to really start to identify pain points along the way.
Additionally, it isn’t always about online feedback. Businesses with offline touchpoints, such as bricks and mortar stores, can gather feedback in-store, and customer service calls can be recorded for analysis too.
Second, this feedback needs to be analysed.
We’ve touched on transforming qualitative data into quantitative data above. This is called coding – assigning a numerical tag to each piece of feedback. It can be done manually, but it is better to have the necessary tools to carry out this tagging automatically.
Similarly, when looking at trends and patterns within this transformed data, using an AI-powered tool such as Chattermill to dig out the insight from these numbers is the best course of action.
Third, act on it.
This is crucial for your VoC program – taking that feedback to inform your CX strategy.
Chattermill’s Dave Ascott sums it up in the following way:
‘You want to get the voice of the customer into the business. You need to get the data, to understand it, and to distribute it to those who can take action.’
Those who can take action could be your marketing department – which might need to tweak content and messaging somewhere. It might be an operations manager switching delivery suppliers. Or it might be your product development team who needs to rethink the product's next iteration.
The key is that the information gathered from VoC can be utilised as soon as it needs to be – and can be embedded into process and strategy going forward.
Voice of Customer program best practices
Unify customer feedback across data channels
At Chattermill, we call this Unified Customer Intelligence. Drawing together data from as many diverse sources as possible to give the most comprehensive understanding of your customers you can get.
When it comes to VoC, we are primarily concerned with customer feedback, reviews, and online messages gathered from places like social media. But this also needs to be paired with other kinds of data, including returns data, transactional data, conversions – anything that can help deliver insight about your consumers.
Unify departments with a single source of truth
While we talk a lot about unifying data, we are also very hot on unifying departments within businesses. For customer-centric brands, gone are the days of siloed teams not talking to each other.
All the data in the world isn’t much help if separate teams within your organisation don’t have the same access to it.
The single source of truth about your customers can give the whole business a more acute focus on improving the customer experience and ensure all the teams work together towards a shared goal.
Use dashboards and reports to surface insights to the right people
Part of getting the single source of truth to all teams within the organisation and making your VoC data properly actionable comes from how it is presented to them.
Internal reporting is a no-brainer. Real-time dashboards that all teams have access to are crucial too. They ensure everyone – from customer support teams to product teams – has access to that single source of truth and is best equipped to respond agilely.
Deliver clear ROI and business results
Linking VoC – and customer experience more broadly – to ROI is a constant challenge for brands.
Here at Chattermill, we also know how important it is to prove, on a financial level, that investing in listening to your customers is beneficial for the bottom line and for getting future buy-in.
One fundamental way to understand the impact customer experience is having on ROI is to focus on customer retention.
Suppose you can track positive sentiment in your VoC data with more purchases from returning customers. In that case, it becomes clear that what is driving that sentiment is driving that retention.
Whatever it is that is making those customers happy enough to return repeatedly would result in more churn and less customer loyalty if it was not in place.
Why it’s time to really focus on your customers
Consumers complaining about or advocating for brands is really nothing new.
Likewise, the explosion of big data is not news anymore.
But we are at a turning point in terms of being able to understand what customers say from the thousands of pieces of unstructured text your business receives every month. And those businesses that are proactive with unified customer intelligence are set to have that competitive edge over the next few years.
Brands of all sizes and across all verticals know that they need to be able to compete on CX to retain customers as their habits change and they become increasingly disloyal.
Businesses know that in the post-Covid era, retention is a more worthwhile investment than acquisition – and it is those experiences that make consumers say “Wow!” and want to shout about it online and offline which are really going to drive that retention.
Voice of the Customer Template - Download
Uncovering your voice of the customer is an essential part of shaping buyer personas and your customer journey map. Download our voice of the customer template below to get started on your program and learn more about what your customers think and feel.