Make the Voice of the customer your game changer:

Kodwo Manuel

be intentional about your customer engagement

Aiming to be customer-centric is worthwhile if you intend to stay the course and excel as a business. This will require some deliberate planning and interventions which ensure that you have a good listening ear for your customers. By investing heavily in Voice of the Customer (VoC) programmes through the collection, analysis, and due attention to customer feedback from all channels you are better able to understand your customer from the perspective of the customer.

Remember the last time you bought a present for a friend or someone you cared about? Did you just pick something randomly, or did you take time to find out their likes and dislikes to enable you find something that would brighten up the person? If that person is special to you, are you not likely to put great thought into what will suit him/her in choosing what to give as a present? Just as you select presents for people you care about, there is also great value and benefit from knowing your customers’ expectations and what you can do to exceed them.

Voice of the Customer (VoC) is where you focus on capturing customers’ opinions in their own words as opposed to making assumptions about what they want. In other words, a VoC programme is a thorough process involving the gathering of preferences, experiences and expectations about your products or services from your all-important customers and (more importantly) using them to drive your business forward.

Three main steps involved in this process are: collecting customer feedback; using methods like surveys, etc. to gather information from your customers, analysing the VoC data to reveal trends and themes that characterise your customer expectations, and taking action; and distributing insights to the relevant people so your team can take action, drive change, and generate financial benefits. Paying attention to the VoC creates a tangible connection with customers across all touchpoints in the customer journey. When customers’ opinions are valued, they become co-creators of their own customer experience – a sure way of ensuring your brand resonates and your services respond to evolving requirements.

According to the Aberdeen Group, best-in-class VoC performers retain 84 percent of their customers compared to just 58 percent in other companies. The reality is that with the voice of the customer as the central pillar of your organisation, you are empowered to leverage opportunities for business growth variously.

First, create better products; by understanding what customers want, you’re able to steer product development in the right direction. Second, Increase revenue; consequently, there is a reduction in churn, a better understanding of possible cross-selling opportunities, and an improved ability to attract new customers. Third, Reduce costs; You can save money and resources by streamlining processes and creating greater consistency across the organisation; and fourth, build a positive culture; by focusing on customer-centricity and continuous learning culture, you breed positivity and motivation. Companies with a VoC focus also care about their employee views and work on empowering their staff to deliver customer excellence. By paying attention to your (internal/external) customers, you are better able to build a brand that differentiates you. Three ways to differentiate your brand are: leverage the VoC in everything you do, turn VoC data into actionable insights, andclose the loop with customers.

Leverage the VoC in everything you do

Your initial step in this process is to collect feedback from your customer. VoC is a valuable research method that helps you understand the difference between customer expectations and how well or effectively you are delivering what they need.  The truth is customers don’t stick to one channel. T-Mobile, a telco based in the UK, partners with ForeSee – a company that develops and supplies VoC solutions to capture VoC across its touchpoints, enabling T-Mobile to make decisions based on multi-channel customer insights. Consequently, T-Mobile has managed to stay one step ahead of its customers by evolving its customer experience analytics to measure the entire customer purchase lifecycle, socialise the data internally, and use all available tools to understand the needs of their customers intuitively.

Asking customers about their overall satisfaction level consistently helps you gauge the likelihood of them continuing to purchase and recommend your products and services. Getting high-level feedback is good but the magic is in when you dig deeper into the customer journey. A note of warning here, though, is that while VoC survey sources are valuable, the efficacy of your effort lies in your drawing-in additional data from a range of sources. This offers you the opportunity to aggregate and centralise all VoC insights to understand your customers’ views from a holistic perspective. Sources of additional data include customer surveys. They help you understand your customers and their issues – but only if you ask the right questions. You may use reputable providers such as SurveyMonkey to help ensure you get the most out of them.

Next, listen in on social media; this is where people like to talk. It provides an excellent format for creating a two-way dialogue with current and potential customers. So, be active in encouraging customer feedback and discussion. This is by way of casting your net wide; many companies have benefitted from branded media accounts – but around 96 percent of the people discussing brands online don’t even follow those brands-owned profiles. That means, to get the full picture, you’ll need to tap into these conversations using sentiment analysis software, such as Brandwatch or Social Mention, for our purposes.

Locally, Facebook offers a great platform for learning about customers as they research our brands and engage with us socially. We may also consider focus groups; they are particularly useful when the information you want is more complex than a survey would allow for. When conducting focus groups remember to: Identify objectives succinctly – to have clarity on the information you already have and the information you want to get; Qualify the audience -make sure the people in your focus group fit the demographics you need; Incentivise – give them a reason to be there.

A gift or loyalty card could work well. Prepare (fit-for-purpose) questions – keep a narrow focus to make sure you get the most out of the limited time you have; record – make a recording of the discussion if you can as it’ll be useful to refer back to and alleviate the need for notes; practice – moderating groups isn’t easy, so practice to make sure you know how to steer the conversation.

