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Does Your Company Need a Voice of the Customer Survey?

By Andrea Ruttenberg, Ph.D.

A typical Voice of the Customer project takes time (typically 2-4 months), and it can be tempting to skip steps-- especially the VOC survey. VOC studies have three main parts:

  •        A qualitative portion, usually individual interviews, used to gain a comprehensive understanding of customer wants and needs
  •        Affinitization, a process for organizing the needs into groups that go together
  •        A quantitative survey, used to prioritize the needs by importance and satisfaction

Sometimes our clients wonder, “Do I really need to do the survey, too? Isn’t the qualitative portion enough?”

Here are three situations in which we’d strongly recommend completing a quantitative survey as part of your Voice of the Customer project:

  1.   You want to prioritize your customers’ needs

Qualitative research is extremely useful for helping you understand your customers’ likes, dislikes, thoughts, actions, and beliefs. However, it’s not the best tool for prioritizing which customer pain points and problem areas you should focus on next.

After reviewing a qualitative report, some clients ask, "How many times was that need mentioned in the interviews?" or “Would you say that point came up a lot? Or only a little?” Although it seems intuitive that frequency of mention would correlate with the need’s overall importance, that is actually not the case 1. During an interview, respondents share their top-of-mind problems and pain-points. They may speak articulately and emphatically about a one-off problem that occurred earlier in the week, but fail to mention an ongoing issue that causes regular annoyance.

The benefit of a quantitative survey is that respondents rate the importance and performance of a comprehensive list of needs, not just the needs they thought of themselves. While qualitative research can tell you, broadly, what your customers care about, a quantitative survey can tell you which of those areas you should really focus on.

  1.   You're interested in how different customer groups prioritize their needs

Most of our clients cater to unique customer segments, and few have the time, budget, or inclination to interview 20-30 customers in each group. Luckily, we typically find that all segments have the same needs. However, how important those needs are and how well satisfied they are by the market tends to vary by segment. In other words, the needs are the same across groups, but the prioritization is not.

Quantitative surveys are ideal for understanding what different segments care about most. Instead of interviewing dozens of people in each segment, we typically recommend interviewing a modest number of people (typically between 20 and 40) across a range of segments to gather a comprehensive list of needs. Then, we use the quantitative survey to understand how each of those segments prioritize the needs.

  1.  You want to understand how well your brand meets your customers' needs relative to the competition

Qualitative research can tell you generally how you're doing. For example, you might learn that, relative to your main competitor, you're "pretty good" at customer service, and "pretty bad" at sales. This is certainly useful information. However, a quantitative survey can help you understand exactly why you’re excelling at customer service and why your competitor is doing so well at sales. For example, you might learn that you’re better at providing “quick, onsite maintenance support”, while your competitor’s salespeople are “able to answer any question, no matter how detailed or vague.” You’ll be able to build a strategy in response to your specific strengths and weaknesses, and the strengths and weaknesses of others in the industry.

Learn more about voice of the customer research in our acclaimed workshop, “Listening to the Voice of the Customer”, taking place April 23-24 in Boston.

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[1] Hauser, John and Griffin, Abbie. “The Voice of the Customer.” Marketing Science Vol 12 No.1. (1993) 1-27. Print.

Voice of the Customer

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