Gathering customer feedback is a mainstay in business. However, most companies have recognized that closed-ended surveys aren’t enough to gain powerful insights into the customer experience (CX). Instead, a voice of the customer (VoC) program is a necessity for any company that wants to understand and act on customer sentiment.

Today, there is good news and bad news about VoC. The good news is that most companies recognize the value of VoC and have taken the first steps into collecting open-ended feedback from customers. As KPMG notes, “Any approach to listening to the customer voice is better than not listening to it.”

The bad news? Many companies’ VoC programs hit a plateau, and progress stalls. According to annual studies of the VoC landscape by CX thought leader Bruce Temkin, most companies focus on collecting and analyzing VoC feedback. The most recent Temkin VoC data reveals that 13% of companies collaborate on VoC insights throughout the organization. A mere one percent (1%) of companies are using VoC to shape decision-making.

Clearly, companies that elevate their VoC activities can distinguish themselves as a CX leader. Your business can be among the elite few that align decision-making with VoC feedback. To succeed, you should understand the roadblocks many companies face, along with the essential building blocks for VoC success. Also, you should look to an industry-standard VoC maturity model as a guide, as well as chart milestones on your VoC path.

1. Why So Many Companies Are Struggling with VoC

While the merits of VoC are well known, the practice of VoC is still relatively immature. CX professionals often encounter frustrations on their VoC journeys and may lack the tools to take the next steps. And CX and VoC are often “long play” programs that can take time to take root. It’s no surprise that VoC success is an elusive goal for many companies.

Why is VoC so difficult? In the earliest stages of VoC, getting executives on board can be a challenge. VoC requires fundamental shifts in how organizations relate with customers and can touch many corners of the business–from marketing to product development. To embark on a VoC initiative, CX professionals need executives to sponsor and champion VoC initiatives, and also need to secure resources and financial support.

Once organizations begin collecting VoC feedback, more problems emerge. For VoC insight to be meaningful, companies need to be able to collect feedback across multiple channels- possibly in various languages. Also, VoC produces enormous volumes of unstructured feedback. While CX professionals understand that VoC feedback contains a goldmine of valuable customer insights, they can struggle to extract meaning from all of the disparate insights they collect.

2. How a VoC Program Benefits Businesses

Achieving VoC success is not always easy–but VoC does deliver quantifiable business value. According to cross-industry research from the Aberdeen Group, VoC leaders significantly outperformed companies with less-mature VoC programs. Notably, Aberdeen’s research found that best-in-class VoC leaders achieved measurable financial and operational benefits.

2.1 Financial Benefits

Companies with best-in-class VoC programs showed significant results across many key markers of corporate financial health. Importantly, these leaders saw more revenues from customer referrals–which demonstrates that a focus on customer happiness and retention brought in more business. Also, these companies enjoyed more revenue from new customers gained and higher profit margins per customer. Not only did VoC leaders see strong revenues, but they also reduced service costs.

The takeaway is clear: Listening to customers helps companies understand and address customer needs. By staying in touch with customer expectations, companies can win more business and reduce trouble spots in the customer journey.

2.2 Operational Benefits

VoC leaders also see an uptick in customer and employee engagement metrics. Overall, companies with mature VoC programs achieve higher scores on critical CX metrics–including customer effort score (CES), and Net Promoter Score. In addition, companies with best-in-class VoC programs also saw more positive social media mentions about their brand.

Of note, more employees who worked for companies with strong VoC programs rate themselves as highly focused on contributing to the business and working towards goals. These engaged employees are more likely to deliver higher service levels to customers–and that can continue to boost customer satisfaction and core CX metrics.

3. Essentials for a Successful VoC Program

Building a robust VoC program takes time. CX industry experts have identified four critical building blocks of VoC. While each component of VoC is essential, you can’t expect to master them all at once. Instead, focus on creating a baseline VoC program and growing your capabilities over time.

