Article

What is Voice of the Customer (VoC)? Definition + strategies

Are you truly listening to your customers? Use Voice of the Customer programs to gather feedback and improve the customer experience.

By Peter Alig, Contributing Writer

Published November 14, 2019
Last updated July 5, 2022

Imagine a waiter working at a fancy restaurant without a notepad for taking orders. One evening, a party of 10 walks in the door. Even with a better-than-average memory, the waiter is looking at a stressful night.

A company without a strategy to collect and analyze customer feedback is in a similar situation. Its customers are talking about the brand—sometimes to its team members—across several channels. But without a way to consolidate this input, the support team may miss valuable cues for improving customer experiences.

Voice of the Customer programs capture your target audience’s wants, needs, and pain points from multiple channels, enabling support agents to easily understand the feedback and share it with the rest of the company.

Sharing data across your business means breaking down internal silos, moving toward a better customer satisfaction (CSAT) score, and affecting change where necessary to elevate the customer experience.

What is Voice of the Customer (VoC)?

Voice of the Customer (VoC) is a program that businesses use to collect and analyze customer feedback about their brand, products, or services. This input comes from various sources, including customer surveys, social media posts, and support interactions.

A successful VoC strategy requires buy-in from every department, as they all shape the customer experience. These teams must agree on how to collect feedback, share results, and use insights to refine their slices of the customer journey.

Why is a Voice of the Customer program important?

VoC programs prevent input from falling through the cracks so every department can positively respond to customer needs, improving their experiences with your brand. A recent Qualtrics study found that a high-quality customer experience is one of the best predictors of customer loyalty: 94 percent of consumers who have a “very good” customer experience are likely to buy more products and services from the company.

Benefits of a Voice of the Customer program

Companies that use Voice of the Customer tools and methodology to speak with buyers see benefits across their organizations.

Create customer-centric products

When product development includes customer feedback, you increase the chances the products will succeed in the market—while avoiding costly mistakes. It can be expensive to introduce a new product that fails to resonate with your customers.

Before launching a nationwide rollout of a new product, consider sending a prototype to a customer focus group. If you receive negative feedback, the product team can make refinements before releasing it to the public.

Delight customers with better support

VoC programs enable businesses to strengthen their reputation with helpful support.

Say a customer sends an angry email or leaves a negative social media comment about a support agent. Besides coaching the agent, you can reach out to the customer to acknowledge the issue and explain how you plan to fix the problem.

This white-glove treatment is critical for retention. According to BrightLocal, 89 percent of consumers are “highly or fairly likely” to use a business that responds to all of its online reviews, both positive and negative.

Increase customer retention

When buyers see that you take their feedback seriously—and you use it to improve your products and services—it builds their trust in your brand.

When customers believe in your company, they’re less likely to take their business elsewhere. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022, 74 percent of shoppers say they will forgive a company for a mistake after receiving excellent service. And 81 percent are likely to buy again after a positive customer service experience.

How to build a Voice of the Customer program

Whether you’re managing support for a small or large business, these steps will help you set up a VoC program.

  1. Get program buy-in from key stakeholders

    A VoC program can originate from the support team, but its success often depends on contributions from other teams. Customer support managers should share their program objectives with other department heads to see if the program can have a more far-reaching impact. Improving the customer experience, after all, is in the whole company’s best interest.

    Say the customer support manager of a large organization wants to gather feedback on how to increase customer satisfaction with live chat. The finance team should agree to the program’s goals in case it needs special funding. IT needs to be looped in because the results may require switching live chat technology providers. The sales team is also a stakeholder, as the results may influence how they use live chat.

    In this scenario, taking the time to get program buy-in could result in higher satisfaction with live chat as well as higher sales from it. Plus, you’ll improve employee engagement and collaboration across teams in the process.

  2. Determine which VoC channels to focus on

    Support teams have never had access to more channels for customer communication—email, SMS, social media, chat, messaging apps, and more. Figure out which channels will bring you the most valuable VoC input to help your agents make the most of their time.

