Voice of the Customer (VoC) is a powerful tool that can be your beacon to decision-making and understanding your customers’ changing needs, no matter what the outside world throws at your organization.
Anticipating and meeting customers’ needs is difficult in the best of times, but the current climate has made it especially challenging.
Before COVID-19, customers could purchase goods online from retailers such as Amazon, but now they expect the same ease of use from traditional brick-and-mortar businesses. They also quickly transferred their expectation of easy, point-and-click service to industries like insurance and banking, which don’t produce physical products.
In other words, before COVID-19, companies that quickly identified changes in customer needs and responded with products, services or solutions that met those needs were the most likely to succeed. After COVID-19, those companies will be the ones most likely to survive.
Now, consider the many other uncertainties we face:
- Small businesses struggling to get federal aid
- Unprecedented unemployment
- Employees balancing stay-at-home orders and their new roles as teachers, short-order cooks and entertainment purveyors
- A roller-coaster stock market
- Daily fears of a pending recession, to say nothing of the fear of contracting the virus
It all makes keeping up with customer needs even more difficult, while raising the stakes for doing so even higher.
The good news? We have access to a strategic-input mechanism that can deliver the customer insights your organization needs to stay in front of market conditions, adapt to change, and experience less volatility when the economy faces its natural ebbs and flows—long after this crisis has passed.
That mechanism is Voice of the Customer (VoC). In this post, I will describe VoC and how to start making it a beacon that helps you make decisions that meet your customers’ changing needs in a volatile landscape.
The 10,000-Foot View
Before digging in, let’s look at some characteristics of companies succeeding in today’s environment.
These companies understand that customer behavior and preferences have shifted dramatically toward digital channels and interfaces, offering multi-modal distribution. They use programs like marketing automation and outbound relationship management to proactively seek out ways to help their customers through difficult situations and to make life easy for them. That’s how they build brand equity and trust with their customers.
These companies also have adopted a global access approach. They understand customers now want all things delivered digitally, from shopping and education to work and even medicine. They embraced a virtual revolution that is changing everything from the customer experience perspective—and customers are eating it up.
If your organization is fighting these concepts, now is the time to change—and VoC is the place to start.
How VoC Works
VoC is one of those wonderful terms that sounds like exactly what it is—the process of capturing, well, the “voice of the customer.” But how do you do that?
Traditionally, tools like customer surveys would come into play here. But today’s technology offers so much more than simply asking questions and hoping customers tell you how they feel. Data and analytics offer virtually unlimited pathways to your customers’ needs across the entire customer experience, from how they want to move about your website to whether they want packages on the porch or in the mailbox.
Many pathways and technologies exist for creating a VoC program for your organization. Still, the crux of each one is developing the ability to transform raw customer data—both qualitative and quantitative—into useful information that aids planning and decision-making up and down your value chain.
But to succeed, your VoC program must be an integral part of strategic development and business operations. Always keeping your value chain in mind is critical. Insights from customers should permeate through the organization to establish a shared or common vision that every part of the organization rallies around and works towards.
Your VoC program also must be an ongoing part of your future. It is not a one-and-done effort. It is an ongoing learning system that allows any organization to grow with its customers as market conditions, needs and behaviors evolve. In most cases, it means creating new functional areas and integrating these into the business.
How to Implement Your VoC Program
Standing up a VoC initiative isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be overly complex, either.
Many organizations start with what they have access to—their existing customer data. That’s smart because with the artificial intelligence and machine learning tools available today, the customer data you already have is a gold mine.
However, you still need the true “voice” of the customer, and you need to actively seek their input on everything from the online experiences they desire to products they want and the level of satisfaction they expect—and deserve!
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you start implementing your VoC:
- You can overthink it! Most organizations sell to and service customers, whether they sell sneakers or stocks. A VoC program centered on that simple product-to-customer taxonomy can lead to deep, immersive insights about channel effectiveness, product selection and value proposition, fulfillment, competitive set, relationship management and lifetime value — all of which affect both front and back-office operations.
- Not all information is useful. Not every insight is equally valuable to your customers or your business, so you will need to create a process that identifies the impact and feasibility of acting on different insights.
- Keep your operating model options open. How you put your VoC together is about what types of information you want to acquire and use. It’s equally important to consider how it fits into your organization.
Some common operating models include:
- Structured vs. Unstructured: Both are valuable, but why and how can you use each?
- Solicited vs. Unsolicited: Again, both are valuable, but how can you be sure you’re getting what you need?
- Community of Practice vs. Center of Excellence: How does VoC fit into your organization?
- Centralized vs. Federated: How do you want to run your VoC operation?
Generally, all of these models have pros or cons that will vary in importance depending on key factors such as your organizational structure, your product or service, and your culture. The one exception is that a federated model is usually preferable to a centralized model because centralization defeats the capability and purpose of gathering shared insights with a sense of common purpose or intent.
Now is the perfect time to set a path for the future with a well-designed VoC program. Your customers’ insights will help pave the way to the future and influence your upcoming strategic decisions and investments, no matter what your organization may face.