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Creating And Maintaining A Voice Of Customer Program — Smashing Magazine

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For those involved in digital and physical product development or leadership, consider a Voice of Customer (VoC) program. A VoC program systematically gathers and analyzes customer insights, channeling user opinions into actionable intelligence. VoC programs use surveys, analytics, interviews, and more to capture a broad range of customer sentiment. When implemented effectively, a VoC program transforms raw feedback into a roadmap for strategic decisions, product refinement, and service enhancements.

By proactively identifying issues, optimizing offerings for user satisfaction, and tailoring products to real-time demand, VoC programs keep companies ahead. Moreover, in a world of fleeting consumer loyalty, such programs build trust and enhance the overall brand experience. VoC has been a standard CX practice that UX and product teams can utilize to their advantage. We’ll focus on VoC for digital products for this article. However, the methods and lessons learned are equally applicable to those working with physical products.

Successful product teams and User Experience (UX) practitioners understand that customer feedback is invaluable. It guides decisions and fosters innovation for products and services. Whether it’s e-commerce platforms refining user interfaces based on shopper insights or social media giants adjusting algorithms in response to user sentiments, customer feedback is pivotal for digital success. Listening, understanding, and adapting to the customer’s voice are key to sustainable growth.

The role of UX research in capturing the Voice of the Customer

UX research serves as the bridge that spans the chasm between a company’s offerings and its customers’ perspectives. UX research plays a pivotal role in capturing the multifaceted VoC. Trained UX researchers transform raw feedback into actionable recommendations, guiding product development and design in a direction that resonates authentically with users.

Ultimately, UX research is the translator that converts the diverse, nuanced VoC into a coherent and actionable strategy for digital companies.

A researcher stands pointing at a desktop screen while her colleague looks on.
UX Researchers are critical to creating and implementing an effective VoC program. (Photo credit: Juhan Sonin) (Large preview)

Setting Up A Voice Of Customer Program

Overview Of Steps

We’ve identified six key steps needed to establish a VoC program. At a high level, these steps are the following:

  1. Establishing program objectives and goals.
  2. Identifying the target audience and customer segments.
  3. Selecting the right research methods and tools.
  4. Developing a data collection framework.
  5. Analyzing and interpreting customer feedback.
  6. Communicating insights to stakeholders effectively.

We’ll discuss each of these steps in more detail below.

Establishing Program Objectives And Goals

Before establishing a VoC program, it’s crucial to define clear objectives and goals. Are you aiming to enhance product usability, gather insights for new feature development, or address customer service challenges? By outlining these goals, you create a roadmap that guides the entire program. You will also avoid taking on too much and maintain a focus on what is critical when you state your specific goals and objectives. Specific objectives help shape research questions, select appropriate methodologies, and ensure that the insights collected align with the strategic priorities of the company.

You should involve a diverse group of stakeholders in establishing your goals. You might have members of your product teams and leadership respond to a survey to help quantify what your team and company hope to get out of a VoC. You might also hold workshops to help gain insight into what your stakeholders consider critical for the success of your VoC. Workshops can help you identify how stakeholders might be able to assist in establishing and maintaining the VoC and create greater buy-in for the VoC from your stakeholders. People like to participate when it comes to having a say in how data will be collected and used to inform decisions. If you come up with a long list of goals that seem overwhelming, you can engage key stakeholders in a prioritization exercise to help determine which goals should be the VoC focus.

Identifying The Target Audience And Customer Segments

Once you create clear objectives and goals, defining the target audience and customer segments will be important. For example, you decide your objective is to understand conversion rates between your various customer segments. Your goal is to increase sign-up conversion. You would want to determine if your target audience should be people who have purchased within a certain time frame, people who have never made a purchase, people who have abandoned carts, or a mix of all three.

