What Is Voice of the Customer Exactly and How Can It Improve Customer Experience?

Laveta Brigham

PHOTO: Unsplash Voice of Customer (VoC) programs have been shown to improve the customer journey when brands use VoC metrics to obtain actionable insights, but only when those insights are used to make positive changes to a product, service, or business. Yet many leaders do not understand the benefits of […]

A sign on the street with two arrows pointing in different directions. One arrow says Awesome above it, the other arrow has less awesome above it. - Voice of the customer concept


Voice of Customer (VoC) programs have been shown to improve the customer journey when brands use VoC metrics to obtain actionable insights, but only when those insights are used to make positive changes to a product, service, or business. Yet many leaders do not understand the benefits of a VoC program, what it entails, and how it can be used.

What is the VoC? The term was coined by Abbie Griffin and John R. Hauser in an MIT Marketing Science paper in 1993. It refers to a marketing technique in which customers are interviewed or surveyed about their experiences, desires, expectations, understanding, and needs in relation to a product, service, or industry. It is a very effective way of learning what customers really think about a brand. This article will explain the intricacies of VoC and how it can help create exceptional customer experiences.

VoC Is Also a Marketing and Sales Tool

Ottomatias Peura, CMO of Speechly, said he uses VoC to create more effective marketing and sales copy by using the actual words of customers. “Voice of Customer or VoC is the practice of selling a product in our customers’ own words…The best person to tell customers how the product can provide a solution to their problem is another customer,” Peura said. He shared that in practice it means a lot of research to know and understand what your customer’s problems are and how your product will solve said problems. “Short answer surveys, before and after purchase, help with this and can give us a lot of insight into our customer’s mindset and more importantly, their language,” he said.

Peura also discussed some the other sources he uses for VoC data, and said that reviews are great but warned that you must put thought into your questions to get meaningful answers. “Reviews are also helpful, but when we ask for reviews from our customers, we need to ask specific questions that allow them to formulate their response in a way that addresses problems, solutions, and outcomes. Interactions with customer service, online reviews, forums, and social media are other ways to gather insights into our customer’s voice,” he said.

Finally, once the VoC data is gathered, it can be used. “After we collect a large amount of these responses, we put them into a spreadsheet and start looking for similarities. Many times, we find customers respond with similar language and patterns. We quantify these and then use the language that comes up most frequently for our marketing and sales copy, attempting to model the way the customer speaks about our product.”

Ian Wright, CEO of Bequests, a retirement and end of life planning information portal, understands the value of VoC programs for improving the customer experience. “VoC programs are instrumental in improving products or services to provide exceptional customer experiences, and we’ve seen that in businesses related to retirement and estate planning.”

A VoC program not only improves the customer journey and the effectiveness of marketing and sales copy, but an Aberdeen Group report indicated that VoC has been shown to improve customer retention by up to 55%, decrease customer service costs 23% year over year, and increase revenue 48% year over year.

Related Article: 4 Considerations for Your Next Voice of the Customer Survey

The 3 Steps of the VoC Process

The first step of a VoC program is to gather customer feedback. This is often the most challenging part of VoC because the data comes from all the touchpoints in the customer journey, and includes surveys, mobile app data, feedback forms, social listening, reviews, chat logs, website analytics, email, customer service tickets, and more. The data can be entered into spreadsheets or specialized VoC platforms such as Qualtrics, Medallia, InMoment and NICE Satmetrix.

The second step in the process is analyzing the data to uncover trends, expectations, needs, desires, pain points, and other aspects of the relationship between the customer and actionable insights. This is where the VoC platforms we just mentioned come in very handy. Many of them facilitate the creation of reports that look at all of the feedback that contains a keyword, phrase, product, etc. Others allow the creation of reports based on specific metrics.

Once the analysis is complete, the third step is when a brand must act on the insights it has gained to improve those areas that will drive a positive change. Changes can include organizational processes, updates or corrections to the product or service, customer service, website, apps, or even point of sale methodology. It may seem obvious, but this is the culmination of the program, and where the greatest value lies, other than marketing and sale copy.

