Voice of the customer (VoC) is a process that describes the engagement with, and the utilization of feedback from a business’s customers.
This feedback typically relates to expectations and experiences with your products and services.
Whilst these are often external products and services (i.e. what you sell) Voice of the customer can also be utilized with internal business processes and projects (for example determining experiences with a new IT system being introduced).
The process can work extremely well as a means of directly engaging with stakeholders and then both analyzing and reacting to the results.
Determining the questions to ask can be a key contributor to the success of the process and taking the time at the start to devise these can help considerably in driving the success of the task.
In this article we’ll look at the voice of the customer process, examining both the process steps together with a variety of example voice of the customer questions that may be used and why they are structured as they are to drive certain responses.
So let’s get on with it!
Voice of the customer methodology
Time and again one of the key distinguishing factors in business is the quality of the product or service perceived by stakeholders coupled with customer service.
To be successful you need to not only be close to your customer but to build their feedback into your processes and products so you are aligned with expectations and requirements.
As a result, when you’re looking to deploy any product or project one of the first things to consider is your customer.
In having a robust Voice of the customer process you can enable stakeholder engagement no matter the project you’re involved with, whether this is a continuous improvement project, an IT system upgrades, delivering a new product or simply understanding your customer’s perception of you in the marketplace.
So, how should you look to structure your VOC process and what tools and techniques should you use and what are the issues you should look out for?
It’s a process, Voice of the customer has steps and output.
One of the easiest ways to get to grips with voice of the customer is to realize that it’s a process and as a result it has an input, process steps, and an output.
Let’s take a look at the things to consider in your process.
1/ What data are you looking to capture?
The first step is to consider the objective behind your voice of the customer activity, for example are you looking to benchmark the current status in advance of a system upgrade? Perhaps you are looking to engage people in how their tools will be improved the upgrade? The key thing to consider is that you’re going to generate data so what are you going to do with it?
2/ Which customers/stakeholders are you looking to engage with?
Once you have your objective, consider the variety of customers you may have. We discussed customer groups in our SIPOC tool tutorial. As we discussed there are internal, external customers, these may consist of employees, senior managers, people who buy your product, indeed you may have groups of customers (go on head over to our SIPOC template post for more.) Consider which of your many stakeholder groups you will engage with and the optimum medium for doing so.
3/ Build your questions, ensuring your survey provides a simple route to obtaining the data you need (and does not turn stakeholders off)
Do you want objective data (i.e. “I like the bus because it’s green”) or quantitative data, (i.e.” rate your experience of the bus from 1-10”). This can be key as open-ended questions while being beneficial, can also lead you all over the place and need careful tailoring to be of benefit.
This aspect takes considerable thought upfront and to a large extent will determine the results you’ll receive and therefore drive your ability to use the data you generate at the end of the process. Consider that everyone is an individual and that by utilizing too many open-ended questions you could be inundated with a variety of results which could end up being meaningless.
Therefore the hard work must be done up front. This is especially important within a business context as different business functions may want different outputs, for example, would your marketing team want the same data as your senior management or as your Purchasing team? How will you engage the teams that will utilize the data you’ll generate so that, collectively, you can determine the best approach?
Road test your questions and method before unleashing it into the wild. You’re looking for a smooth process that engages with your target audience and makes capturing data easy.
4/ Devising a method of engagement – how will you get your questions in front of the community you want to engage?
There is a myriad of tools and methods to use in getting your questions in front of your customers from email, feedback forms, direct face to face and more. They all have their pro’s and cons. Choose a means that’s appropriate to your objective.
5/ How will you utilize the data that’s captured?
Once you have the data you’ll need to consider how you’ll evaluate and utilize it
You may want to use the data to see how it contributes into key business drivers/objectives. For example, Cost, Quality and Delivery, or perhaps you’ll have other features that you’re interested in seeing.
There are various tools available that you can utilize but if you’re limited a good start is to establish a simple matrix on a basic spreadsheet so you can track those critical aspects and the feedback you receive.
Some aspects may be more important than others so you might want to consider a priority or weighting system.
Part of utilizing the data generated will no doubt be to understand those aspects that are critical to the customer (CTC) and Critical to Quality (CTQ), while often mixed together and confused as the same they are very different.