Analytics can be critical to help create shortcuts at this point. You might start by looking at analytical data collected on the sign-up page to identify age gaps to set the target audience to understand why that specific age gap(s) are not signing up, whether there is evidence certain segments are more likely to abandon carts, and which segments are less likely to visit your site at all. Then, based on these clear objectives and goals, as well as identifying a target audience and customer segment, you could select the right research method and tools to collect data from the audience segment(s) you’ve identified as critical to collect feedback from.

Selecting The Right Research Methods And Tools

The success of a VoC program hinges on the selection of appropriate research methods and tools. Depending on your objectives, you might employ a mix of quantitative methods like surveys and analytics to capture broad trends, along with qualitative methods like user interviews and usability testing to unearth nuanced insights. Utilizing digital tools and platforms can streamline data collection, aggregation, and analysis. These tools, ranging from survey platforms to sentiment analysis software, enhance efficiency and provide in-depth insights.

The key is to choose methods and tools that align with the program’s goals and allow for a holistic understanding of the customer’s voice.

Your UX researcher will be critical in helping to identify the correct methods and tools for collecting data.

For example, a company could be interested in measuring satisfaction with its current digital experience. If there are currently no metrics being captured by the company, then a mixed method approach could be used to try to understand customers’ current attitudes towards the digital experience at a large scale and then dive deeper at a smaller scale after analyzing the survey. The quantitative survey could contain traditional metrics to measure people’s feelings like Net Promoter Score (NPS), which attempts to measure customer loyalty using a single item and/or System Usability Scale (SUS), which attempts to measure system usability using a brief questionnaire, and then based on the data collected, would drive the types of questions asked in a qualitative interview.

To collect the survey information, an online survey tool could be used that can draft and calculate metric questions for you. Many tools have integrated analysis that allows users to do statistical analysis of quantitative data collected and light semantic reviews on qualitative data. You can share the survey data easily with your stakeholder groups and then shape an interview protocol that will allow you to reach out to a smaller group of users to get deeper insight into the findings from the survey.

Table 1: Commonly used UX research methods to consider as part of a VOC Program
UX Research Method Situations in which to use Type of data collected
User interviews
  • Gaining an in-depth understanding of user needs, motivations, and behaviors.
  • Uncovering hidden pain points and frustrations.
  • Generating new ideas and solutions.
Qualitative data (e.g., quotes, stories, opinions)
Surveys
  • Gathering quantitative data from a large number of users.
  • Measuring user satisfaction and attitudes.
  • Identifying trends and patterns.
Quantitative data (e.g., ratings, rankings, frequencies)
Focus groups
  • Generating a wide range of perspectives on a topic.
  • Exploring controversial or sensitive issues.
  • Gathering feedback on design concepts or prototypes.
Qualitative data (e.g., group discussions, consensus statements)
Usability testing
  • Identifying usability problems with a product or service.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of design solutions.
  • Gathering feedback on user flows and task completion.
Qualitative and quantitative data (e.g., task completion rates, error rates, user feedback)
Analytics
  • Tracking user behavior on a website or app.
  • Identifying trends and patterns in user engagement.
  • Measuring the effectiveness of marketing campaigns.
Quantitative data (e.g., page views, time on site, conversion rates)

Developing A Data Collection Framework

Collecting feedback requires a structured approach to ensure consistency and reliability. Developing a data collection framework involves creating standardized surveys, questionnaires, and interview protocols that gather relevant information systematically. A well-designed framework ensures you capture essential data points while minimizing biases or leading questions. This framework becomes the backbone of data collection efforts, enabling robust analysis and comparison of feedback across various touchpoints and customer segments.

Your data collection framework should include the following:

  • Objectives and research questions.
  • Data sources, whether it’s surveys, user interviews, website analytics, or any other relevant means.
  • Data collection methods with an emphasis on reliability and validity.
  • A robust data management plan. This includes organizing data in a structured format, setting up appropriate storage systems, and ensuring data security and privacy compliance, especially if dealing with sensitive information.
  • Timing and frequency of data collection, as well as the duration of your study. A well-thought-out schedule ensures you gather data when it’s most relevant and over a suitable time frame.
  • A detailed data analysis plan that outlines how you will process, analyze, and draw insights from the collected data.

