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They say that there’s very little these days that everyone agrees upon, but I—of course—do not agree with that sentiment either. When it comes to customer experience (CX), I can think of many, many things we all know to be true.

We can all agree customers expect more of us than ever. We all feel it. Research reflects it, too: 76% of consumers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations.

We can agree there are more customer interactions than ever before, and some of that is our own fault. With advances in and the rapid adoption of technology, we’re able to interact with customers in different ways and places all along the customer journey.

We can also agree that customer experience is more important than ever. Some are calling CX the new marketing, others are calling it the new brand. By next year, customer experience will outpace price and product as the most important differentiator for B2B customers. B2C customers, who already say it’s easier than ever to take business elsewhere, will follow.

This is one of the reasons having a far-reaching Voice of the Customer (VoC) initiative is so important. If you don’t understand what your customers need or expect—what they like and dislike —how on Earth can you deliver? How can you give your customer a voice within your business? A VoC program must be capable of finding the true pulse of the customer so that businesses can use that information to make the company better.

Understanding the value of your Voice of the Customer (VoC) program

For most businesses, understanding the Voice of the Customer is like trying to figure out how to experience the Grand Canyon. With something so massive, where do we start? How do we begin?

Stop No. 1: map your customer journey

To become a customer-centric organization, Stop No. 1 means you understand and can map out your customer journey.

Too many companies focus on customer touchpoints. A touchpoint is any interaction that might influence the way your customer feels about your product, brand, or business. They are the individual transactions through which customers get to know you. There can be dozens—even hundreds—of touchpoints.

Ask any customer experience expert, and they will tell you to evaluate and improve customer journeys, not touchpoints. Unlike a customer touchpoint, a customer journey has a beginning and an end.

It’s the way you onboard a new client, the way your mobile app functions for your customers, or the way your customer experiences a product return or exchange. A customer journey is the path a customer has to take to complete a task, not the series of steps involved in completing the task (those are the touchpoints).

We focus on customer journeys because they are more strongly correlated with business outcomes than touchpoints. A recent McKinsey survey showed customer satisfaction with health insurance is 73% more likely when customer journeys work well than when only touchpoints do.

The same survey showed that when hotels get the customer journey right, customers are 61% more willing to recommend the hotel than customers of hotels that only focus on touchpoints. There is greater ROI when the holistic customer journey is the focus.

Stop No. 2: identify the VoC data that best helps you measure your performance

Stop No. 2 is determining which VoC data best tells you how your customer journeys are performing. Sixty-two percent of marketers say they feel overwhelmed by the amount of data they have, and 85% are unable to fully utilize that data. But, remember this: the goal isn’t to measure everything. The goal is to measure the right things.

If you’ve ever written something—a book, a presentation, even a blog post—think of VoC data the way you would think of the writing process. As you know, not every detail makes it into the final edit. The same is true with data. Not every data point is relevant to the goals and objectives you’re trying to achieve.

VoC data can be used to generate ideas, improve customer experience, and measure customer satisfaction. Each of these is a valid business goal, but none of these is measured in the exact same way. If you don’t have the data that supports what you need to know, put a measurement in place to learn it.

If you leap into VoC without knowing which direction your compass is pointing, the amount of available data—even the starting point—can be overwhelming. Ancient mariners sailed and explored using the stars as guidance. Data is the modern marketer’s equivalent.

Stop No. 3: evaluate your VoC program

Now, move on to Stop No. 3, and evaluate your VoC program. Remember, an established VoC solution is capable of finding the true pulse of the customer, and that information is used to improve a business. Hence, here’s how I judge the overall health of VoC:

  1. Participation rate in measurement mechanism (e.g., surveys, website studies, or the number of customer service interactions on Twitter).
  2. The number of insights gleaned from the data.
  3. Subsequent NPS/CSAT scores and retention rates.

It is a challenge to broadly benchmark these indicators because the number of variables is infinite. This is why organizations should begin by establishing internal benchmarks through a pilot program.