Customer interviews are a great way to put some real meat on the bones of any feedback. The interviewer can ask both open-ended and closed voice of customer questions such as: “Tell us how you use the product/service…”, “What difficulties do you face when using the product/service…?” and, “What common issues do you normally encounter…?” Ask follow-up questions to dig deeper into what the customer means and listen carefully; allow the customer to talk freely, but make sure the interview won’t get derailed to irrelevant subjects.

Recent research has revealed that 73 percent of customers find live chat the most satisfying way of communicating with a business. Live chat is particularly important for feedback. This is because it can build real-time connections when issues are fresh in customers’ minds – and without the need to schedule interviews and focus groups. Thus, it allows for a much faster feedback loop. With live chat, you’re able to reach out to more customers, and at the same time ensure customer satisfaction by addressing issues quickly.

Turn VoC data into actionable insights

“Only when we added call centre notes to our survey feedback did we uncover the real story.” These were the words of an Analyst from a major telecommunications company. Everything you’ve learned about your customers and their emotions and interactions with various touchpoints should be aggregated into a set of recommendations to be presented to your executives and stakeholders. If you kept them in the loop effectively throughout this process, they should already be aware of some of the insights your organisation gained from your survey and mapping exercise. According to Clarabridge – an American software company: “While it is important to implement changes to your service model, it is also equally important to maintain those changes across your company’s lifespan”. They advise further, “Be sure to set goals for yourself when implementing any changes, as it is not feasible to change the entire culture of your company’s model all at once”.

Stacy Sherman, a Customer Experience Leader and Digital Marketer – “Obtaining customer feedback and analysing the data takes time, but it is well worth it”. She indicates further that you can’t possibly develop products, services, and market messages without understanding what the customers think and feel. There is a plethora of tools available to help you compile, analyse and prioritise data to know where to focus your improvement efforts.

These tools vary in capabilities and costs. Some reputable ones include Qualtrics, Medailla, Hubspot, Clarabridge and others. Having implemented the insights revealed by your journey map, you must continue listening to your customers and the community to know how the changes are working. There are additional options to help reinforce your listening such as key moments of truth, top pain points, and metrics such as NPS, CES including voice and text sources. There is no shortage of options, but what’s important is your ability to sift out what will represent authentically the VoC.

Closing the Loop with Customers

To earn the trust of your customers, you will need to go back to them and share what actions you took as a result of their feedback. If you facilitated a focus group for the design of a new product, it will be useful to inform the participants of how their input led to its adoption. You may even offer some form of incentive. Let your survey team follow up and thank the customers for the role they played in rectifying issues.  Customers need to feel heard and understood. To have answered a bevy of surveys but not see any significant change can be discouraging.

A good question to think of is how you close the loop on negative feedback. To quote Fred Reichheld from Bain and Company: “It’s not the score that matters; it’s what you do with it to make promoters that counts”.  Closing the loop requires listening to what the customer has to say, and figuring out how to solve the problem. Some suggested steps recommended include Identifying detractors from using the Net Promoter Score (NPS) framework. According to SMBCEO, detractors are two times as likely to spread their negative opinion than promoters are to spread positive feedback, and that “it takes nearly 12 good experiences to make up for one unresolved poor experience”, so it is vitally important to identify detractors as soon as possible.

Connecting to your help desk: when facing detractors, it is important to make them feel appreciated and heard – so a more direct line to you and your company via a connection to your help desk can send a clear signal you’re available and want to help. Turning unhappy customers into your biggest fans – It can be discouraging for a business to see that there are unhappy customers out there. However, these negative clients can become future promoters if you figure out a solution to their problems. They can be re-engaged.

Stacy makes the point (and I fully agree with it) that top-performing companies combine Voice of the Employee (VoE) and Voice of the Customer as part of their decision-making. Asking employees for feedback makes them feel heard and valued. And when that happens, their commitment and engagement to deliver customer satisfaction increases. Happy employees fuel happy customers. These are the formulas for Customer Experience success.

On a more sentimental note, a friend told me the story about a couple who had to come back to Ghana because the man had contracted a terminal illness. The man was admitted to a local hospital and, apparently, his condition was infectious – thus, after a while most of the medical staff were reluctant to wait on him. One of them took it upon herself to care for the sick man who eventually passed away after a couple of months. The family of the deceased were grateful for the support the nurse offered their loved one, and as a reward bought her a ticket and flew her out of the country to pursue her nursing profession. Even in the direst situations, listening to the customer and empathising with them can be a game-changer.

The Writer is the Managing Consultant at Capability Trust Limited, a People and Learning Organisation serving the market with Talent Acquisition and Management, Leadership Development, HR Outsourcing and General HR Advisory, Training, and consulting services. He can be reached on 059 175 7205,

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