Analyzing And Interpreting Customer Feedback

Collecting data is only half the journey; the real value lies in analyzing and interpreting the data collected. This involves processing both quantitative data (such as survey responses) and qualitative data (such as open-ended comments). Data analysis techniques like sentiment analysis, thematic coding, and pattern recognition help distill valuable insights.

These insights unveil customer preferences, emerging trends, and pain points that might require attention. Your UX researcher(s) can take the lead, with assistance from other team members, in helping to analyze your data and interpret your findings. The interpretation phase transforms raw data into actionable recommendations, guiding decision-making for product improvements and strategic initiatives.

Communicating Insights To Stakeholders Effectively

The insights derived from a VoC program hold significance across various levels of the organization. Effectively communicating these insights to stakeholders is critical for driving change and garnering support. Presenting findings through clear, visually engaging reports and presentations helps stakeholders grasp the significance of customer feedback. Additionally, highlighting actionable recommendations and illustrating how they tie back to strategic objectives empowers decision-makers to make informed choices. Regularly updating stakeholders on progress, outcomes, and improvements reinforces the ongoing value of the VoC program and fosters a culture of customer-centricity within the organization.

Key Components Of A Successful Voice Of Customer Program

Building A Culture Of Feedback Within The Organization

A successful VoC program is rooted in an organizational culture that prioritizes feedback at all levels. This culture begins with leadership setting the example by actively seeking and valuing customer opinions. When employees perceive that feedback is not only encouraged but also acted upon, it fosters an environment of collaboration and innovation. This culture should extend across departments, from marketing to development to customer service, ensuring that every team member understands the role they play in delivering exceptional experiences. By integrating customer insights into the company’s DNA, a feedback culture reinforces the notion that everyone has a stake in the customer’s journey.

Start small and incorporate research activities into product development to start harnessing a user-centric approach. Develop reports that showcase the business purpose, findings, and recommendations that can be presented to the product development team and stakeholders, but also to other departments to show the value of VoC research. Lastly, provide opportunities to collaborate with other departments to help them incorporate VoC into their daily activities. As a result, a culture of incorporating a VoC program becomes reinforced.

There are many ways you can go about building this culture. Some specific examples we’ve used include facilitating cross-product or cross-discipline meetings to plan research and review findings, workshops bringing together stakeholders from various lines of business or roles to help shape the research agenda, and perhaps most importantly, identifying and utilizing a champion of insights to promote findings throughout the organization. Ideally, your champion would hold a position that allows them to have exposure horizontally across your business and vertically up to various key stakeholders and members of leadership. Your champion can help identify who should be attending meetings, and they can also be utilized to present findings or have one-off conversations with leadership to promote buy-in for your culture of feedback.

Implementing User-friendly Feedback Mechanisms

For a VoC program to thrive, feedback mechanisms must be accessible, intuitive, and seamless for customers. Whether it’s a user-friendly feedback form embedded within an app, a chatbot for instant assistance, or social media channels for open conversations, the channels for providing feedback should reflect the digital preferences of your audience. These mechanisms should accommodate both quantitative and qualitative inputs, enabling customers to share their experiences in a manner that suits them best. A key element here is the simplicity of the process; if users find it cumbersome or time-consuming to provide feedback, the program’s effectiveness can be compromised.

A screenshot of a pop-up survey with items measuring customer satisfaction.
You can present users with a brief survey to complete in the context of using your product as part of a VoC. (Image source: proprofssurvey.com. The authors have no affiliation with this site or product.) (Large preview)

Encouraging Customer Participation And Engagement

Engaging customers is essential for gathering diverse perspectives. Incentivizing participation through rewards, gamification, or exclusive offers can increase engagement rates. Moreover, companies can foster a sense of ownership among customers by involving them in shaping future offerings. Beta testing, user panels, and co-creation sessions invite customers to actively contribute to product development, reinforcing the idea that their opinions are not only valued but directly influence the company’s direction. By making customers feel like valued collaborators, a VoC program becomes a mutually beneficial relationship.

