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How to run a successful VoC program

The Voice of the Customer (VoC) is the core foundation of any successful customer experience program. Keep reading to learn how to launch a VoC program, take action with your customer feedback, and prove the ROI of your efforts.

A Voice of the Customer (VoC) program, also known as customer voice and Voice of Customer, captures, analyzes, and reports all customer feedback associated with your company.

The VoC is the heartbeat of any customer experience (CX) program. In fact, at SurveyMonkey, we believe that brands can’t meet or exceed expectations without having an established Voice of the Customer program in place. Think about it: Without customer feedback, you won’t know where to begin to improve your customer experience.

When done correctly, a Voice of the Customer (VoC) program will give you real-time insight into your customers’ experiences. And from this feedback, you can identify trends and opportunities to improve CX across the customer journey, meet customer needs, and build better customer relationships.

The way a brand gathers and responds to customer feedback is also a reflection of the CX maturity of the organization. The more advanced your VoC program is, the more you’ll be able to meet or exceed customer expectations.

Although each company’s Voice of the Customer (VoC) program will vary based on individual goals, there are standard launching steps that always apply.

The best organizations have leaders who support these programs from the ground up. These leaders understand customer feedback is the top driver of successful customer experience strategies.

These champion leaders need to understand the investment value and communicate how you will measure success. Will VoC feedback help you meet your customer experience mission and brand promise? How will you act on your VoC feedback regularly? How will customer happiness drive bottom-line results?

Don’t only gather champions from the highest levels. Find those managers and supervisors who need to understand your Voice of the Customer program and their role in it. Help them see themselves as the essential parts of this process that they are.

Get your leaders and champions to see how these efforts will help your overall goals as an organization—this will earn their investment in your vision for VoC. Explain how these programs allow you to see customer issues before they become widespread company challenges. They enable you to hear what customers seek before going to your competitors. Customers can tell you what will keep them loyal and where there are opportunities to improve their experience.

Your customers are following their customer journeys, not necessarily the processes you created for them. It’s important to understand the actual customer to know what to measure. Understanding the customer means knowing where there may be friction in their journey, and how to ask the right questions to get the best results. Can you start a VoC program without a customer journey map? Yes, but it will be a lot better with one.

There is no perfect formula for what to measure in a VoC program. There are vital components to consider when gathering both structured and unstructured customer feedback on an ongoing basis. 

Here are the three key ingredients to customer data collection:

  • Consistency: Consistently measuring CX data and insights will produce better results than taking inconsistent readings. Once you have a baseline of your Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), Net Promoter Score® (NPS), customer sentiment, or the like, you can gauge if you’re doing better or worse for customers.
  • Combined viewpoints: Customers are complex and nuanced. Using structured feedback like CSAT scores and NPS ratings with unstructured feedback like customers’ verbatim responses on surveys and social media provides a richer, more robust picture of the customer. This excellent combination helps us hear the voice in Voice of the Customer.
  • Storytelling: Your VoC program should tell the story of your customer. Use real quotes, call center recordings, and other powerful emotional data to share what’s really going on with your customers. Use what they tell you to share their story with the leaders who matter. (In other words, don’t be afraid of anecdotes and direct quotes!)

Our recent Times of Crisis report demonstrates that 48% of leaders say that a strong customer experience gives them confidence that their business can survive an economic downturn. Understanding customer satisfaction with the above metrics and strategies will allow your business to create actionable steps to improve customer experiences. 

Once you respond to and actively integrate customer feedback into your processes, you can boost customer satisfaction and increase retention. For all businesses, emphasizing how your customers feel about their experience with your brand should be a top priority, especially with the uncertain economic climate.

A great VoC program includes a combination of structured and unstructured customer feedback. Here’s a breakdown of both.

You measure structured customer feedback with surveys, giving customers a fixed scale to enter numerical responses.

Your organization may select a metric to use that helps capture how customers are feeling about working with you. You can collect surveys in several ways and measure any number of things. There is a place for regular, relationship-based surveys, as well as transaction-specific surveys, based on your organization and industry.