3.1 Know the Core Building Blocks of a VoC Program

What are the essential elements of a VoC program? You can break your VoC program into four primary activities that repeat in a continuous loop. Those activities are:

3.1.1 Listening

Every company needs multiple approaches to gathering feedback from customers. While surveys are ubiquitous, they are not the only VoC channel. You need to take an expansive view of VoC sources. According to a Harvard Business Review article, you may consider social media comments, mystery shopper feedback, review sites, and first-hand observation from frontline employees. Customer support emails and calls are valuable sources of VoC insight as well.

3.1.2 Interpreting

To derive meaning from customer feedback, you need to do more than just collect information. You need to have processes in place to identify useful themes and trends in your CX feedback. Some CX solutions provide tools to help you with this activity. For example, they may flag surveys with low scores or scan customer comments for certain trigger words. With these approaches, you can start to identify what is working and what aspects of the customer experience need attention.

3.1.3 Acting

Acting on customer feedback is critical. Many companies start with a closed-loop approach that identifies negative customer feedback and assigns it to a customer support team-member for follow up. As part of this process, a representative or manager may reach out directly to dissatisfied customers to address concerns. Also, some managers share feedback with frontline employees to help improve service levels. Companies can also use feedback to design training or make systematic operational changes to enhance customer experience.

3.1.4 Monitoring

CX professionals need to monitor their VoC programs over time. This monitoring should include both progress towards established program goals and business results. Also, CX pros should communicate often with executive stakeholders to demonstrate the value of VoC. Identifying essential CX metrics and tracking them regularly can help programs stay on course. And quantifying the return on investment (ROI) of CX and VoC can help secure further investment.

3.2 Understand the Phases of VoC Maturity

There are many VoC maturity models that you can consult. One of the simplest models has three phases. You may find it useful to use these phases to chart the advancement of your voice of the customer program.

3.2.1 Level 1: Foundational

In the first phase of your VoC journey, you focus on building a scalable CX infrastructure. Your business may implement basic survey functionality across more than one channel–such as voice and email. Over time, you may add more customer listening approaches, but starting with surveys is a wise approach. Also, you may have some limited analysis and reporting capability.

3.2.2 Level 2: Advanced

Level 2 of VoC is far more advanced than level one. In this phase, you’ll have techniques to gather and assess unsolicited feedback. You’ll also have a centralized VoC program and have secured executive support. And you’ll have more formalized processes for taking action on customer feedback and sharing insights with your leadership and frontline teams.

3.2.3 Level 3: State of The Art

At the pinnacle of VoC maturity, listening to the customer voice is an essential component of your culture. Employees at every level expect to listen to and learn from customers often. You’ll have sophisticated processes and techniques to calculate and communicate the business value of VoC.

4. Elevate Your VoC Program: Milestones on the Path to VoC Maturity

How do you know that you are making progress in VoC? You should know the typical characteristics of each level of VoC maturity. That way, you can establish goals and work towards milestones that advance your program. You’ll see where you stand and what you need to do to reach the next stage.

4.1 Characteristics of a Foundational VoC Program

In phase one, you are creating a strong foundation for CX and VoC evolution. You may have limited tools, budget, and staff, but you can make progress towards VoC maturity.

  1. Baseline Survey Functionality: Your company should have a survey solution to solicit feedback from customers. For the best results, you’ll need to secure both quantitative and qualitative feedback. And you may choose to use both relationship and post-interaction surveys.
  2. An Emphasis on Quick Wins: You will start analyzing and acting on customer feedback in phase one, but start small. Look for straightforward “find and fix” opportunities instead of pushing for a sweeping business transformation. For example, customer feedback may alert you to usability problems in your checkout process. Reworking a screen may solve the issue. Or you may find that customers are having difficulty finding answers to certain questions. Reworking a frequently asked question (FAQ) page to make common queries more prominent can be a simple, high-value fix.
  3. Ability to Close the Loop with Customers: In phase one, you’ll be able to identify customers who have had difficult encounters with your business. Most often, this involves an alerting functionality that reports on low survey scores to frontline leaders. You’ll be able to reach out to customers directly to address concerns and rebuild relationships.
  4. A Focus on Scalability: At this stage, your program will be small—but poised to grow. Look ahead to the next stages of VoC maturity and prepare yourself for them. Choose infrastructure that can scale up, and ensure your processes are repeatable by a larger team.