Integrating Feedback Into The Decision-making Process

Customer feedback should not remain isolated; it needs to permeate the decision-making process across all departments. This integration demands that insights gathered through the VoC program are systematically channeled to relevant teams. Product teams can use these insights to refine features, marketers can tailor campaigns based on customer preferences, and support teams can address recurring pain points promptly. Creating feedback loops ensures that customer opinions are not only heard but also translated into tangible actions, demonstrating the organization’s commitment to iterative improvement driven by user insights.

Continuous Improvement And Iteration Of The VoC Program

A VoC program is a journey, not a destination. It requires a commitment to continuous improvement and adaptation. As customer behaviors and preferences evolve, the program must evolve in tandem. Regularly reviewing the program’s effectiveness, incorporating new data sources, and updating methodologies keep the program relevant. This also includes analyzing the program’s impact on KPIs such as customer satisfaction scores, retention rates, and revenue growth. By iterating the program itself, businesses ensure that it remains aligned with changing business goals and the ever-evolving needs of their customers.

Best Practices And Tips For An Effective VoC Program

Creating Clear And Concise Surveys And Questionnaires

The success of a VoC program often hinges on the quality of the surveys and questionnaires used to collect feedback. To ensure meaningful responses, it’s essential to design clear and concise questions that avoid ambiguity. Keep the surveys focused on specific topics to prevent respondent fatigue and make sure that the language used is easily understandable by your target audience. Utilize a mix of closed-ended (quantitative) and open-ended (qualitative) questions to capture both statistical data and rich, contextual insights. Prioritize brevity and relevance to encourage higher response rates and more accurate feedback.

Monitoring Feedback Across Multiple Channels

Customer feedback is shared through diverse channels: social media, email, app reviews, support tickets, and more. Monitoring feedback across these channels is essential for capturing a holistic view of customer sentiment. Centralize these feedback streams to ensure that no valuable insights slip through the cracks. By aggregating feedback from various sources, you can identify recurring themes and uncover emerging issues, allowing for proactive responses and continuous improvement. Note we have focused on digital products. However, if there is a physical component of your experience, such as a brick-and-mortar store, you should be collecting similar feedback from those customers in those settings.

Incorporating User Testing And Usability Studies

Incorporating user testing and usability studies is important to help evaluate an experience with users. While upfront activities like in-depth user interviews can articulate users’ desires and needs for an experience, they do not help evaluate the updated experience. Findings and recommendations from user testing and usability studies should be incorporated into development sprints or backlogs. This will ensure that the experience consistently considers and reflects the VoC.

Ensuring Privacy And Data Security In The VoC Program

As you talk to users and develop your VoC program, you will constantly be collecting data. The data that is shared in reports should always be anonymous. Additionally, creating documentation on how to collect consent and data policies will be very important. If data is not stored properly, you could face penalties and lose the trust of participants for future VoC activities.

Challenges Of Starting A Voice Of Customer Program

If you are committed to starting a VoC program from scratch and then maintaining that program, you are likely to encounter many challenges. Gaining buy-in and commitment from stakeholders is a challenge for anyone looking to establish a VoC program. You’ll need to commit to a concerted effort across various departments within an organization. Securing buy-in and commitment from key stakeholders, such as executives, managers, and employees, is crucial for its success. Without their support, the program may struggle to gain traction and achieve its goals.

Resources are always an issue, so you’ll need to work on securing adequate funding for the program. Establishing and maintaining a VoC program can be a costly endeavor. This includes the cost of software, training, and staff time. Organizations must be prepared to allocate the necessary resources to ensure the success of the program.

Allocating sufficient time and resources to collect, analyze, and act on feedback: collecting, analyzing, and acting on customer feedback can be a time-consuming process. Organizations must ensure that they have the necessary staff and resources in place to dedicate to the VoC program.

