Today’s buying process is more about creating relationships than transactions, and like any relationship, it's based on communication.
Most companies draw a line between their Voice of the Customer strategy and their customer experience plans. However, reports have shown that the latter will overtake price as the main decision factor by 2020.
But how do you improve the customer experience? By listening to the customer, of course! Now’s the time to rethink the classic but impersonal question: Would you mind rating us?
4 ways to listen to the Voice of the Customer
Make reviews fun
Create social media polls
Plan brand events
Pick up the phone
Defining the Voice of the Customer
You might be tempted to think of the Voice of the Customer (VoC) as one of those buzzwords marketing people keep throwing around. But the truth is that your VoC strategy is what will set you apart from the competition, especially when it comes as part of a complete experience. If you don’t have a strategy yet, here are four ways to get you started.
1. Make reviews fun
People like to share their opinions. It’s one of the main drivers of social media (along with keeping an eye on former high school rivals) as well as a slew of web giants like Yelp, TrustPilot, Glassdoor, and so on. So why do some companies still struggle with gathering reviews? After all, it's one of the most reliable feedback channels. It should inform many of your company decisions and guide you on your path to the perfect customer experience. And yet, getting those first few reviews in can often feel like pulling teeth.
It mostly comes down to the process feeling like an afterthought rather than a productive strategy. When you wait until the customer has already forgotten all about your product or service, you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t see them queueing to rate you.
Timing is key: you want people to have had a chance to form an opinion, but the experience to still be fresh in their minds.
Plus, consider how you ask people to leave a review. Do you make a positive experience out of it? And by that, we mean do you make it as easy as possible? One good place to look at for examples is Google. The way they know if a restaurant has parking is with a little push notification sent to people that have visited. And that's all they ask! The customer can obviously leave a review if they wish, but they’re not pressured into it.
Many companies put off customers from leaving reviews by including mandatory fields that share information like a phone number (which people are naturally reluctant to give) or adding a minimum number of characters for the text. The thinking behind such practices is understandable - you want quality reviews - but making it too hard for customers who are under no obligation to leave a review can make it all too easy for them to forego the whole thing.
Don’t underestimate people’s need to participate in polls. Whether it’s a funny #NationalDonutDay survey, asking for their favorite flavor, or something a bit more serious like their stance on environmental issues, always keep in mind that polls are an opportunity to listen to the Voice of the Customer.
Moreover, social media polls are easy to create for your team and actively engaging for customers. Despite their simplicity, they can provide your company with a lot of valuable insight. For example, if the poll we mentioned shows you that your audience is preoccupied with the environment, you can try to think of ways to improve your Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy. Not to mention the possibility of surprising the responders with a fun prize for participating. Did someone say donut gift card?
Polls are also an innovative way of gatekeeping content. Gated content refers to high-quality, lengthier pieces or graphics that require users to fill out a form to gain access to. It’s a great way to populate your CRM with contacts and qualify your leads, depending on the type of content you place behind the digital gate. Where does this marketing strategy come into play when discussing the Voice of the Customer? It’s true that most forms ask for personal information but you can always personalize it to ask simple questions that will give you an understanding of how your audience perceives your brand.
The key is to keep it simple! Don’t ask too many questions and refrain from open-ended ones that require a lengthy answer. If you don’t do this, you risk alienating the reader and losing them before they hit ‘Send’ on the form. Stick to questions like “On a scale from 1 to 10, where 10 is ‘Definitely’ and 1 is ‘Not at all’, how likely are you to recommend us?”. These are easy questions to answer but can still point you in the right direction when assessing your brand.
3. Plan brand events
Brand events are another way of gaining access to important customer insight. Depending on whether you’re B2B or B2C, you can always think of new ways to create face-to-face opportunities to interact with your customers. However, while acquiring customers is a big part of any business, having a retention strategy makes the difference between a brand that is loved by its users and one that is easily forgotten when competitors show up. Not to mention that, according to Harvard Business Review, customer acquisition can be up to 5 times more expensive than retention.
So, why not combine your retention strategy with your VoC? A great opportunity would be a new product introduction, where you can invite some of your most loyal customers (also known as your brand evangelists) to meet the team and get to know what you have in store for them. They’re the people who leave multiple reviews, on different websites, tag you on social media, and send you emails. They know your brand and are invested in its evolution.
If you do want to organize an event dedicated to them, train your team to keep an eye out for opinions and suggestions, especially when customers are interacting with each other. This way, your evangelists feel happy and rewarded for their loyalty with an exclusive opportunity and the feeling of being a part of something larger than themselves. All this while you have an amazing chance to capture the Voice of the Customer straight from its source.
4. Pick up the phone
Sometimes the most obvious method is the one most overlooked. Why not take the phrase literally and ask the customer to use their actual voice? Pick up the phone and call someone who’s had a memorable experience. Bonus points if it’s a negative one! It takes a lot of courage on a company’s part to admit that they made a mistake, and more often than not, that’s all a customer wants to hear. Diffusing negative reviews by acknowledging their feelings is customer experience 101.
Cold calling is no one’s favorite job, and if you catch your customer at the wrong time, they won’t be willing to give you much insight.
A solution could be to select a few individuals and schedule a quick phone call with them via email. This way, your customers know why you’re calling and they’re more likely to engage. If you doubt you’ll get a response, don’t worry! When you make people feel like their opinion matters and that they’re being consulted on an important topic, they’ll be more open to help you in return.
That said, don’t forget to make a plan before you call them! It will help to have an idea of what threads you want to unravel and which topics you need to cover. When you do speak to them, stay focused and let the customer do most of the talking. It’s very tempting to try and lead them towards the answers you want, but ideally they’ll reveal these as you talk.
It might be useful to read up a little on how professional qualitative researchers handle similar situations. Oftentimes, there is an inevitable bias when conducting this type of research. For example, an individual might be more inclined to like your brand because a close friend or family member recommended it to them; therefore it’s associated with a positive relationship. But the end results can provide such rich information that it is worth taking the time to weed out the inconsistencies.
What to do now?
With all these strategies in mind now, you need to make sure you’re putting them to good use. Capturing the VoC is only half of the battle. What’s the next step? Treat the insights you’ve gained like qualitative data research and analyse your results. It’s a time consuming activity but the knowledge you’ll have access to will be more than enough reward. Oftentimes, brands think their customers want something that, in reality, they really don’t and then wonder how they could have possibly ended up on a Buzzfeed list of “products no one ever asked for." Even if you do ask customers directly what they want, they can still give you the wrong answer.
So look beyond the surface. True qualitative data should reveal what your customers’ pain points are even when they don’t realize it themselves. Remember the old anecdote where someone asked Henry Ford if people had told him they wanted a car and he answered “Of course not. If I had asked them what they wanted, they would’ve said a faster horse.”
The artistry of innovation is to read between the lines and identify new ways of solving your customers’ problems. How do you identify these? By listening to them. And that's where your Voice of the Customer strategy can help you take your business to the next level!
Want to learn more? Read all about communication styles to find out which will work best for you and your customers and make sure to check out our resources on ways to improve your communication skills!
Cristina Maria is a Marketing Executive at Commusoft, a job management software company, where she helps field service businesses discover the potential of digital solutions. A curious hybrid writer and marketer, you'll usually find Cristina doing what she loves most: using her work experience to produce engaging content for those looking to make the most out of their business strategies. An Asimov fan since childhood, she gets much too fired up whenever the topic of AI comes into discussion.