Today’s globally-connected, competitive marketplace is propelled by the explosion of internet, digital information and social media. As a result, customers are more fickle than ever before. They are also more sophisticated, relying on comparative shopping and online forums to evaluate and discuss the quality of products and services – and their loyalties reside on a single click.
In fact, it seems that Marshall Fields and Harry Gordon Selfridge’s assertion “The customer is always right” is even more relevant now than when it was coined over a hundred years ago. To stay in business today, companies have to listen to what their customers and prospects are saying and efficiently monitor all feedback channels, from traditional survey focus groups to the latest social media trends. Leveraging the insights these channels provide is a key competitive differentiator for business success.
1) What is the voice of the customer?
We define the “voice of the customer” (VOC) as a collection of knowledge and insights that are captured through feedback channels (such as direct/indirect questioners, social media, customer touch points, sales representative surveys, etc.), which showcase customers’ wants, needs, preferences and perceptions. Gathering this type of feedback provides an organization with the opportunity for gap analysis: what a company is offering versus customer expectations.
Learning how to harness digital feedback is a critical skill for companies who want to remain competitive. Online forums present customers with the opportunity to freely and anonymously post their reactions, both positive and negative. This provides invaluable content: raw consumer feedback that details what customers want, how they feel about different products, how they feel about different brands, customer service and marketplace competitors. Analyzing these responses allow companies the opportunity to hear and learn from the “voice of the customer.”
The importance of the customer’s voice
The proliferation of “always being connected,” whether through computer, tablet or Smartphone, has given consumers a mouse-and-keyboard super-power. With one simple click on the keyboard or touch on a Smartphone screen, they can easily compare or obtain products and services from around the world. This means they are always one click away from leaving you for your competitor.
Therefore, customer loyalty is essential. Unfortunately, it also is elusive; the number of sales-and-mails to customers is ever-increasing. In the U.S., marketers send more than 90 billion pieces of direct mail every year trying to influence consumer behavior and gain market share. The Radicati Group estimates that nearly 90 trillion emails are sent each year, with a large percentage of those from businesses trying to get customers try their products. According to the media research group Media Dynamics, the average American is exposed to a minimum combined total of 560 advertisements each day from traditional media outlets, such as radio, print and television. In addition this over-saturation, digital feedback, including user reviews, expert advice, opinion sites, user testimonials, price comparison data, and shared comments, make it easy for customers to compare products and services, carefully selecting the best price and quality.
Using the VOC to create an advantage
When properly integrated with business decision-making processes, the VOC can provide huge opportunities for organizations to be proactive, on-target and responsive to their customers. This will ultimately improve consumer loyalty, retention and acquisition, as well as bottom-line profitability.
In today’s socially-connected arena, an effective VOC helps companies:
- Improve customer intimacy
- Increase customer satisfaction
- Increase customer retention
- Manage the competition
- Acquire new business
Combined with advanced analytics, the VOC can help companies to evaluate and improve their service and products, continually creating solutions that help them stay ahead of their competition.
2) The effective voice of the customer
An effective and successful VOC program is designed to capture customer feedback at each stage of the consumer experience. Start with understanding who your customers are and what they specifically need. Next, evaluate how your company’s products or services will fulfill these customers’ needs, and how they will feel about your products or services in relation to your competitors and, by extension, how they will feel about your company and brand. Gaining these insights about customer usage of your products and services, as compared to your competition, enables you to better understand your customers’ experience. Collecting data and analyzing feedback trends will highlight strengths, weaknesses, and potential growth and improvement opportunities. Addressing these trends will keep your customers satisfied, secure repeat business and create positive feedback that will be shared, no doubt, via online communities.
The VOC as the catalyst for innovation
Companies like Google, Amazon and Apple top the list of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). Why? Because they have effective VOC programs in place, which they use to stoke continual innovation. As we know, “the customer is always right,” but should the VOC be the sole catalyst of innovation? Lance A. Bettencourt and Anthony W. Ulwick address this question in their article, “The Customer-Centered Innovation Map,” asserting: “by thoroughly mapping the job a customer is trying to get done, a company can discover opportunities for breakthrough products and services.” However, this raises the issue that does a customer always know what he or she is missing? In some situations, customers might not always know what they would like because they have not experienced it. These become windows of opportunity for companies, like Apple, to imagine what the next big product or capability will be that will “wow” customers and leave them, and shareholders, wanting more.
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