Case Study: Successful Implementation Of A VoC Program

We worked with a large US insurance company that was trying to transform its customers’ digital experience around purchasing and maintaining policies. At the start of the engagement, the client did not have a VoC program and had little experience with research. As a result, we spent a lot of time initially explaining to key stakeholders the importance and value of research and using the findings to make changes to their product as they started their digital transformation journey.

We created a slide deck and presentation outlining the key components of a VoC program, how a VoC program can be used to impact a product, methods of UX research, what type of data the methods would provide, and when to use certain methods. We also shared our recommendations based on decades of experience with similar companies. We socialized this deck through a series of group and individual meetings with key stakeholders. We had the benefit of an internal champion at the company who was able to identify and schedule time with key stakeholders. We also provided a copy of the material we’d created to socialize with people who were unable to attend our meetings or who wanted to take more time digesting information offline.

After our meetings, we fielded many questions about the process, including who would be involved, the resources required, timelines for capturing data and making recommendations, and the potential limitations of certain methods. We should have accounted for these types of questions in our initial presentation.

VoC Activity Purpose Involvement
In-Depth User Interviews One-on-one interviews that focused on identified customer’s current usages, desires, and pain points related to the current experience. Additionally, later in the product development cycle, understanding customer’s feelings towards the new product and features that should be prioritized/enhanced in future product releases. Product, sales, and marketing teams
Concept Testing One-on-one concept testing with customers to gather feedback on the high-level design concepts. Product, sales, and marketing teams
Unmoderated Concept Testing Unmoderated concept testing with customers to gather feedback on the materials provided by the business to customers. The goal was to be able to reach out to more people to increase the feedback. Product, sales, and marketing teams
Usability Testing One-on-one usability testing sessions with customers to identify behaviors, usability, uses, and challenges of the new product. Product, sales, and marketing teams
Kano Model Survey This survey is to gather customer input on features from the product backlog to help the business prioritize them for future development. Product Team
Benchmarking Survey This survey is to help understand users’ attitudes toward the digital experience that can be used to compare customers’ attitudes as enhancements are made to it. Metrics that were used include Net Promoter Score, Systematic Suability Scale, and Semantic Differential. Product, sales, and marketing teams

One large component of enhancing the customer’s digital experience was implementing a service portal. To help better understand the needs and desires of users for this service portal, we started with executing in-depth user interviews. This first VoC activity helped to show the value of VoC research to the business and how it can be used to develop a product with a user-centric approach.

Our biggest challenge during this first activity was recruiting participants. We were unable to use a third-party service to help recruit participants. As a result, we had to collect a pool of potential participants through the sales division. As mentioned before, the company didn’t have much exposure to VoC work, so while trying to execute our VoC research and implement a VoC program, any time we worked with a division in the company that hadn’t heard of VoC, we spent additional time walking through what VoC is and what we were doing. Once we explained to the sales team what we were doing, they helped with providing a list of participants for recruitment for this activity and future ones.

After we received a list of potential participants, we crafted an email with a link to a scheduling tool where potential participants could sign up for interview slots. The email would be sent through a genetic email address to over 50+ potential participants. Even though we sent multiple reminder emails to this potential list of participants, we could only gather 5–8 participants for each VoC activity.

As we conducted more VoC activities and presented our findings to larger audiences throughout the company, more divisions became interested in participating in the VoC program. For example, we conducted unmoderated concept testing for a division that was looking to redesign some PDFs. Their goal was to understand customers’ needs and preferences to drive the redesign process. Additionally, we also helped a vendor conduct usability testing for the company to understand how user-friendly an application system was. This was one way to help grow the VoC program within the company as well as their relationship with the vendor.

We needed to do more than foster a culture of gathering customer feedback. As we began to execute the VoC program more extensively within the company, we utilized methods that went beyond simply implementing feedback. These methods allowed the VoC program to continue growing autonomously.