    Your chosen channels must balance the quantity of feedback with the quality. You may have a larger following on Instagram, for example, but you should focus on Facebook if more customer conversations take place on that platform. If you send a five-question survey via email, but only a fraction of your customers complete it, you may need to host an in-person focus group to get high-quality feedback.

    The channels should also make it easy for customers to provide their input. Say you want to send a customer satisfaction survey. Live chat or an interactive voice response (IVR) system are ideal channels for such feedback. The customer can respond with the press or click of a button.

  3. Adopt and integrate software to track the feedback

    Invest in customer feedback software to set up your surveys and send them automatically to your target customers via your selected channels. The software should also calculate average numerical ratings from CSAT or Net Promoter Score® (NPS) surveys and analyze the sentiment of survey responses. These features save you time, ensure accuracy, and store the results for future reference.

    With sentiment analysis, tools find words or phrases in blocks of text that indicate how customers feel about your brands or products. According to Gartner, 60 percent of organizations with VoC programs will use voice and text analysis alongside surveys by 2025.

    Integrate your customer feedback software with other platforms to increase its power. For example, Zendesk’s conversational customer relationship management (CRM) tool supports the Idiomatic app, which analyzes the sentiment of support interactions. The CRM associates survey and sentiment results with individual customer records.

  4. Look for trends in your VoC research

    If your customer feedback software offers analytics dashboards, use the reporting features to quickly spot trends in CSAT and NPS ratings, sentiment scores, and keywords used in survey responses.

    CSAT trends are fairly straightforward. If the CSAT average is above 9, your customers are happy across the board. An average of 2 or less means you have a problem.

    It’s one thing to find out that customers are unsatisfied, but why are they unsatisfied? Take a look at customers’ open-ended responses alongside their CSAT ratings to understand their scores.

    Consider implementing sentiment analysis, too (if your customer feedback tool offers that feature), to quickly gauge whether input around certain topics is typically positive, negative, or neutral. Most tools present this data in an easy-to-follow dashboard.

    Trends in your VoC research

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    Say negative sentiment repeatedly shows up around “usability.” Your follow-up VoC program can ask a question specifically related to that category for deeper insights.

  5. Follow up with customers

    Thank customers who took the time to complete a VoC survey or participate in a focus group. And tailor your follow-up according to how customers responded to your outreach.

    Be especially proactive with customers who report one or more negative experiences with your products, services, or brand. According to Statista, 56 percent of companies are planning to be more proactive in their customer experience management in 2022.

    It’s fine to send unsatisfied customers a thank-you note for their participation as well. But you’ll sound aloof as a company if you don’t also tell them how you plan to improve your products or services based on their feedback.

    Include a gift or discount on another purchase as an extra incentive to prevent them from churning.

  6. Keep collecting customer feedback

    You’ve collected input about your product, so your engineers know which features they should add. That’s great—but don’t stop there. VoC involves continually gathering feedback. After you make product and customer experience updates, you’ll want to ask customers how they like those changes.

    If improving live chat was the focus of one VoC program, send a follow-up to see if your improvements result in higher CSAT scores. Ask open-ended questions about their experiences with the new feature.

    With each new VoC program comes the opportunity to make adjustments to your feedback strategy. You may decide to switch from chat to email, ask a different question, or segment responses differently. Eventually, the VoC feedback loop will become a part of your company culture.

CX Maturity among SMBs of North America

Zendesk partnered with ESG Research to create a framework around CX maturity and CX success to help leaders at small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) identify where they stand and build a roadmap for the future.

Voice of the Customer techniques

There’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” VoC program. Explore popular strategies for collecting Voice of the Customer data so you can identify the ones that best fit your business.

Net Promoter Score® (NPS)

The NPS® survey is a popular and relatively simple way to assess customer loyalty. Businesses send customers a one-question survey that asks, “How likely are you to recommend us to someone you know?” Customers can then respond on a scale of 0 to 10.

