You’re committed to understanding the voice of the customer, now what?

Introducing the voice of the customer into any organization has the potential to help transform good companies to great companies. More importantly, when a company truly commits to ensuring every customer’s experience is as effortless or rewarding as possible, you have the opportunity to transform the relationship from customer to evangelist.

Whether the needs or requirements of the customers are derived through direct meetings, one-on-one interviews, surveys, contact forms, focus groups, sales team anecdote or customer service interactions, the idea of the process is to capture the specific requests and the motivations of your customers (internal or external) and use that input to drive improvements or innovation across your products or services. So, what do you need to think about before getting started collecting these customer insights, and what should you watch out for along the way?

 

Customers can offer perspective, not answers

As you commit to introducing the voice of the customer into your branding, marketing, operations or innovation functions, you should understand that what customers can offer are suggestions, opinions, guideposts, et al. It’s directional, maybe even inspirational. But if you expect that a conversation, virtual or direct, with your customers can deliver a fully baked solution to their unmet needs or unresolved complaints, you’ll be disappointed. The voice of the customer describes a more detailed map of your current universe, not the informed business strategy to make it better.

 

Your market segmentation should inform the process

For most businesses, one segment does not fit all. So, when creating a true voice of the customer process it’s important to understand how your customers are segmented and how needs vary by segment. Prioritizing those segments is just as important, so that you can consider the relative importance of their voices in directing downstream improvement and innovation efforts.  

For example, if you have a classic 80/20 type of segmentation—where 80% of your revenues are derived from top 20% of your customers—you might want to give a higher priority to satisfying the needs of that top 20%. Unless, of course you think your greatest growth opportunities come from meeting the unmet needs—new features, distribution channels, bundle options, specs, materials, price points, etc.—of that disengaged 80%.

 

Align with your business goals and mission

Not everything your customers have to say will benefit your business. Not everything your customers want is within the company’s ability to deliver. So, it makes sense to structure your voice of the customer process in a way that maximizes your ROV (return on voice).

While there is always value in gaining broad knowledge, most companies have limited resources, time and human capital, and focusing areas of inquiry that are aligned more closely to the business goals and mission will increase the likelihood of coming out the other side with actionable insights. If you’re a tire manufacturer, it may be fascinating to understand your customers’ feelings about the future of self-driving vehicles (and there may be strategic value in those insights long term), but it’s more likely that delving into the experience of researching, choosing and purchasing tires will deliver that nugget of insight that can be used to be more competitive today.

 

Choose the right methodology

As outlined above, there are myriad ways in which a company can collect feedback from their customers. If you might be more competitive with a different pricing strategy, you can use simple quantitative surveys to gauge interest levels among different segments at different price points. Or, you could conduct a more formal price elasticity study.

If you are considering expanding feature sets or functionality, you may want to perform more qualitative research like focus groups or ethnography to understand the nuance of how your customers interact with your brand, products or services, and where there are opportunities to improve the experience.

As a gut check, always ask yourself if the format of the data created by the methodology matches the expected method of analysis. Feelings don’t generally slot well into a spreadsheet formula.

 

Clear a path for change

Far too often, companies engage in a voice of the customer process before having any real understanding, alignment or commitment across the business to listen, let alone act to drive improvements. To realize maximum value, there needs to be consensus among leadership as to how the results of the research will inform and drive strategic decision making. That consensus and commitment can mean the difference between the process being an expense or a truly valuable investment in the future.