Understanding your customer is not just about “Voice of Customer”

Author: Rebecca Wilson, Director of Human Experience

Organisational leaders need to have a better idea of what customer understanding is, how the competency of customer understanding operates within their business and how to leverage it to better inform decision making and strategic planning.

So often in business structures, research, data and insights functions are fractured across different teams and departments. Research efforts can be ad-hoc and disjointed, losing the potential for strong insight which can drive organisational value. Many of the business leaders I speak with recognise this fact within their own organisations and believe it comes down to a lack of a defined approach for understanding their customers.

and Customer understanding goes beyond the presence of a VoC program…

Don’t get me wrong – having a VoC program is a fabulous vehicle for gathering feedback from your customers. The first program I developed ignited such interest across the business that I was overwhelmed by requests for access from all levels of the business, keen to educate themselves on the customers’ point of view. The challenge became, however, that without coordination and cross reference with other research (which may also explain the ‘why’ behind data), it was challenging to build truly actionable insights that reflect a sufficient level of ‘customer understanding’. I also very quickly became aware that although customers might be complaining about a particular aspect of our product, it might be an important part of the brand promise that we weren’t willing to change. People might not like the add on charges that they (may) need to pay for a Jetstar flight – but that’s part of the overall brand promise to provide genuine low-cost flight options.

Earlier this year, I posted a question on the Customer Experience Professionals Association’s (CXPA) on-line discussion board regarding the difference between “Voice of Customer” (VoC) and “Customer Understanding”, musing that listening to the customer’s “voice” is the best way to understand the customer but whether this was the definition of “Voice of Customer” in people’s minds.

From this and many other conversations, I’ve developed a simple framework that will help you define, organise and communicate your customer understanding strategy.

Customer understanding is an overall competency that must be built into any company. In this context, it clearly describes the intent of any activities and outcomes that sit underneath it. The most critical part of this is how the two competencies of VOC and Customer Research work together, continually informing, monitoring and processing insights and fuelling business decisions.

It is pretty much universally agreed by the customer experience community that VoC  has a distinct operational angle to it, with real-time data usually passing through a technologically enabled workflow and being delivered into downstream processes. These might include closed-loop follow-ups, internal staff coaching and development and process improvements.

Customer Research is perhaps more akin to what many of us term conventional market research projects, whose end game is the development of a summary report encapsulating findings, data trends, and top-performing KPIs and metrics. These get presented, reviewed and generally applied to specific projects or decisions.

Looking at these two functions holistically, understanding how they interrelate and building your organisation’s capabilities in them will enable your business to consistently deliver the experiences your brand espouses.

One of the CX leaders I work with has shared this model across her organisation. She says that it has helped her “have some good conversations around identifying how we action VOC insights as a Business as Usual process”. It’s also allowed them to begin to reframe research that sits within particular projects and how it is linked to strategic outcomes. “While VOC is always on and providing data, research is driving big business changes” she says. “Using this model has been a game changer for how we are evolving our business to be more informed by (real) customer understanding”.

I would love to continue the conversation if you have thoughts about this post or would like to know more about how we support businesses with strategies that work.