Of course, VoC is not actually complete at that point — it’s an iterative process in which a brand will then evaluate if its efforts have been effective, if the CX is improved, or if the bottlenecks or pain points are still there.

The Types of Feedback Used in a VoC Program

Wright said that through VoC, he has been able to understand his customers, and described the types of feedback he used in his VoC program. “VoC programs enable a business to dive deeply into both qualitative and quantitative data to understand their customers’ needs, experiences, and perceptions about their products or services.” Through the use of surveys, interviews, focus groups, and other methods, he shared that, retirement investment companies understand what influences or hinders an individual in making financial decisions.

There are three types of customer feedback that are used in a VoC program: direct, indirect, and inferred. Direct feedback is collected directly from the customer in the form of surveys, questionnaires, chat logs, and feedback forms. An example of direct feedback would be a survey that asks the customer “How likely are you to buy from us again?” or “On a scale of 1-5, how satisfied were you with your experience?”

Indirect feedback is when the customer is speaking about the brand, but not to the brand. Examples of indirect feedback include social media mentions and reviews posted on websites. Social listening is used to seek out and locate such data, and has grown into an industry in and of itself. Services such as SproutSocial, Nuvi and Mention have simplified what used to be a tedious and challenging practice and provide easy-to-use methods of instantly knowing when a brand is mentioned on social media, in reviews, and even within industry articles.

Inferred feedback is behavioral, transactional, and operational data from the brand’s website, email marketing, and mobile apps. Clickthroughs, transactions, purchases, time on page, and shopping cart abandonment are examples of inferred feedback. Website analytics services such as Google Analytics are often used to obtain this data, along with tracking pixels for email marketing messages, and services such as Kochava for mobile app analytics.

“With that understanding, they can improve their customer engagement by changing their approach or creating an innovative tool. When you can meet your customers’ needs and address the gaps in their experiences, they’re more likely to stay with you and even tell others about your business,” explained Wright.

Related Article: 5 Voice of The Customer Program Examples In The Wild

What Are VoC Metrics?

The goal of a VoC program is to gain actionable insights, which are referred to as VoC metrics. Once obtained, VoC metrics are organized in a way that allows a brand to prioritize its goals to be more consistent with the goals of its customers. The VoC process — if and only if VoC metrics are used to actually make changes based on them — facilitates a more consistent, exceptional customer experience, more effective sales and marketing content, and greater ROI for the brand through the use of a customer-centric business model.

Ryan Tamminga, VP of customer success at Alchemer, thinks that VoC programs allow brands to be truly customer focused. “To truly be a customer-centric business your customers should see themselves in your business and everything you do. The only way for a business to know how to make their customer’s experience better is by listening to what their customers are telling them and to make the decisions that are in their best interest,” he said.

There are at least 7 key VoC metrics to be aware of. Each metric looks at a different aspect of the customer journey such as ease of use, satisfaction and customer loyalty. The 7 key VoC metrics are:

  1. Net Promoter Score (NPS): The NPS tells a brand if a customer would recommend its product, service or business to others. The NPS is typically phrased as such: “Based on your experience with us, how likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague, on a scale of 0 to 6?”
  2. Customer Effort Score (CES): The CES metric defines the effort that a customer has to exert in order to do business with a brand. The CES is typically phrased like this: “To what extent do you agree with the following: [Company name] made it easy for me to purchase [what I wanted].”
  3. Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT): The CSAT is a way to understand if a customer is satisfied with the overall experience of interacting with a brand. The CSAT is typically phrased as such: “On a scale of 1-5, how satisfied were you with your experience?”
  4. Customer Loyalty Index (CLI): The CLI is about a customer’s loyalty towards a brand, and is a good indication of whether they will be a repeat customer. The CLI is typically phrased like this: “How likely are you to buy from us again?” or “How likely are you to try our other products or services?”
  5. Customer Lifetime Value (CLV): The CLV is a measure of potential revenue that is attributed to a customer, and it comes from the past, current, and future spending trends of a customer. The CLV is determined by multiplying the average purchase value of a customer with their purchasing frequency, and then multiplying that number with the average customer lifespan.
  6. Repurchase Ratio: The Repurchase Ratio answers the question of whether the customer will purchase from the brand again in the future. The Repurchase Ratio is typically phrased as such: “How likely are you to buy from us again?”
  7. Would You Miss Us? (WYMU): The WYMU metric asks the customer if they would miss the brand if it no longer existed. The WYMU is, as expected, typically phrased like this: “Would you miss [business name] if it no longer existed?”