Zendesk’s NPS® survey tool also asks customers to share the reason for their rating and provides space for them to write a response. Over half of NPS® survey respondents will leave additional open-ended feedback, which helps determine:

  • Why detractors (customers who leave a rating between 0 and 6) are having a bad customer experience
  • What promoters (customers who leave a rating of 9 or 10) value most about your company
  • What issues are preventing passives (customers who leave a rating of 7 or 8) from becoming promoters

Net Promoter Score® (NPS)

Customer satisfaction (CSAT) rating

CSAT surveys invite customers to rate a particular interaction or experience with your brand—whether that’s buying a product or talking to a support agent. Email, SMS, and chat are common channels for sending CSAT surveys.

After a support interaction, for example, many companies send customers CSAT surveys that ask, “How would you rate your recent experience?” Customers can rank their experience on a scale of 1 to 10 or choose from options ranging from “very dissatisfied” to “very satisfied.”

The more CSAT scores your company collects, the more touchpoints you can analyze. You can also ask additional customer satisfaction survey questions—including demographic details, product usage, and follow-up questions—to compile an even richer set of data.

Customer satisfaction (CSAT) rating

The higher the final percentage, the more satisfied customers are with the experience.

Customer surveys

CSAT and NPS are popular surveys because they’re so straightforward. But sometimes, you’ll want to ask a customer more than just one question.

Be careful not to ask too many questions, though—the longer the survey, the more likely a customer won’t finish it. SurveyMonkey found that abandonment rates increased 5 to 20 percent for surveys that took more than seven to eight minutes to complete.

Try to build short surveys and write questions that are easy to understand (aim for an eighth-grade reading level). You may also need to incentivize potential survey-takers with a reward, such as a discount, coupon, or gift.

Community forums

An active community forum is a great source of direct and indirect feedback. This owned platform on a company’s website can provide a powerful combination of customer support, social networking, and honest communication about a brand’s products or services.

Regularly check on the forum to see what customers are talking about, and use that information to design better practices, products, and resources.

Customers often use forums to troubleshoot issues with a software product. It’s not uncommon for participants to discover multiple solutions for the same problem by interacting with each other. Support agents can use these conversations to expand their knowledge of your products and the assistance they provide. Agents can also respond directly to customers and help them resolve issues in real-time.

Customer interviews

A classic Voice of the Customer example is the customer interview. Though more time-consuming than an automated survey, an interview with an individual buyer can allow you to dig deeper into someone’s feelings about your brand, services, or products.

Customer interviews can happen over the phone, through email exchanges, or in person. Pick an interviewee who reflects your overall audience or a key demographic you’re trying to learn more about.

Focus groups

Focus groups help you conduct market research using group interviews. You can guide participants with a list of questions or let them freely discuss a topic of interest, such as what they consider an ideal customer support experience. Like customer interviews, focus groups can occur virtually or in person.

Questions to consider for your Voice of the Customer research

A VoC program succeeds only when customer feedback is actionable. Obtaining actionable insights starts with asking a tightly worded question that customers can answer quickly and specifically. The questions can focus on your products, services, or brand.

How did you hear about our brand?

This question helps you gauge which customer acquisition efforts have proven the most successful. You can shift resources away from less successful ones. If “word of mouth” is a top answer, you could allocate more funds to your referral program, for example.

How would you improve [a specific product or service]?

If you have a history of releasing successful products, it’s easy to get attached to a certain way of doing things. Don’t get stuck in this mindset. Help your product team innovate by going directly to the customer with this question to get fresh ideas.

Which social media platforms do you prefer?

Social media channels are rich sources of VoC data. Figure out which platforms your audience uses most through this question, so you can focus on those platforms to monitor customer sentiment and respond to negative comments.

How do you prefer to contact customer service?

Our CX Trends Report found that 93 percent of consumers will spend more with companies that offer their preferred option to contact support. So, it’s worth asking which channel they like most. You may learn that customers prefer to find answers on their own, resulting in the development of more self-service resources.

What do you like best about [a product or service]?

Sometimes, it’s important to confirm what not to change about a product or service. This question encourages customers to name specific features they enjoy, helping clarify what doesn’t need improvement.