Below are the most popular ways to collect structured feedback.

Net Promoter Score revolves around the “Ultimate Question” raised by Fred Reichheld: “How likely is it you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?”

This question leads to a scale of 1 through 10, with 10 being definitely will recommend or something of the sort. Those who rank the likelihood of recommending to others as 0–6 are considered detractors. Those who select their likelihood of recommending as 7–8 are considered passives. Finally, those who choose 9 or 10 are categorized as promoters.

To calculate your company’s NPS, take the percentage of customers who are promoters and subtract the percentage who are detractors. This number (a percentage) is what you track as your overall NPS.

(% promoters) – (% detractors) = NPS score

Businesses can use Customer Satisfaction Score to determine how a customer feels about the experience overall, parts of the customer journey, or even specific products or services. The question is typically presented to the customer using a 1–5 scale, with 1 being very dissatisfied and 5 being very satisfied.

VoC programs often include CSAT in a percentage. You can determine that approach with a formula to see the percentage of customers who selected very satisfied or somewhat satisfied against the entire base of customers you survey.

To calculate your company’s CSAT Score, take the number of satisfied customers (those who selected the top two choices in your scale) and divide that number by the total number of survey responses. Multiply by 100 to see the percentage of satisfied customers.

(Number of satisfied customers (4 and 5) / number of survey responses) x 100 = % of satisfied customers

How much effort did it take for your customer to work with you? That’s the basic premise behind Customer Effort Score. If a customer feels he had to put in a lot of effort, he will most likely be more negative about the experience.

CES can be used as a survey to discover how specific parts of the customer journey are handled.

For example, after calling for support, a customer may be asked to complete a one-question CES survey that asks: “On a scale from 1-7, with 1 strongly disagreeing and 7 strongly agreeing, do you believe the company made it easy for me to handle my issue?” The customer will select the rating that best reflects the ease of accomplishing their goals.

To calculate your company’s CES, find the average of all responses. Use the total sum of responses, then divide by the total number of survey respondents.

(Total sum of responses)/(number of responses) = CES 

Some organizations will want to include just one of these metrics, while others will have a combination of relationship-based and transactional results. To launch a VoC program, consider what you will consistently gather and act on.  

Focus groups are also something to consider. In a focus group, you select some customers to meet in a room where a trained moderator asks them a series of questions. Questions are meant for data collection, focusing on perceptions, beliefs, and other opinions regarding your product or service. Consider using the above customer surveys (NPS, CES, and CSAT) to identify potential participants for your Voice of the Customer program focus group.

While surveys are key to any VoC program, they shouldn’t be your only source of truth. You need to also create listening paths that tap into unstructured feedback. Where do your customers talk about you? What do they really want to tell you?

There are ways we ask customers within structured surveys, like asking the follow-up question “Why or Why Not” on NPS surveys. Customers give you great insights into what they think within that open-text field.

Be sure you are leveraging text analytics and tools available to you to look for patterns, stay updated on critical complaints and find those wonderful examples of your customer’s voice to share with others in your organization.

But there are other places where your customers provide unstructured feedback that you can leverage.

Your customers are talking about you on social media, in user groups, and at events. Your salespeople and customer service agents are talking to customers every day. Is there a place to gather that feedback in a centralized location? Encourage your employees to capture what customers are saying.

If you are just setting up a VoC program, be sure to use direct conversation. Pick up the phone and call your customers. Ask for a chat about what’s important to them. Listen for tone and implied disappointments so you can respond accordingly.

VoC is not just about where and how you ask customers how they feel—it’s also about how they act. Operational data like First Call Resolution (FCR) in your contact centers and customer churn and retention rates help you understand the big-picture results of your VoC strategy.

Including customer behavioral analytics like service call frequency, purchase data, and last payment helps us see how to connect the dots between what they tell us and how they actually behave.

The leaders in VoC have a few things in common. There is a centralized hub of information, typically a dashboard, that employees throughout the company can review and share.