Use that test as an opportunity to see how many surveys were filled out, to understand the quality of the feedback being received, etc. Then, work steadily to move the mark.

Stop No. 4: exceeding expectations equals great CX

Stop No. 4 is a little trickier, only because every business is different and every combination of data varies. But here’s the common thread: Great customer experience happens when you exceed customer expectations.

Every time a customer interacts with a business of any type, that customer has an idea of how that interaction will go. That’s the customer expectation. When a business exceeds that expectation, it has succeeded. When a business falls short of a customer’s expectation, it has not.

Unless you know how to exceed customer expectations you’re stabbing in the dark. This is why businesses rely on multiple types of data along the customer journey to understand what needs to be addressed.

Consider JetBlue, one of the leading airline carriers in the U.S., who—from the beginning—has committed to exceeding its passengers’ expectations for value and comfort.

JetBlue uses a variety of VoC data to execute on its customer experience vision. For example, 82% of JetBlue passengers don’t care about being able to take their bags on a flight for free. Instead, they preferred less expensive tickets. JetBlue answered and created a pricing structure its passengers to sync with their preferences, not the industry status quo.

Passenger feedback from a Philadelphia-based airport alerted JetBlue to dissatisfaction. The airline tracked this back to a lack of amenities for early morning travelers. JetBlue responded by passing out water, juice, and coffee to customers at that airport.

Your VoC data may not be as structured as JetBlue’s. JetBlue has a massive, mature VoC program. For those of you getting started, remember there is a treasure trove of customer insight in unstructured data and while it can seem overwhelming, the quality of feedback in unstructured data is significant. Let me explain.

In this article, I’ve talked about the fact that marketers feel overwhelmed by how much data is available to them, thus making ROI—or the path to ROI—a muddied one.

Here’s an example I love to talk about because it illustrates how having the opposite perspective can be beneficial. Le Pain Quotidien is an international bakery-restaurant group. The former director of customer experience, Erin Pepper, and her team find insights in unstructured data. In this case, they search and analyze customer reviews. In fact, when Erin started as the director of customer experience, her goal was to triple the number of complaints the bakery chain received because she knew analyzing and sifting through that information was a way to improve the customer experience. That’s the key. Improving customer experience is what leads to ROI.

Specifically, while working on deep VoC analysis, Erin and her team noticed a puzzling trend: many customers complained about lemonade in the southern California region. This was unexpected because Le Pain Quotidien is known to have excellent lemonade. It’s one of the calling cards of the brand, typically. With a further review, Erin discovered the region had accidentally been using the incorrect recipe for the lemonade in their locations. The error was fixed, and customer complaints about lemonade abated.

How your CX vision impacts ROI

Here’s something else we can all agree on: Improving customer experience and measuring the ROI of those improvements is an easier assignment when the purpose of our customer experience is tied to a business goal the entire organization can buy into.

The world’s greatest companies do this. One of the most recognizable examples is from the Walt Disney Company: We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere. Like I mentioned earlier, JetBlue made a commitment to exceeding its passengers’ expectations around value and comfort.

Having a clear vision statement for your business’s CX strategy aligns your employees around a common purpose and goal for your customers regardless of your employees’ functional lane. The vision statement is a conviction about who you are as a CX-focused organization. With that conviction, it’s clear what’s important to the organization and how to work methodically toward that goal.

Free Guide: How to Run a Successful VoC Program

This guide will teach you how to launch a VoC program, take action with your customer feedback, and prove the ROI of your efforts.

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Voice of the Customer (VoC) educational video

We’re not the only ones obsessed with the Voice of the Customer. In fact, we recently partnered with our friends at Forrester and launched a webinar on how to build a simple and effective VoC program that impacts the bottom line.

The webinar covered:

  • Why VoC is a critical pillar in a strong CX strategy.
  • How to build a simple and effective VoC Program.
  • How to quantify the business impact of your VoC efforts.

Check out the full webinar recording here.