Voice of the Customer (VoC) programs collect direct, indirect and inferred data about your customers so you can better understand your product, services, and experiences from the customers’ perspective. This is what makes VoC data so different (and so valuable) from most, if not all, of the other data your organisation collects–this data isn’t about your campaigns, your sites, your apps, and your transactions but about the customer’s feelings, sentiment, and perceptions.

Analysed appropriately, VoC data illuminates what customers care about, how they make decisions, how they feel about your products and services, their level of satisfaction and loyalty, what drives dissatisfaction with your brand, and other attributes that describe your brand’s relationship with its customers. This information can be distributed widely around the organisation to help drive tactical decisions, can inform your personas and journey maps to support strategic initiatives, and can help your firm identify promoters for advocacy programs and detractors for recovery and retention efforts.

But one of the most powerful (and simple) uses of VoC data is simply to let the actual voice of the customer be heard throughout the organisation. I’m not talking about aggregate, quantitative data that provides logical support for decisions but instead the individual and qualitative feedback shared by your customers–their actual words and sentiment.

The real voice of the customer may come to your company in a variety of ways, including comments contained in open-ended survey questions, tweets and posts in social media, complaint emails and letters sent to your business and the call recordings or text transcripts of customer care interactions. Collecting and sharing customer verbatims can enhance your customer experience and customer-centricity efforts. Charts and tables of NPS and sentiment data have their place, but they cannot capture the attention, compassion, and emotions of your leaders and employees in the same way as the gratitude, anger, frustration and desire contained within your customers’ feedback.

One of my clients spent a year trying to secure approval from leadership for the budget to correct a particular customer experience issue. None of her data, diagrams, and spreadsheets created enough attention or care to drive action–until she played a two-minute clip of a customer service call. That call, brimming with the customer’s rage and frustration and employee’s inability to resolve the issue, made the difference. “That two minutes felt like two hours as our leaders heard the failings of our process,” she told me, “but that two-minute call did more to gain the approval I needed than a hundred pages of data.”

We all work in data-driven businesses so it can be easy to forget the value of the qualitative voice of the customer. Simply put, no organisation that aspires to be customer-centric can do so without having employees see, hear and feel the voice of the customer. That may be a daily occurrence for your front-line employees, but how often do your leaders spend time with your customers? How many times per year do your marketing and IT staff sit down and listen to real people?

If your employees are disconnected from the feelings, wishes and wants of your customers, it should come as no surprise that your organisation begins to treat your customers less like people and more like segments, targets, cohorts, and audiences. Look at those words–euphemisms that turn real, flesh-and-blood human beings into soulless data categories that less represent people than they do the cash in their wallets.  The fact our business language is so much more comfortable with words like “consumer” and “affinity” than with “people” and “love” tells how much our companies must work to become the “customer-first” organisations to which so many aspire.

So, how can you get the true voice of the customer in front of more people in your organisation? Here are some ideas from my clients at Gartner:

  • Start executive meetings with customer call recordings or a review of customer verbatims from VoC surveys.
  • Share customer tweets and posts on digital signage across the organisation.
  • Ask employees and executives to participate in manual coding of unstructured data from surveys, reviewing verbatims to identify the meta tags that best describe the topics and emotions conveyed.
  • Require that real customer comments be included as part of any proposal for improvements to customer processes.
  • Challenge executives to put in a given number of hours on call-listening (and, where possible, have them sit with your customer care reps rather than merely listen from their desk–an action that creates empathy and connection with front-line employees, as well as customers).
  • Periodically invite customers into your organisation to speak with groups of employees, allowing your customers to share their perspective and your staff to ask questions.

No employee can be customer-centric if they never hear from a customer, and no firm can be customer-first if they always lead with data, products, and processes. Use the genuine voice of your customer to put your employees and leaders in a different frame of mind and foster a customer-first culture.

*This article is reprinted from the Gartner Blog Network with permission. 

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