How to apply Voice of the Customer analysis

Once you’ve established your process for gathering and analyzing VoC data, use it to refine the customer experience across your entire business.

Training opportunities

Our CX Trends Report revealed that 68 percent of customers feel like most businesses need to improve the training of their customer service reps. Luckily, VoC analysis can lead to training opportunities for agents, helping them resolve problems more quickly and efficiently.

CSAT surveys can help uncover specific training needs. Over a month, send CSAT surveys after each support interaction with the open-ended question, “How can we improve your support experience?” Analyze the comments from surveys that skew negative, and look for common themes.

Recurring responses such as “Agent was short with me” might mean that the team needs training in customer empathy. If complaints about the length of support interactions revolve around a single product, you may have agents who lack a thorough understanding of it. Schedule a training session with the product team to ensure all agents are on the same page.

Knowledge base management

Use support tickets and customer conversations to determine which inquiries to add to your knowledge base content. A knowledge base is a collection of articles covering common support issues. Customers who find answers here don’t need to contact support, saving customers time and freeing up agents to focus on more complex issues.

Consumers want self-service options, too. According to our CX Trends Report, 89 percent of shoppers will spend more with companies that allow them to find answers online without having to contact anyone. And 70 percent say they expect a company to have a self-service portal or content available to them.

Analyze the topics of support tickets that agents resolved in a single exchange and that didn’t require follow-up. These topics are good candidates for easily digestible knowledge base articles. The more a topic shows up in support tickets, the more urgent it might be to cover it in your knowledge base.

Voice of the Customer examples

Voice of the Customer impacts a wide range of customer experiences, regardless of the size and mission of your company. Here are some examples of businesses using VoC programs successfully.

Harbor Path: Improving patient experiences

Healthcare nonprofit Harbor Path helps hospitals provide life-saving medication to the uninsured. Patients in need complete an online application, and if approved, Harbor Path connects them to a provider to pick up the medication.

Harbor Path

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Harbor Path uses Voice of the Customer to better understand patients’ needs and communicate those needs to donors who cover the drug costs. In one program, the nonprofit analyzed thousands of patient applications and learned that demand for Naloxone—a drug it didn’t offer at the time—was increasing to combat the opioid epidemic in a particular state. When Harbor Path presented this data to that state, the nonprofit was able to secure funding quickly.

VoC provided the customer insights that improved the experience of new patients while helping hospitals offer better care.

Homebridge: Making customers feel heard

Homebridge’s mission is to simplify the home mortgage process. Applying for a loan is often quite stressful for first-time buyers, so Homebridge uses feedback to make sure its support team exceeds customer expectations.

Homebridge uses Trustpilot to gather and monitor customer reviews on a variety of issues, primarily the responsiveness of customer support. A Zendesk integration converts negative reviews into support tickets and escalates them in agent workflows. Agents can then reach out proactively.

Homebridge

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Knowing how to do Voice of the Customer properly allowed Homebridge to better understand its customers and build relationships with them. According to Ben Chapman, director of client-facing experience and analytics at Homebridge, these integrations “allow us to see and interact with customers and manage relationships that we haven’t started yet or that we want to retain.”

Stay ahead of the competition with Voice of the Customer programs

Almost all businesses claim to be customer-focused, but few truly rise to the occasion. VoC programs help companies stay customer-centric by providing a steady stream of feedback that informs their product, service, and brand development. Set up a VoC program to quickly capture customer input, act on that feedback, and keep buyers happy.

Net Promoter, Net Promoter Score, and NPS are registered trademarks of Satmetrix Systems, Inc., Bain & Company, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.

CX Maturity among SMBs of North America

Zendesk partnered with ESG Research to create a framework around CX maturity and CX success to help leaders at small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) identify where they stand and build a roadmap for the future.

CX Maturity among SMBs of North America

Zendesk partnered with ESG Research to create a framework around CX maturity and CX success to help leaders at small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) identify where they stand and build a roadmap for the future.

Download the free report