Although VoC metrics can be extremely valuable, they are not a one-size-fits-all equation. For a VoC program to be successful, the right metric must be used to accomplish the goals of a brand. For instance, if the goal is to eliminate the pain points that may occur during the online purchasing procedure, it would not be appropriate to ask the WYMU metric. In fact, it may be more appropriate at the end of the purchasing process to simply ask the customer “what could be done to make the experience easier?” — or even more simply, “what could be done to improve?” — both of which relate more to the CES metric. One mistake that many brands make is that they tend to focus on a specific metric’s score, such as the Net Promoter Score, rather than the actual feedback they have received from customers during the process, which is the most valuable part of a VoC program.

The Challenges of VoC

A 2017 State of CX Metrics survey from Qualtrics’ XM institute identified a lack of taking action based on CX metrics as a top obstacle to their programs. While VoC programs can be used to regularly evaluate the success of a brand’s CX initiatives, more importantly, they should be used to make changes to improve the customer experience based on the feedback that customers provide.

While it’s always nice to receive positive feedback, it’s the negative feedback the provides the opportunities to resolve the pain points in the customer journey. Consider the CES metric, which defines the effort a customer has to exert to do business with a brand. By using website analytics along with session replay and matching them to the customers that considered the brand’s website to be difficult to navigate and use, bottlenecks and problems can be located and eliminated to improve the experience for all customers.

Surveys can provide feedback that is priceless, however long surveys are less likely to be completed by customers, who are often put off by surveys that seem to go on and on. Keep surveys short and concise, and make it easy for customers to provide feedback.

Additionally, aside from making it easy for the customer to provide feedback, it’s important for brands to create a culture of listening. That does not mean just hearing, but actively providing mechanisms where customers can provide feedback, such as ratings, forms, forums, surveys, social network presences, customer service chatbots, etc. It’s the combined package of all of a brand’s channels that create the customer journey, and each channel has opportunities for customer feedback.

For a VoC program to succeed, it’s important that a brand’s leaders embrace custome-centricity as part of its culture. “Creating a customer-centric culture begins at the very top with executive leadership that believes in customer centricity and will make it a core company value,” Tamminga explained. “Next, implement and integrate a voice of the customer program into existing business processes and operating systems so feedback is placed into the hands of the people who can take action within the systems used every day. This ensures that every single piece of customer feedback is acted upon. Finally, close the gap between all employees and customers. Provide enterprise visibility across the business to give the teams who aren’t traditionally customer-facing the ability to engage with the feedback and impact customer experience.”

When a brand obtains poor results from its VoC program, typically it is because the right questions are not being asked of its customers, or it is gathering the wrong data for the right question. Other mistakes include misconfiguring the analysis, or using unprocessed or messy data.

Final Thoughts

A Voice of Customer program can provide brands with actionable insights by enabling them to learn how the customer feels about their experience with a brand throughout all of the brand’s channels. By listening to the customer’s feedback and making changes based on that feedback, a brand can create an exceptional experience for its customers. Along with improving the customer experience, a VoC program can be a very effective tool for marketing and sales, enabling the customer to essentially write marketing and sales copy in their own words.

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