Voice of the Customer – Great! But what is it?
April 18, 2015
The term Voice of the Customer is widely spoken about in the Customer Experience world and, alongside Net Promoter Score, Customer Satisfaction and Customer Effort Score, is considered to be one of the most important research techniques/ metrics on offer to CX professionals. That being said, for a few different reasons, it is also arguably the most mysterious and misunderstood of all of the CX measurement techniques.
Voice of the Customer – what’s in a name?
The phrase ‘Voice of the Customer’ provides a strong indication as to what the purpose of the technique is, namely to ensure that the customer’s voice is heard and has an influence upon the future strategic direction of the organisation. However due to the rather vague nature of the phrase, different people and organisations have used it to mean different things over time. The Wikipedia definition is:
Voice of the customer (VOC) is a term used in business and Information Technology (through ITIL, for example) to describe the in-depth process of capturing a customer’s expectations, preferences and aversions. Specifically, the Voice of the Customer is a market research technique that produces a detailed set of customer wants and needs, organized into a hierarchical structure, and then prioritized in terms of relative importance and satisfaction with current alternatives. Voice of the Customer studies typically consist of both qualitative and quantitative research steps. They are generally conducted at the start of any new product, process, or service design initiative in order to better understand the customer’s wants and needs, and as the key input for new product definition, Quality Function Deployment (QFD), and the setting of detailed design specifications.
In summary, the definition tells us that it is a market research technique that consists of both qualitative and quantitative research steps. However we have also heard it described as being other things as well.
A market research technique or a closed-loop feedback ‘system/ program’?
In the past five to ten years there have been a number of different software platforms introduced that have been categorised under the term Voice of the Customer. In general, these platforms are different forms of closed-loop feedback system that map and mirror the process journeys of the business in terms of their interactions and transactions with customers. In the same way that NPS® has evolved into transactional NPS® (Net Promoter System SM) to provide closed-loop feedback following individual interactions between the business and the customer, thereby providing the business with an opportunity to provide a resolution to any identifiable issues highlighted by customers, these VOC systems do a very similar thing, albeit not necessarily with the ‘likelihood to recommend’ question.
In some instances, these system implementations have been further developed into programs that help the business not only provide resolutions to customer issues, but also to undertake root-cause analysis, so that the cause of any recurring issues can be identified and resolved.
However, we have heard VOC being described as other things as well…
The most complicated
In one case, a Market Research professional was heard talking about CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) and Voice of the Customer being the same thing. Although we can see where they might have been coming from, we do not consider them to be exactly the same thing. Depending on how it has been set up, CSAT could be designed to be like ‘the second half’ of a Voice of the Customer research programme. Unlike VOC, however, CSAT tends not to have a qualitative research element as an initial and intrinsically integrated step.
First and foremost, considering its origins, it is our view that VOC should primarily be seen as a research technique. There is no doubt that it has evolved into the ‘platforms and systems’ space, however because of both the qualitative and quantitative nature of VOC, these platforms and systems are not necessarily able to do everything that the research methodology is capable of.
That being said, programs/ systems are also able to do things that the research technique is not capable of, such as providing real-time ongoing feedback that can be utilised by the business to support both immediate and root-cause resolution of customer issues. There are very strong arguments in favour of having the system in place, however only once an initial (or recurring periodic) piece of research has been undertaken.
VOC as a technique and as a system are not necessarily alternatives, as they do/ achieve different things. This being the case, it can be recommended that a business should consider doing both, possibly in sequence.
The Research Technique
This being the case, we need to understand, in more detail, what the research technique consists of. Our approach to VOC research includes four stages, namely:
1. Qualitative – the identification of customer expectations
2. Qual. to Quant. – the prioritisation and filtering of customer expectations
3. Quantitative – the substantiation and further prioritisation of expectations, including the identification of performance and importance factors relating to each
4. Analytics – analysis of expectations, including the identification of the satisfaction and loyalty drivers
In more detail:
1. Qualitative – Here we would use qualitative research techniques, typically focus groups (across different customer segments), to identify customers’ expectations of a ‘world-class’ or ‘ideal’ provider. At this stage, we would expect to gather something in the region of around 200 to 300 expectations. In addition to expectation gathering, this research would also include a personification exercise in order that we can understand customers’ perceptions of the brand’s current positioning.
2. Qual. to Quant. – There are a number of techniques that can be employed here, however we would typically undertake workshops in which we would carry out weighted pairs/ conjoint analysis exercises (although there are other statistical techniques that can be used) in order to group, prioritise and filter out the expectations of least importance. As a result of this exercise, we would expect to identify something in the region of 20 – 30 key/ core customer expectations.
3. Quantitative – This exercise, which can be carried out using telephone, face-to-face or online surveys, helps the organisation to further prioritise the key/ core expectations identified in the previous stage. This stage, which helps the business to create statistical significance for these expectations, also helps it to identify scores relating to the importance and performance of the business against each of the expectations. This data is absolutely essential for a business wanting to undertake Customer Journey Mapping, helping it to identify the empirical state of current and ideal customer journeys, including the identification of both pain points and moments of truth between the business and its customers. During this exercise, a number of other questions are asked relating to factors such as likelihood to recommend and likelihood to repurchase.
4. Analysis – In the final stage, an analysis of the data, including multiple regression analysis and the identification of correlation coefficients across all data-sets, helps the business to identify other factors, such as brand differentiators, and the drivers of satisfaction, loyalty, retention, recommendation and repurchase.
Overall, the data coming out of the VOC exercise helps the business to:
A. Underpin any potential Customer Journey Mapping exercise, backed by empirical evidence
B. Identify the drivers of loyalty, retention, satisfaction, recommendation and repurchase; as well as brand differentiators
C. Create Customer Promises and Commitments, helping to provide informed guidance and context to any transformation and brand repositioning exercises undertaken by the organisation
Let’s keep listening…
Net Promoter, NPS, and the NPS-related emoticons are registered service marks, and Net Promoter Score and Net Promoter System are service marks, of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc. and Fred Reichheld