Getting to the Insights That Actually Matter with Voice of the Customer

By Kristyn Corrigan

Are you experiencing declining customer satisfaction scores? Is your team struggling to come up with smart, creative solutions?  
How can you be sure you’re getting the right insights when it matters most?  

Voice of the Customer (VOC) research is one of, if not, the most critical activities in the front end of innovation. VOC is a systematic method for listening to and empathizing with your customers to not only identify what they need, but also what you should focus on first. By identifying and prioritizing customer needs, you can be sure you are investing in products that satisfy customers’ unmet needs. 

While there are many factors that go into a successful VOC program, here are the top five I have seen in my over 13 years of experience helping clients to build and implement these programs: 

1. Who is the customer? 

Determining the right sample plan is a key first step in VOC. You’ll need to consider who in the value chain you need to hear from: purchase decision makers, influencers, buyers, users and more. Considerations such as geography, company size, and other demographics must also be taken into account.  

Be sure that you aren’t just calling up your biggest and best accounts to learn about their needs. Although they may offer valuable information, the danger is in only talking with these customers, as they likely have a bias that may not match the rest of the broader marketplace.   

There is also a lot to be learned from speaking with non-customers and previous customers who have since switched brands. Understanding these customers’ motivation to buy, reasons for switching, and product usage tells us a lot about what they value. Although accessing these customer groups can be difficult, working with an outside firm like AMS can help ease the process without adding additional bias.  

2.  Do it right-- use proven techniques 

For your Voice of the Customer research to be worthwhile, you must invest in doing it right. What does this entail? First, establish a cross-functional taskforce to spearhead the initiative. Don’t over-extend your team by choosing an overambitious objective—select something manageable focused on understanding one problem area or opportunity.  From there, you’ll need to evaluate how much bandwidth you have in-house, and how much of the process you’d want to outsource. We suggest putting in the time to research and select a vendor who knows VOC well, and has experience in your industry. 

Overall, it’s critical that you are using methods that are proven in practice, and that you don’t take shortcuts. Doing Voice of the Customer correctly will help you get beyond the obvious to uncover a complete set of detailed, underlying needs and motivations—not merely what’s top of mind.  

3. Present compelling deliverables 

Even the best research may get lost in your team’s inbox if it’s not presented in a compelling way. Unsurprisingly, leadership just doesn’t have time to sit through a half-day meeting to decipher results or sift through cross-tabs. 

It’s critical to create VOC research deliverables that bring the customer to life and make the data real. Some best practices to consider while you’re synthesizing data: what were our hypotheses entering the research? Which were we right about? Which weren’t we? What did we learn that we didn’t know before? Why does it matter? What does it mean for my product?  

Don’t let your hard work get overlooked. Careful report planning and deliberate socialization strategies are important pillars for successful buy-in of VOC.  

4. Don’t just do more of what you’re good at 

Oftentimes when the VOC results come in, companies are tempted to continue doing the things they know they’re good at. Of course, it’s nice to get a compliment from your customers. However, in every market there are minimum requirements that your product just has to meet. For example, if you're purchasing a coffee maker - you expect it to make you a cup of coffee. These needs are often rated high in importance and high in current satisfaction by customers  

However, companies often make the mistake of confusing the “must-have” needs of the market as the most important targets for innovation. This approach is dangerous. Yes, companies should attempt to innovate on needs that are important to the customer. But, the focus should be on those needs where the existing products are currently underperforming. In most cases, those needs that are highly important, but where the market is already performing well, should simply be maintained. Solely focusing on minimum requirements will result in a me-too product at best. 

5. Look beyond the obvious  

Clients frequently ask how to go about understanding latent, unspoken or infrequently mentioned needs. Often, I recommend including ethnographies or site visits as a part of our Voice of the Customer (VOC) process. Watching customers use your product (or a competitor’s) gives a better understanding of their problems and pain points, and we often find that customers are using products differently than intended. By probing on why, we can develop a richer understanding of customers’ less obvious needs. 

Another way to uncover these insights is to use machine learning on consumer verbatims such as product reviews, social media, user forums, and call center/chat data. Our machine learning approach, developed in conjunction with scholars at MIT, uses an algorithm to identify key insights from massive volumes of text data. It’s a powerful way to ensure you’ve left no stone unturned, and is often faster and cheaper than more traditional qualitative approaches.  

We can all agree that the pressure to develop innovative products that drive business success isn’t going away. Voice of the Customer is a powerful tool to make sure that you’re uncovering the customer insights that will fuel successful innovation and increase your customer satisfaction and loyalty. To gain an in-depth understanding of VOC that you can execute at your company, browse our informative collection of VOC blog posts

Learn More About VOC

Tags: Ethnography , Machine Learning/AI , Voice of the Customer

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