In capturing CTCs you are generating those aspects that are of key importance to the customer. E.g “My bus must always be green”
Critical to Quality aspects are those important drivers that relate to processes and/or the service, E.g “My bus must always arrive on time”
An example of how these aspects influence customers can be seen in recent stories in the UK press about peoples perceptions on Broadband providers, this shows VOC in action where customers have been asked for specific feedback around customer service.
CTQ can be a key driver for many customers and it’s key that your voice of the customer process doesn’t make things overly generic and that you gain sufficient insight.
Often these are made up of the following characteristics:
a) Service/process related (e.g Timeliness, process reliability)
b) Perception of Quality
c) Product related features or specifications
Voice of the customer methods
There is a bucket load of methods of interacting with customers, with each technique having their own pro’s and cons depending on the objective, below we’ll list out a few of them. As ever it’s not necessarily the method used but the design of the interaction itself that’s crucial.
1/ Customer Surveys
3/ Social Media
4/ Customer reviews
5/ Telephone data
6/ Email surveys
7/ Focus Groups
8/ Feedback forms
Example Voice of the customer Questions
Ok – so now we’ve covered the process, let’s now take a look at some common example VOC Questions and their purpose.
Obviously, there are LOADS of things you can ask your customer but the questions below are quite common in VOC and are engineered to elicit certain generic data useful to your organization.
1/ What words come to mind when you see <subject>
Provides an immediate reaction to a product or service which can be monitored over time to track trends.
2/ Would you recommend <subject> to a colleague?
Determines brand loyalty and the relationship a customer has with your product or service
3/ What aspects of <subject> are most important to you?
Helps to define those CTC’s & CTQ’s we spoke of earlier.
4/ How satisfied are you with <subject>
This enables you to gather evidence (perhaps achieved as a 1-10 scale) about customer satisfaction
5/ Are you likely to consider changing to an alternative supplier of <subject>
This question demonstrates whether a customer is considering switching to another provider, it doesn’t explain why but again this could be monitored over time to show a particular trend.
6/ Have you heard about <subject> in the last 30 days?
This is an excellent question at demonstrating the effectivity of your communication channels over a period of time. This could be about a product, a piece of good news or equally about a piece of bad news.
7/ How important to you is <subject>?
This could be a CTC or CTQ that you can attribute to a product/service and you want to capture data around its importance.
8/ Why would you choose to use our <subject>
These provide you with an opportunity to gather CTC & CTQ’s around your product that the customer is focussed on.
9/ Why would you select a particular <subject>?
This provides some CTC’s around why a particular offering.
10/ What worries you most about <subject>?
This provides some data around what customers perceive as the risks of a product or service. Note you could further drill down into attributing these risks to your product or your competitors.
Benefits of Voice of the customer
One of the key questions that any business (or project) should be asking is what do your customers & stakeholders really want.
Through asking your customer what’s important to them you are better positioned to provide value to them.
While that might seem obvious, it’s important that businesses realize that customer needs may not necessarily be aligned with the current output of the business there are likely to be clashes. Through integrating VOC results into your business you are able to adapt and build your business to better meet specific needs.
Problems with Voice of the customer
When you’re deploying a voice of the customer strategy one of the most important things is the consistency of approach. A scattergun methodology is unlikely to deliver too many benefits. Defining the initial objective, sticking to it and then driving the process around that is key.
As we’ve described in the sample questions above, some of these are designed to be used regularly as part of a process. For example, questions around brand awareness can be used to populate a metric, by swapping and changing questions you lose this advantage. Therefore the VOC process should not be considered as a one-off but as an ongoing strategy.
A poorly executed VOC strategy results in poor data and poor data results in poor decisions. (check out this excellent piece in Forbes that describes how in particular biased questions can lead to misleading results).
Below are some further common issues with Voice of the customer
1/ Objective not clear from the start so method and criteria are not geared accordingly
2/ Not clear how the results of the process will be utilized
3/ Inappropriate/incorrect stakeholders engaged
4/ Data does not drive action i.e. too many unfocussed open-ended questions result in non-quantifiable data generated that has little value.
5/ Process followed but findings are not used to improve business
Customer engagement does not happen automatically and requires a clear strategy from the outset plus upfront thought on the method of deployment. Just firing off a few questionnaires is not going to result in much.
We hope you enjoyed our summary of the Voice of the customer process and that it’s provided an insight into how you can use it in your business. As ever if you’ve got any questions or feedback on our post you can reach out to us on twitter or use the comments section below.