Dashboards include the metrics gathered along with graphs, charts, or other tools to tell the story over time. Dashboards should answer the question: How are we doing today compared to yesterday?

Employees should start asking, what can we do to improve these results tomorrow? How can we engage with our customers more?

As employees begin to see this information, it’s critical to communicate what this means. Engage your employees to understand why numbers moved up or down and not just report they did. Voice of the Customer results should lead to innovation around customer experience.

Here are a few creative ways organizations can use VoC feedback to engage their employees:

  • Share the dashboard throughout the organization, highlighting one “metric of the month.” This will help employees understand the difference between overall NPS and transactional CSAT.
  • Highlight a handful of customer quotes from open-text fields in surveys. Use a rotation of good and not-so-good to show what drives these reactions.
  • Recognize and reward those employees who did something worth noting by name! If a customer takes the time to mention Sylvia because of her empathy, let the company know what a great job Sylvia did.

We know this is a lot of information, so we’ve compiled a brief checklist to help you confirm that you have all the right foundations for your VoC program.

A Voice of the Customer program must do all of the following:

  • Listen: Establish key customer listening paths for collecting unstructured and structured feedback.
  • Interpret: Analyze this feedback, identify key trends and insight, and share it in real-time with employees across the company.
  • Act: Set up a process to act quickly on real-time feedback. This response could include several activities, such as reaching out to a disgruntled customer or changing employee training programs.
  • Monitor: Track progress over time. Charting progress is the only way you’ll truly be able to prove the ROI of your VoC program.

Companies can’t excel at all essential VoC activities from the get-go. It takes time. In fact, there are three stages of maturity for any VoC program: foundational, advanced, and state-of-the-art.

This first stage is where CX professionals focus on getting the basics right and setting the foundation for scaling their VoC program.

Below is what you should include in your checklist for the foundational stage. 

  • Collect structured feedback from multiple channels with surveys: Qualitative survey data will help you measure your current CX and identify areas of improvement.
  • Begin your VoC in one part of the company: Start with the team that is most passionate about customer experience. By demonstrating their success, it’ll be easier to convert other teams to participate.
  • Find the low-hanging fruit via basic analysis and reporting: Focus on the relatively easy-to-solve problems first. If you can prove the value of these fixes, you’ll be setting the groundwork for a larger-scale VoC program.
  • Perform service recovery: When someone gives you negative feedback, analyze it and see if you can fix the problem. Once you’ve made those changes, share them with the unsatisfied customers.
  • Set the foundation for scaling up: Set up your VoC program infrastructure to easily enable additional customer feedback sources, such as social media posts, call center transcripts, etc.

During this stage, CX professionals build on the fundamentals of the first stage. You will expand on customer data sources and do a deeper analysis to prove the value of your VoC program.

Below is what you should include in your checklist for the advanced stage. 

  • Collect and analyze both structured and unstructured customer feedback: There are various ways to collect and analyze unstructured feedback, such as text analytics and experimenting with the right categorizations.
  • Establish formal processes for taking action and closing the loop: These processes should enable employees to take corrective action on customer feedback. For instance, you could group CX problems into different buckets based on the effort it takes to fix them and their importance.
  • Include the voice of your employees: This is particularly relevant with frontline employees who hear from customers directly. Create a process to pass their findings to the VoC team.
  • Ensure the executives are on board: To expand your VoC program, you need the support of at least one executive. If you’re struggling to get your executives on board, you should help them connect to customers’ feedback and needs.
  • Create role-based reporting dashboards: Share detailed feedback reports across the business, on all operational levels, to ensure that every employee has the real-time feedback they need to provide a better customer experience.
  • Introduce reward programs for your employees: Reward your employees for positive customer feedback. Rewards will make them feel appreciated and incentivize continued efforts for better CX.
  • Emphasize quantifying business results: In this advanced stage, CX professionals must make a clear case for the business results they produce with the VoC program, such as reduced costs due to CX improvements.
  • Centralize your VoC team for efficiency: This can consist of a shared VoC dashboard shared across departments, quarterly plans, and regular review processes.

