Is “Voice of Customer” Still Relevant to Today’s Marketer?

Steve Jobs famously quipped that he didn’t really listen to customers before developing the iPod and Henry Ford said that if he had asked customers what they wanted before developing the Model T they would have said “faster horses.”

Were these iconic captains of industry throwing customer feedback under the marketing research bus? Were their opinions simply dated in light of today’s advanced customer research methods and tools? Dated, perhaps, but not irrelevant. The need to listen to your customers and observe their behavior has never been more important.

What exactly does “Voice of Customer” research mean?

Put very simply; conventional wisdom states that VOC is collecting customer feedback regarding their likes, dislikes, and needs in order to understand customer satisfaction.

Sounds like good, helpful stuff, right? What marketer wouldn’t want this information? 

But here’s the rub: how do you go about collecting and organizing this feedback? And how do you convert the kudos and complaints into meaningful marketing activity that you and your teams can use to grow your brand? 

The answer lies in specificity, not necessarily volume. A good marketer prioritizes purpose–what exactly are you trying to discover or improve: Brand perception? Product experience?). As well, a clearly defined information gap is essential. Specifically, what about your customer or their experience do you not fully understand? Finally, it is important to be rigorous about the organization.  

Analysis paralysis or too many rabbit holes?

Conventional wisdom can tempt the undisciplined marketer into mere scattershot research. Gathering tons of non-differentiated customer feedback about a product or experience will either bog you down or send you chasing conclusions without substantiation.

For starters, there are many ways to gather this feedback and often so many customer types and potential customers. 

You need a method to make sense of the glut. 

As to methods, surveys are by far the most popular “push” form, but in our data-obsessed world, that’s the tip of the iceberg. The combo of push and pull methodologies include:

  • Live conversations with customers (including interviews and focus groups)
  • User reviews 
  • Complaint reports
  • Customer Loyalty Feedback
  • Secret shoppers or user testing

And we haven’t touched on the other possible data sets that can be harvested from the back end of our marketing channels, like social media accounts—the result: an eye-glazing amount of information. 

How do you know what tools to use?

Ask yourself: What are you listening for?

Are you trying to create a new product? Are you trying to minimize calls to your company’s overwhelmed help desk? Are you trying to develop a new marketing campaign for an existing product? Are you trying to improve the features of a product to solve a specific customer problem? Are you trying to shift the perception of your brand?

Knowing what you’re seeking to do will help you focus on specific language. For example, we recently worked with a manufacturer of sterile valves for biopharmaceutical drug makers. They were experiencing slower-than-expected sales through distributor rep partners, which meant our focus needed to be on “why?” 

So, we designed a voice of customer research protocol that explored how these rep partners structured their time, prioritized brands in their portfolio, researched and developed new leads, and developed and deepened relationships. Ultimately, we were trying to understand how we could help our client incentivize greater attention to their brand, improve education and training, and develop stronger metrics for evaluating potential rep partnerships.   

Once you’ve understood what you’re listening for, you can start delineating which customers’ feedback carries the most weight. For example, with a healthcare product, the voice of the patient will be very different from the voice of the patient’s family. This holds true even though you’re talking about the same product or disease state.

If your entity understands its customer personas, you’ll have criteria to prioritize customer feedback as it correlates most directly with economic impact. Of course, knowing who is just part of the puzzle. You’ll also need the context in which your customers intersect with your product, potential product, or service. This context sets up the environment where you’ll market to them, help them solve their problem, or achieve their goals.

Use the right tool for the job.

We’ve already mentioned a plethora of customer feedback and observation channels. But which one or ones will serve you best? 

Those that help illuminate why your customer is seeking to “hire” your product or service. 

The problem with surveys (or why so many get Voice of Customer research wrong)

Many companies default to surveys for proactive research, but the problem with surveys is that you are directing the questions; and if you get the questions wrong, you’ll miss the answers you need. 

In other words, yes, you want to target customers or potential customers, but you don’t want to lead their responses. An echo chamber won’t help you garner insights.

Live conversations and interviews are time-consuming, and not every marketer (or agency) is well-equipped to conduct them effectively. You need to have a solid framework and a repeatable plan to recruit subjects and archive and search your responses. However, well-planned interviews are one of the standout ways to elicit meaningful insights around customer behavior, needs, aspirations, and problems to be solved.

Getting the gold (or, as we like to say at BS LLC, “synthesizing”)

You’ve identified what you’re listening for. You’ve pinpointed the most relevant customers. You’ve engaged them in meaningful conversations. And now, you have hours of interview audio, or footage, stacks of reviews or surveys, or whatever kind of data. 

What next? 

Voice of customer data collection requires purposeful synthesis. More specifically, the researcher must map the guided qualitative responses with the critical decision points along your customer journey. At BS LLC, that journey always takes the form of what job was this customer trying to hire your product or service to perform? Performed correctly, you can understand how to engineer a customer experience to perfectly to meet the job your customer hired your product to perform.

Every decision goes through a process. Different customer types make different decisions. And every process these customers engage in can be discovered (through multiple stories and conversations) and mapped. 

Your job is to parse the language your interviewers have shared against the journey map. 

The destination of your work is opportunity. By now you have your customer types defined and the process they use to get their job done mapped. You now have insight into where you can most impactfully interject education, marketing, sales processes, a product, or a service to help them along their way. 

VOC Insight: Giving people what they don’t know they want is a rare skill 

Perhaps our marketing gurus from the top of this article had it right all along, the message was just a bit oversimplified. It isn’t that they didn’t listen to their customers, but rather, they deeply intuited what people need when they go about the process of listening to music (iPod) or traveling from point a to point b (automobile). 

It is crucial to go so much deeper than surveys or a stockpile of verbatim quotes when attempting true innovation. You have to understand the lives of your customers. 

A disciplined, focused VOC methodology can help you unearth that knowledge.

Let us know how you discover customer insights and how those insights led to impactful improvements to marketing, product design, or delivery. Our VOC programs increase marketing impact and the effectiveness of brand touchpoints, incubate innovation & product development, increase brand equity and improve internal culture. 

BS LLC offers branding, strategy, and design solutions because we believe businesses operate at their highest growth potential when guided by a holistic set of values and goals. Our voice of customer research is a sub-tactic of market research.

If you would like to learn more about how BS LLC can help you grow from the inside out, please send us a message or give us a call.  Additionally, you can take an in-depth look at our services and resources.