The future of Voice-of-Customer: is the feedback survey on the way out?
By Rebecca Wilson, CCXP.
Critical to most CX programs is having a Voice-of-Customer (VoC) component or process which allows companies to understand exactly what their customers want. Traditionally, this process has been heavily reliant on customer feedback surveys. Companies that excel at customer experience, however, use much more than feedback surveys to understand their customers.
The customer feedback survey is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, but the use of other sources of customer data and feedback such as social media, emails, CRM databases and so on, are becoming increasingly important. Ever sophisticated technology solutions have emerged to collate and analyse customer data from a variety of data sources and then present the findings in dashboards and reports.
On the surface, VoC is a very easy concept to understand. Making it happen, on the other hand, is certainly more complex. A corresponding increase in the level of skills and thinking around VoC hasn’t evolved alongside the technology. Few organisations can be considered mature in their use of VoC programs. According to Forrester[i], despite the fact that over half of CX measurement and VoC programs have existed for three years or more, their maturity remains mostly low and few organisations are able to leverage VoC to develop a sound understanding of their customers.
The challenges are not so much around the ability of organisations to collect and analyse the data, but in their ability to create useful insights that drive strategy and important business decisions.
Research from the XM institute highlights how organisations are struggling to make changes to their business[ii]. While nearly six in ten respondents consider themselves “good” or “very good” at soliciting customer feedback, only about one-fifth feel equally as confident in their ability to make changes to their business based on those insights or their ability to review implications that cut across the organisation.
What is Voice-of-Customer?
Definitions of VoC can vary considerably. Hubspot, for example defines VoC as a research method used to collect customer feedback. A VoC program can help you capture how your customers feel about your business, product or service, giving you insights that can help you create a stronger customer experience. Many define it as being a highly tactical and functional operation.
Critical to a VoC program is the ability to gather customer perceptions. The most obvious way to get feedback from customers is to ask them for it, which explains why feedback surveys have become such a prominent feature in most VoC programs. VoC has become closely associated with the technology, produced by such vendors as Qualtrics, Medallia and Forsta (formerly Confirmit), used to centralise the deployment and management of feedback surveys. Terms such as EFM (Enterprise Feedback Management) and FMS (Feedback Management Systems) have emerged to describe this technology.
Feedback and feedback surveys are only part of the equation though. VoC is meant to be a program or system for understanding your customers, not just a research methodology or a technology enabled solution for managing surveys. Too many VoC and hence CX projects devolve into exercises in trying to move metrics such as NPS or CSAT rather than being used to help generate value for both the customer and the business. The data collected from surveys is neither used to help build an understanding of the customer nor help improve their experience.
There are also severe limitations in a survey only approach to VoC. Firstly, only a small percentage of customers fill surveys out, limiting the level and accuracy of insights obtainable. Secondly, surveys cannot give you answers to questions that have not been asked, thereby, critical insights into the customer experience may be missed.
Even though VoC in most organisations is a relatively immature practice (according to recent research, [iii]only 50% of organisations even have a VoC program in place), there are a few trends having a positive impact on its future.
- AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP)
Companies need more than just customer feedback to determine where customers struggle and how experiences can be improved. They need to tap into other data sources to extract meaningful insights from and build a profound understanding of their customers.
Most organisations collect vast amounts of transactional data about their customers. There is structured data stored in ERP and CRM databases that includes financial transactions, contact details, addresses, etc. But there is also unstructured data that is stored in emails, recorded phone calls, social media posts, reviews and so on. This data contains information that allows organisations to fully evaluate what most of their customers are thinking and feeling.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning is very good at helping organisations process vast quantities of unstructured data. Combined with Natural Language Processing (NLP) and sentiment analysis it can analyse textual data to identify patterns and provide insights on the attitudes and opinions of customers.
- The elimination of VoC data silos
The data organisations collect about their customers may sit across different systems controlled by different departments. These silos need to be consolidated so there is a single source of truth accessible to all.
- Targeted surveys
Companies are starting are using very short and very targeted surveys to analyse particular aspects of the customer experience that have been determined to be critical to the customer experience. Targeted surveys may be triggered based on specific actions the customer takes on a website or mobile app. They are designed to obtain very quick snapshots or feedback immediately after a specific interaction or experience.
Greater need to prove the value VoC provides
Technology is often viewed as the “silver bullet” for resolving all problems. Organisations and leaders have become obsessed with technology and accustomed to looking to technology to fix cost consumption and organisational efficiency issues. That mind set may have saved the business money but it’s the wrong mindset when it comes to customer problems and trying to develop a deep understanding of your customers.
All too often technology has been viewed as the solution, which has limited the potential of VoC programs to drive substantial improvements in the business. At best it allows customers to have their issues resolved and for the CX team to chase improvements in NPS and CSAT scores. But its real potential is to enable organisations to make important decisions about the business. CX leaders and managers need to able to demonstrate the value VoC can provide to the business. Customer problems need a human solution not a technology solution.
[i] Forrester, The State Of CX Measurement And VoC Programs, 2020, published May 2021
[ii] XM Institue, State of Voice of the Customer Programs, 2019
[iii] NTT, 2020 Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report