All CX professionals strive to reach this final stage of maturity. A company’s VoC program is state-of-the-art when it drives better decisions, outcomes, and revenue across an entire organization. You will use VoC data to help employees do their day-to-day jobs.

Below is what you should include in your checklist for the state-of-the-art stage. 

  • Achieve full data integration: To find the key VoC insights that will drive CX change, you must first collect customer feedback across all channels. By doing so, you’ll be able to identify the critical patterns hidden in your VoC data.
  • Develop a framework to prioritize improvements: Prioritize your findings across listening channels by establishing a process that focuses your attention on issues related to your most important metrics. This can be as simple as a ranking system.
  • Justify the broader business value you’re delivering: At this stage, CX professionals must go beyond specific project outcomes and demonstrate the improvement that all the listening efforts have had on the business overall.
  • Have a customer-centric company culture: At this point, your employees should embrace and demand a VoC program. They should also have access to all the tools and insight to enable their contribution to improving customer experience.
  • Include VoC as part of the design and product development process: Your customers’ feedback should influence the company’s decision on product changes and updates, the design of your website, marketing material, etc.

Once you’ve properly collected both structured and unstructured customer data, analyzed, and interpreted it, it’s time to take action. This response could be anything from responding to individual customer complaints to re-training your employees or updating your product.

How you act on customer feedback will vary based on the trends and opportunities you identify through your VoC program. However, companies must plan to take action against all types of feedback: positive, neutral, and negative.

We all love to hear what we’re doing well or how we’ve made someone’s day or life more awesome. While good for the ego, positive feedback is the least informational. Praise makes you feel terrific, but it’s not very illuminating because chances are you almost already know what you’re good at, don’t you?

Positive feedback provides validation and tells us what to continue doing. If you’re beginning to get positive feedback on a touchpoint in your customer journey that you set out to improve, you’ve got an insight into your CX process and your decisions.

Take that positive feedback and evaluate how you can repeat your approach for another priority in your customer experience improvement plan.

People who take the time to give a three-star review or answer your survey question with a middle-of-the-line neutral are neither encouraging nor warning against certain behavior.

But they are doing something.

They are documenting their satisfactory experiences and giving you operational nuggets of insight. Look for trends in their experiences. Middling reviews are authentic.

By analyzing the topics that repeatedly come up in this feedback, businesses can address persistent issues that annoy customers but are not deal-breakers. Instead of taking this feedback as indifference, see the gold lurking behind it. Look at the content. What’s the actual commentary you’re reading? Break it down, categorize it, and score it. In doing this, your business can resolve minor complaints before they become larger problems.

When your customers complain, they are the canaries in the coal mine. These customers provide you with an early warning detection system for your business. The real problem isn’t people who have a poor experience and let you know about it. The real problem for businesses is people who aren’t passionate enough about your company to take the time to say anything.

Your customers will most likely leave poor feedback both offstage (in traditional communications channels like email or phone) and onstage (in social media, discussion boards, forums, etc.). For most businesses, offstage complaints are the majority.

There are slightly different expectations between offstage and onstage complaints. Here’s what we mean:

  • The issues communicated on social media, review sites, forums, or message boards are more frivolous than those communicated on the phone or via email. When venting frustration in public, people onstage expect a response roughly half the time. In many cases, they’re airing grievances onstage and want an audience, not necessarily a response.
  • When people tell you what they think in private or offstage, they almost always expect a response. This is because they are looking for an answer.

Regardless of the type, the problem is that many complaints go unanswered. Answering customer dissatisfaction increases customer advocacy. Not answering them decreases customer advocacy and can frustrate your users.

Here’s how you can take action and leverage negative feedback: help your customers who don’t expect you to respond. Customers have come to anticipate a particular style and speed of response from businesses. If you can defy or exceed those expectations, it makes customers more likely to advocate on your company’s behalf.

