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Redefining Voice of Customer in 2020

Jun 30, 2020 2:37:30 PM

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VoC is likely a familiar acronym for you. Most articles out there define Voice of Customer (VoC) as a methodology used to uncover what customers want, analyze customer actions, and deliver a customer-centric experience. 

When it’s done well, the best Voice of Customer software helps companies provide better customer experiences, generate customer advocacy, and grow their bottom line. When businesses know what their customers are looking for, they can make better business decisions to better serve their customers’ unique needs. In fact, companies that prioritize and manage customer experience effectively are three times more likely to significantly exceed their business goals. 

But over the last couple of years, VoC programs have been changing — they’ve been forced to change — due to how fragmented customer feedback has become. Customers are reacting to their experience with your business everywhere, and getting meaningful insight out of feedback spread across multiple channels can be overwhelming.

The good news is that the secret to VoC is in the name — quite literally, if you’re trying to understand your customer experience, listening to what they bother to put in their own words is a good place to start. To hone in on what customers are saying to you, well-executed VoC in 2020 brings three new challenges:

  1. More than ever, your customers expect that you are listening: Proactively listening to your customer voice is more important than ever. Customers know what a good experience is, and they won’t tolerate a bad one. According to Salesforce’s 2019 State of the Connected Customer Report, “84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services — that’s up from 80% in 2018.” And if you aren’t listening — you can bet your competitors are. 57% of customers have stopped buying from a company because one of their competitors provided a better experience.
  2. Your customer voice is distributed across more channels than ever: More companies have embraced omnichannel support — and that means feedback now comes in many different forms. According to NTT’s Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report, most companies engage via an average of eight contact channels, yet two-thirds have no cross-channel contact management strategy. From helpdesks, call centers, shared Slack channels, third-party review sites to social media, customers are more vocal about their needs in more channels than ever, and the dispersion makes it even harder to listen. And not only is customer feedback important — but so are their behaviors. If you’re only gathering customer insight through surveys, you’re missing out on 90% of the picture.
  3. There’s more data to analyze, but companies need to make decisions faster: Companies have five times as much data about their customers now as they did three years ago. This can lead to data overload and analysis paralysis for many companies that are trying to listen to all of their customers’ voices at once. Fortunately, the methods of analyzing VoC are improving exponentially. From managing information pipelines to AI analysis, data-driven decision making is critical to effective prioritization in connecting listening to real outcomes. 

Below, we dive into what a robust VoC program looks like in 2020, and how you can set your own organization up for success in the coming years. 

Listen or lose them.  

Customer needs change over time, which is one of the many reasons the most successful customer experience efforts are grounded in VoC. Keeping in tune with your customers’ needs will translate into higher retention rates, higher return on marketing investments, and decreased customer support costs. McKinsey drives this home in their guide to customer experience: “Armed with advanced analytics, Customer Experience leaders gain rapid insights to build customer loyalty, make employees happier, achieve revenue gains of 5 to 10 percent, and reduce costs by 15 to 25 percent within two or three years.” 

The flip side is that the businesses that aren’t listening will lose customers. B2B businesses are increasingly held to the same standard as B2C giants like Zappos and Apple. For businesses built on recurring-revenue business models, this poses a serious concern. If you don’t meet your customers’ high expectations, they’ll leave. One-third of all customers will leave a business after only one bad experience  even with a brand they love. Because of the flexibility of monthly contracts, keeping churn low is critical for B2B businesses.

VoC insights don’t just help to identify unsatisfied customers and opportunities for improvement — they also help you identify what’s working and double-down on it. Aberdeen’s June 2019 report on the Voice of the Customer found that top CX performers are “22% more likely to use VoC insights to unearth brand advocates (84% vs. 69%) and 23% more likely to determine which of those advocates share positive word-of-mouth about the company brand, its products, or services.”  

Go beyond surveys to make VoC a leading vs. lagging indicator.

Customer surveys have traditionally been a pivotal part of a customer experience strategy. Giving customers more opportunities to leave feedback and analyzing survey responses used to be considered the best practice for customer-centric organizations. 

However, while survey scores can be useful benchmarks, they carry risks: low response rates, selection bias, and long lead times required to gather enough feedback. The stakes are too high in customer relationships, and business leaders can’t take chances anymore. 68% of CX professionals strongly agree that customer expectations are rising, and because of that, 47% believe it is getting harder to please customers. Recurring-revenue business models can’t afford to rely on proxy data like surveys, when customers are already telling you what they need, day in and day out. 