4.2 Characteristics of an Advanced VoC Program

Phase two of VoC maturity is a significant step forward from phase one. You’ll have a formalized program with more budget, structure, and accountability.

  1. Executive Support: During phase two, you’ll be focusing on building a more rigorous VoC program and evolving your activities. You’ll need the unwavering support of at least one executive champion. That executive can promote the merits of VoC internally and help your organization understand the merits of having a customer-centric culture. In addition, you’ll be starting to quantify and communicate your program results, which can help fortify leadership engagement.
  2. Advanced Feedback Gathering Capabilities: In phase two, you’ll start to integrate customer feedback from multiple sources. You can build on your existing survey foundation by adding questions to gain unstructured feedback. Also, you can get insight from other unsolicited and unstructured sources, such as support calls, chats, emails, and website searches.
  3. Formalized Processes for Reporting and Taking Action: You need to systematize processes for taking action on customer feedback. These processes can include taking corrective action to address negative feedback and addressing widespread issues.
  4. Involvement of Frontline Teams: During this phase, you need to communicate with and listen to your frontline employees. Institute procedures that empower customer-facing teams to share their observations of issues requiring attention. Also, devise ways to report to teams and individuals on CX performance and opportunities for improvement. You should also share positive feedback and link rewards to CX results.

4.3 Characteristics of a State-of-the-Art VoC Program

A company at the highest level of VoC maturity infuses learnings from customer feedback into every corner of their business. At this level, VoC is a core part of a company’s culture and integral to day-to-day operations.

  1. Complete Data Integration: In phase three, CX professionals can access feedback data from multiple sources. Also, they can combine CX feedback with customer data from related systems, such as customer relationship management (CRM) and point-of-sale (POS) solutions. This integration allows CX experts to identify root causes of customer dissatisfaction and recommend the right remedies.
  2. Customer-Centric Culture that Supports VoC: At the highest level of VoC maturity, VoC programs empower employees to be customer-centric. These programs provide meaningful and actionable insights to executives who can champion the needs of the customer. Also, they provide frontline team members with the tools and information they need to deliver superior experiences to customers.
  3. Focus on Quantification and Continuous Improvement: During this phase, communicating VoC business results and ROI becomes systematized. Also, your core procedures for engaging with customers and closing the loop on issues should be sound. However, you should maintain a focus on evolution. You can continue to add technologies and capabilities in order to access new insights and keep driving CX forward.
  4. Incorporate VoC into Design Processes: To derive the most meaning and value from VoC, you need to connect VoC to other parts of your business. These customer insights should influence new product design and marketing messaging. You can also share VoC feedback with web design and usability teams to optimize your digital presence.

Reaping the Rewards of Voice of the Customer Excellence

Although most businesses have made forays into customer experience, very few have reached the top levels of voice of the customer excellence. Certainly, VoC presents challenges to companies that aren’t equipped to gather, assess, or act on large volumes of unstructured feedback. But giving up on VoC isn’t the solution. Instead, knowing the three stages of VoC maturity and working through them step-by-step will ensure that your program evolves.

In the first phase of VoC, you can focus on establishing your CX foundation. You’ll launch surveys to gather feedback, and create some baseline reporting and analysis approaches. During phase two, your program will grow in influence and capability. As you formalize your processes and communicate the merits of VoC, you can gain critical backing from executives. In addition, you can gather feedback from more channels and engage with your frontline teams.

When you reach phase three, you can trust that your company is a VoC innovator. VoC will be an essential part of your corporate DNA, and employees at all levels will expect that the customer voice is part of decision-making. You’ll have a well-structured program by this point, but should maintain a focus on continuous improvement. Infuse VoC insights into every corner of your business to ensure that customer perspectives are part of strategy, product development, messaging, and web design.

The best way to tackle VoC is to get started. While you can expect to pass through distinct phases of program maturity, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to VoC success. Ultimately, the processes you adopt will be those that best fit your unique business needs. You may speed through one phase and then take your time progressing through another.

Still, the rewards of becoming a best-in-class VoC leader are clear. Your business can see higher revenues, reduced support costs, more engaged employees, and happier customers. Taken together, the benefits you gain from VoC excellence can position you for long-term success.

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