While the negativity can be maddening, it’s anything but. Not only does it provide you with valuable information about your operational performance, but it’s also an opportunity to create long-term customer loyalty.

An established VoC solution can find the customer's true sentiments and use them to improve a business.

Your VoC program is the foundation for your CX programs, which means bigger-picture financial objectives like customer retention rates deserve the spotlight for proving ROI.

To measure customer retention, you must listen to customers across the vital journey touchpoints and understand what behaviors, outcomes, and interactions are making the biggest financial impact on your organization.

Once you’ve identified these opportunities, you take action to improve retention. This could mean reducing customer wait time for speaking with a support agent, improving the product or website UX to remove pain points, etc. Over time, you’ll be able to identify trends and predict what the customer will do next, amplifying your financial impact. Below are specific suggestions for demonstrating the value of your VoC program.

  • Improving resource allocation decisions: A VoC program will highlight key customer engagement and loyalty drivers over time. This will allow you to make smarter decisions on where to allocate your resources.
  • Reducing risks (which often also means reducing costs): By collecting and analyzing customer feedback, you can catch and correct a problem early. This often saves companies a lot of time and money. For instance, reducing the likelihood of a product failing in the marketplace because it doesn’t meet customers’ expectations will reduce significant costs and time.
  • Acquiring new customers through referrals: Loyal customers can become brand advocates and promote a healthy overall brand strategy. This means that increasing customer referrals will reduce the effort and cost of marketing and sales to acquire new customers. In other words, a great CX program can lower acquisition costs.
  • Faster or more formalized closed-loop process: Despite having the technology to help employees close the loop on customer feedback, most companies don’t have a formal process. A VoC program will help establish a process to ensure customers feel they are being heard, leading to customer retention.
  • Cutting costs due to the VoC program: If your company uses multiple surveying and feedback tools, one VoC solution will reduce tool and associated maintenance expenses. A successful VoC program can also help reduce the cost of customer retention programs.

To estimate the ROI of your Voice of the Customer program, you need to compare the value of your business outcomes (e.g., retention, new customers, reducing costs, etc.) before and after you’ve launched it. 

They recommend that every company create a one-sentence business case that follows this formula, such as: We intend to transform our customer experience to increase customer-generated revenue while reducing customer-related expense, which will bring $X of incremental benefit, at a cost of $Y, for an ROI of Z%.

It might be hard to prove the value if you’re at the very early stages of your VoC program. When providing the value of your VoC program, using external customer experience, customer success, and VoC data is extremely useful.

For instance, here are some insightful data related to customer experiences and success:

  • Over 48% of leaders state that prioritizing great customer service will help them to survive an economic downturn.
  • Companies are experiencing more competition than ever before: 53% of eCommerce professionals say their company is experiencing more competition now than they were last year.
  • Customer experience research is one of the most important research initiatives during a market downturn.
  • McKinsey analysis shows that companies that are leaders of CX – as measured by NPS – achieved more than double the revenue growth of “CX laggards” between 2016 and 2021

As you evolve your VoC program, you can also bring together operational data with customer feedback to quantify how increases in CX metrics tie to retention rates. Using these insights, consider estimating the value of an NPS point for your organization to help get cross-functional buy-in for CX programs. 

Running a successful VoC program is a fantastic way for businesses to improve customer experiences and build stronger customer relationships going forward. By providing insight into trends, opportunities for improvement, and customer expectations, a VoC program can help to streamline every touchpoint with a customer.

By using this guide, your business will be able to create an effective VoC program, deploy it, and use the results to improve your customer experiences at every opportunity. If you’re looking to put successful customer experiences at the heart of your company, a VoC program is the way to go. And, if you’re looking for a sleek, effective, and data-driven way to get the insights you need, SurveyMonkey is the platform for you.

Build and scale your VoC program to boost loyalty and retention.

Net promoter, Net promoter Score, and NPS are trademarks of Satmetrix Systems, Inc., Bain & Company, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.