Not only that, but your customers are already telling you what they think outside of surveys — and they don’t want to repeat themselves. You need to be listening to what customers are saying to you through the channels they are already using, whether that’s a support ticket, an email, a phone conversation, or a public comment on a community forum. Imagine having a frustrating experience with a support agent, only to get yet another survey after the conversation, asking how it went — surely they already know that it didn’t go well? 

Aberdeen Research Hub found that top CX performers are 19% more likely to use behavioral data and other indirect sources of feedback. It’s no secret why: when you amplify your customers’ voice by listening closely, you can make more informed, more impactful business decisions. 

If you’re just relying on customer surveys, you’re only hearing from a small percentage of your audience, and typically only from those with a strong opinion. Instead, combine active listening across multiple channels with behavioral observations such as product usage, engagement, and churn rates. The result is a strong combination of quantitative and qualitative data that can drive near and long term strategy. 

High-performing CX organizations are nine times more likely to integrate data from multiple sources and analyze interactions across channels. These sources can be anything from customer support tickets to phone calls, emails, and CRM data, to conversations in a Slack community. 

A unified, real-time view of your customers’ voice across all channels is the only way to understand what drives positive and negative outcomes. Without looking across the entire customer journey, companies can never truly understand their CX, and if they can’t understand it, they can’t improve it. Only by bringing all relevant channels together can you turn VoC into a leading indicator instead of a lagging one. 

Use VoC data to take action.

To make your VoC program worthwhile, you need to act on the data it generates. Forrester says that “the ability to transform enterprise data into insights, which in turn trigger actions that affect tangible business outcomes” is increasingly one of the highest priorities for customer-obsessed organizations. 

The key is taking all of the data gathered from listening intently across channels and prioritizing action items that will have the greatest effect on improving customer experience. Instead of guessing what customers want, or gathering survey results for confirmation, acting on data-based intelligence has a higher return on investment. Over two-thirds of CIOs say that their firm “has changed or is changing its management culture to rely on more quantitative decisions.”

There are three important pieces to using VoC data effectively. 

The first is using the right technology to analyze VoC data. Companies have more data than ever before, so implementing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can help sort through that data for the gems of insight. Advances in AI are expected to have a positive influence on customer experience operations by 77% of enterprises. According to Econsultancy, 36% of CX leaders are already using AI or ML, and 28% plan to invest in them. 

Secondly, those insights generated by your VoC program need to be easily accessible to teams in different departments who need to take action, and by senior leaders who need to make strategic decisions. If every department isn’t able to take advantage of the data, your VoC program isn’t working effectively. 

Finally, companies need to couch their VoC data within CRM context, such as deal size and renewal dates. With this additional information, companies can understand the trade-offs of their prioritization decisions. For example, prioritizing one piece of feedback over another may save one large customer at the expense of a group of smaller long-tail customers. But without the financial context, you’d never know which course of action would yield the highest return on investment. 

What VoC means for you

Every department interacts with VoC data differently. Customer-facing teams know that it’s essential to listen to what the customer is saying — but VoC is much bigger than that. It’s a systematic approach to unifying data from all relevant sources, analysis, and action that puts the customer front and center. 

Customer Experience
For customer experience teams, VoC informs everything they do. From forming the basis of end-to-end journey mapping to product feedback suggestions, CX teams rely on high-quality VoC data for direction. Without it, CX teams struggle to make an impact on business-level metrics. 

Customer Support
Out of all the departments, customer support generates the most unfiltered customer feedback. A VoC program can help design a well-rounded customer support strategy. VoC data, such as customer satisfaction surveys and sentiment analysis, can also be used to help manage individual agent performance.  

Customer Success
By nature, customer success is a proactive department. VoC data can act as an early warning system to help customer success teams prioritize account outreach. In the technology industry, CX leaders spend 36% more time proactively checking in with their customers, according to Bain & Company. With robust VoC insights, that time is spent wisely because success managers know what their customers are looking for, and when it's most impactful to be in touch. 

VoC in 2020: Listening and Acting Everywhere 

The definition of VoC is changing. Where reading responses to customer surveys used to be enough, it falls short of customer expectations today. Today, companies have more data and better technology available to them. And 75% of customers expect businesses to use that new technology to provide a better experience for them. In 2020, VoC requires businesses to listen to what their customers are saying, on every channel. Using AI and ML, businesses will be better equipped to find the “why” behind their VoC and take appropriate, high-impact action in response to customer feedback. 

Together, holistic listening, analysis, and action form the basis of a robust VoC program that will deliver a best-in-class customer experience.

Mary Cleary

Written by Mary Cleary