Close the loop

8 Min Read

Setting up a Voice of the Customer program (and making it a success)

Making your customers feel heard is a big part of customer health. Companies that invest in customer feedback and prioritize the voice of the customer typically report much higher retention rates. Plus, this also means they spend less time (and money) on customer support and retention.

This all sounds like a pretty good deal, doesn’t it? So how do you establish a Voice of the Customer (VoC) program, and how do you make it successful?

But first, what exactly is a Voice of the Customer program?

What’s a Voice of the Customer program?

The term “voice of the customer” dates back to 1993. Coined in an MIT Marketing Science paper by Abbie Griffin and John R. Hauser, they defined it as a research strategy designed to help companies understand what their customers think about their company as well as its products and services.

Fast forward to 2021, and this definition hasn’t really changed. The goal? To give companies a detailed understanding of customer needs.

A Voice of the Customer Program helps you understand customer needs and expectations. When applied correctly, it’ll also allow you to run a customer feedback model that lets you close the loop. The end result? A better overall customer experience.

What are the benefits of a Voice of the Customer Program?

Voice of the Customer programs come with a handful of benefits. When you make your customers’ voice a part of your company culture – and choose to act on it – it won’t just result in a better customer experience, but also in faster decision-making and a more streamlined product development process. These things combined will ultimately result in happier customers and with that – increased retention.

Create a better customer experience
Create a better customer experience by delivering what your customers are asking for, whether it’s product features, integrations, content, or events.

Increase retention
Get a better understanding of where your customers place the most value and improve the customer experience accordingly. More value delivered equals better retention rates.

Drive adoption
Understand where your customers encounter UX, UI, or platform issues that impact the customer experience and use the insights to improve the experience and drive adoption.

Build a more informed product development process
Use product feedback, feature requests, ideation, and advisory groups to build a product your customers will get real value from and actually want to use.

Experience a faster decision-making process
Bring the voice of the customer into your decision-making process to help you prioritize and execute faster knowing exactly what’s important and what’s not.

Fuel innovation throughout the company
Don’t limit innovation to the product. Instead, let the voice of the customer inspire new initiatives and ideas across the company. E.g. by making sure that customer feedback is visible throughout the company by setting up a dedicated – and open – Slack channel.

Launching your Voice of the Customer program

A VoC program will look different for every company. But regardless of what type of company you’re running, when it comes to getting your VoC program off the ground, the same steps apply.

Get buy-in

A Voice of the Customer program requires support not just from Customer Success, but from the rest of the organization. Successful companies – and leaders – understand that acting on customer feedback is what drives a better customer experience, and ultimately – bottom line growth.

That’s why as a first step, it’s important to identify leaders across the organization and communicate the benefits of a VoC program:

  • Explain the benefits of a VoC program and how it’ll affect the company’s bottom line
  • Communicate how you will measure success, and how often
  • Clarify how the VoC program is managed, by whom (ownership) and what’s required from participants
  • Explain how you will act on Customer Feedback and who needs to be involved

Without buy-in from key stakeholders, you simply can’t run a successful VoC program.

Pro tip? Don’t make it a company-wide effort from the get-go. Instead, start with a team that’s most passionate about the customer experience, for example, Customer Success or Product. Once you’ve quantified the success, it’ll be easier to convince other teams and get buy-in from management. Focus on making sure that the first results are visible to the rest of the company first, to make getting initial buy-in easier.

Understand the customer journey

Before you can take on all the feedback that the VoC program will bring, it’s important to understand what the existing customer journey looks like and how it can be improved.

The best way to do this is to create a customer journey map to identify friction and pain points. This will help you understand where to start and where your customers need the most support.

  • Create a customer journey map
  • Identify friction and pain points in the customer journey
  • Use findings to guide the start of your VoC program

Choose the right tools

One challenging thing about customer feedback is that it’s everywhere. It sits in different tools and different teams and it’s hard to get a grasp of the big picture.

That’s why it’s important to choose the right tool to serve as your customer feedback hub – your VoC source of truth if you will. Now, this may come in many different formats:

  • A customer community
  • A dashboard that connects to all sources of customer feedback
  • A product feedback tool such as productboard to help gather and distribute customer feedback to your engineering team(s)

The most important thing here is to make sure that the tool(s) you choose fits into (or can easily be added) to existing processes and workflows across different teams. You’ll notice that it’s much easier to get things done when it’s a logical part of a known process within teams, and not something completely new.

Define ownership

Different departments will have different stakes in the VoC program. For example, Sales will want to know what a smooth handover to Customer Success looks like for the customer, Customer Success will want to know what a great onboarding experience looks like, and Product will want to know what the product experience is like and how they can improve adoption. Plus, Marketing wants to know what messaging resonates with the customers and what type of content they’d like to see throughout the experience.

Phew! No small feat.

This is why it’s helpful to appoint one Champion for each team. That person will be in charge of making sure that:

  • Relevant feedback is collected from the customers
  • The voice of the customer is heard in their team
  • The team acts on the customer feedback that comes in
  • You measure the success of improvements

That person doesn’t necessarily have to be the decision-maker or the most senior person on a team, but they do need to communicate the feedback sufficiently and make sure there’s alignment between departments when there are bigger initiatives that need to be implemented.

So you’ve defined ownership, then what? It’s time to build a workflow that ensures you act on customer feedback.

Build workflows

Your workflows should enable employees to take action based on feedback. This doesn’t have to be complicated, especially when you’re getting started.

It could look something like this:

  1. Collect feedback in one centralized place 
  2. Understand what your goals are and what you’re looking for based on identified pain points
  3. Analyze trends across feedback and pain points 
  4. Explore potential solutions – low-hanging fruit vs bigger investments
  5. Define what team(s) resources are needed to deliver a solution

As the company grows and your VoC program matures you’ll want to have a dedicated VoC team. This team will own the customer’s voice and make sure that feedback is delivered to the right people, acted on, and measured.

Speaking of measuring, how do you measure the success of a VoC program?

Establish how to measure success

It’s important to figure out how to measure success before you implement your Voice of the Customer program.

Now, there’s no set way of doing this, and this is when the customer journey comes into play. You want to focus on where you seem to start to lose your customers. Where does friction first occur? What are the pain points? If you can identify and then improve these, that’s what you should measure your success against.

  • Carry out an NPS survey at the beginning and end of a VoC initiative to get a grasp of customer satisfaction
  • Look at product metrics such adoption, usage, and key activities and goals in your product
  • Define the metrics that correlate to the pain points you’ve identified in your customer journey map
  • Identify what you need to improve those metrics – is it something you can do single-handedly? Do you need help or resources from another team?
  • Set realistic goals for each metric, start modest so you don’t get discouraged

Regardless of where you are in the process, whether you’re an early-stage company or running a big CS department, a Voice of the Customer program should lead to innovation around creating a better customer experience.

Final words

A successful VoC program will help each department better understand customer needs, pain points, and preferences. When it comes to customer feedback, listening to it is where it starts, but acting on it is what will have an impact on your bottom line.  That’s why the ultimate measure of a successful VoC program lies in how well you deliver on customer needs and expectations. It’s about gathering in-depth information about the customer journey and lifecycle, transforming those insights into action, and delivering a better customer experience.