We introduced a benchmarking survey for the new portal. This survey’s purpose was to gauge the customer experience with the new portal over time, starting even before the portal’s release. This not only served as a means to measure the customer experience as it evolved but also provided insights into the maturation of the VoC program itself.

The underlying assumption was that if the VoC program were maturing effectively, the data gathered from the customer experience benchmarking survey would indicate that customers were enjoying an improved digital experience due to changes and decisions influenced more by VoC.

Next, we focused on transferring our knowledge to the company so the VoC program could continue to mature over time without us there. From the beginning, we were transparent about our processes and the creation of material for a VoC activity. We wanted to create a collaborative environment to make sure we understand the company’s needs and questions, but also so the company could understand the process for executing a VoC activity. We accomplished this in part by involving our internal champion at the company in all of the various studies we conducted and conversations we were having with various business units.

We’d typically start with a request or hypothesis by a division of the company. For example, once the portal is launched, what are people’s opinions on the new portal, and what functionality should the business focus on? Then, we would craft draft materials of the approach and questions. In this case, we decided to execute in-depth user interviews to be able to dive deep into users’ needs, challenges, and desires.

Next, we would conduct a series of working sessions to align the questions and ensure that they still align with the company’s goals for the activity. Once we had all the materials finalized, we had them reviewed by the legal team and began to schedule and recruit participants. Lastly, we would conduct the VoC activity, synthesize the data, and create a report to present to different divisions within the company.

We started the transfer of knowledge and responsibilities to the company by slowly giving them some of these tasks related to executing a VoC activity. With each additional new task the company was in charge of, we set additional time aside to debrief and provide details on what was done well and what could be improved upon. The goal was for the individuals at the company to learn by doing and giving them incremental new tasks as they felt more comfortable. Lastly, we provided documentation to leave behind, including a help guide they could refer to when continuing to execute VoC activities.

We concluded our role managing the VoC program by handing over duties and maintenance to the internal champion who had worked with us from the beginning. We stayed engaged, offering a few hours of consulting time each month; however, we were no longer managing the program. Months later, the program is still running, with a focus on collecting feedback on updates being made to products in line with their respective roadmaps. The client has used many of the lessons we learned to continue overcoming challenges with recruiting and to effectively socialize the findings across the various teams impacted by VoC findings.

Overall, while helping to build this VoC program, we learned a lot. One of our biggest pain points was participant recruitment. The process of locating users and asking them to participate in studies was new for the company. We quickly learned that their customers didn’t have a lot of free time, and unmoderated VoC activities or surveys were ideal for the customers as they could complete them on their own time. As a result, when possible, we opted to execute a mixed-methods approach with the hope we could get more responses.

Another pain point was technology. Some of the tools we’d hoped to use were blocked by the company’s firewall, which made scheduling interviews a little more difficult. Additionally, some divisions had access to certain quantitative tools, but the licenses couldn’t easily be used across divisions, so workarounds had to be created to implement some surveys. As a result, being creative and willing to think about short-term workarounds was important when developing the VoC program.

Conclusion

Building a successful VoC program is an ongoing effort. It requires a commitment to continuously collecting, analyzing and acting on customer feedback. This can be difficult to sustain over time, as other priorities may take precedence. However, a successful VoC program is essential for any organization that is serious about improving the customer experience.

We’ve covered the importance of VoC programs for companies with digital products or services. We recommend you take the approach that makes the most sense for your team and company. We’ve provided details of starting and maintaining a VoC program, including the upfront work needed to define objectives and goals, targeting the right audience, choosing the right methods, putting this all in a framework, collecting data, data analysis, and communicating your findings effectively.

We suggest you start small and have fun growing your program. When done right, you will soon find yourself overwhelmed with requests from other stakeholders to expand your VoC to include their products or business units. Keep in mind that your ultimate goal is to create a product that resonates with users and meets their needs. A VoC program ensures you are constantly collecting relevant data and taking actionable steps to use the data to inform your product or business’s future. You can refine your VoC as you see what works well for your situation.

Additional Voice of Customer Resources

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