Listen up: four must-haves of a Voice of the Customer program

Find a person involved in any business anywhere who has not had the importance of customer experience drilled into them over the last few years, and you’ll find a person who is pretending to be involved in that business.

Customer experience, after all, is expected to be the key brand differentiator by the year 2020, which means nearly every business is either scrambling to optimize their customer experience, or poised to feel the intense hurt that can only come from underestimating the needs, wants and expectations of customers who have no shortage of purchasing options and a social media soapbox for airing grievances.

Improving the customer experience centers around understanding those customer needs, wants and expectations, which centers around both hearing and understanding what customers are saying. Luckily it’s 2017, so of course, this can be automated with a Voice of the Customer program.

Voices carry
A Voice of the Customer program (VoC) is one designed to help organizations understand what exactly it is that customers want with the aim of improving the customer experience in order to increase customer loyalty, spend, retention and lifetime value, and decrease customer service costs.

All VoC programs are not created equal, unfortunately, but if your organization has a good one it can pay dividends. Major dividends. According to a study undertaken by the Aberdeen group, best in class VoC users experienced a 48.2% year over year revenue increase in 2015. Since that is a highly motivating percentage, without further ado here are four must-haves for an effective VoC program.

VoC must-have #1: all the feedback
Asking for and getting customer feedback is inarguably important, but today’s VoC programs have to go beyond how customers respond to a survey. A leading VoC program will gather direct feedback like survey responses across all customer interaction channels (phone, email, website, app, social media, SMS, messaging apps, and so on) using a personalized and conversational approach, of course, but in order to truly hear the customer, your program needs to gather indirect feedback as well.

Indirect feedback constitutes what your customers are saying about their customer service needs and wants when they aren’t directly being asked their opinion on it. This means being able to analyze customer service interactions between customers and agents, posts on social media, and online reviews using text and speech analytics. This is advanced technology, to say the least, but it’s out there. If the VoC program you’re considering touts little more than their survey skills, keep looking.

VoC must-have #2: the ability to deal with all that feedback
When it comes to feedback and data, people tend to think the more the merrier…until it lands on their desks like the spreadsheet equivalent of a two-ton anvil. Too much data is essentially the same as not enough because neither is going to be useful.

A leading VoC program will employ powerful analytics to turn that absolute crush of feedback and customer experience data into insights that drive action and improvement. This includes sentiment, key driver, correlation and root cause analytics as well as frequent or trending customer satisfaction issues. In short, VoC analytics should be able to identify what’s working well and what’s going wrong so your managers and coaches can immediately begin instituting improvements instead of wasting time trying to identify issues themselves.

VoC must-have #3: usability
You hired your coaches because they’re good at coaching and your agents because they’re good at interacting with customers. You likely did not take into account how good any of your employees are at learning complex computer programs, so don’t make them do that.

A VoC that truly works will have customized information for every employee, providing all relevant insights as well as tailored goals, yet restricting data in order to keep the focus on individual responsibility, and it will deliver that information in a format that fits neatly into an employee’s workday, whether that’s a full dashboard, push notifications, or integration with another business app. VoC should be helpful to employees, effortlessly engaging, not yet another task on a to-do list.

VoC must-have #4: real-time reporting and alerts
There’s nothing quite like discovering a trending customer satisfaction issue after it’s been going on for five days, or a severely dissatisfied customer after they’ve already gotten angry enough to abandon the brand. While those insights will help improve customer experience in the future, that doesn’t mean anything to the customers whose interactions could not be salvaged.

If you are going to spend the time and money necessary to get a VoC program going, make sure it includes real-time alerting capabilities that can be set based on metrics, feedback or trends, as well as automated escalation, follow-ups and best-next-step guidance that can help catch an at-risk customer while their issue is still at the forefront, not buried with no chance of resuscitation. With the right VoC program, real-time visibility can be just as 20/20 as hindsight.

Getting ahead of the game
The next few years will be an unending onslaught of tips, tricks and tools aimed at helping businesses improve their customer experience. If you’d like to sit out the conferences, ignore the workshops, and unsubscribe from customer experience optimization email blasts, all you need to do is put in the work now to give your customers the kind of experience that fosters loyalty and impressive customer lifetime value. They all have a voice, so let them use it with a voice of the customer program that actually works.