The Essential Guide to Voice of the Customer

Listening to your customers and taking action to solve their challenges is the first essential step to Customer Success. That’s why Voice of the Customer (VoC) is a critical component to driving company-wide efforts to deliver value and happiness to clients. VoC consists of initiatives designed to capture customer insights, close the loop on feedback, and prioritize improvements to produce happy and successful clients.

Nick Mehta
CEO, Gainsight
Chapter 1

What is Voice of Customer?

Voice of the Customer (VoC) is exactly what you think it is: listening to your customers. Voice of customer encompasses the process of gathering and understanding customer feedback so customer responses directly improve the product and customer experience. You’re probably thinking, “But this isn’t anything new! Businesses have been listening to customers for years,” and you’re right… sort of.

Collecting customer feedback has historically been a fundamental part of growing a business. But the Voice of the Customer shifts the focus from collecting aggregate data to individual data. It stresses the importance of “closing the loop” or responding to customers with proof that their feedback has been incorporated into the products and services. An ideal Voice of Customer program will provide business-wide structure for addressing and utilizing customer feedback. VoC establishes a strategy that involves the entire company so all departments can work together to resolve the problem. This results in a coordinated approach to improving the customer experience, solving challenges, and driving growth for your business.

Chapter 2

Why is Voice of the Customer important?

Voice of Customer helps businesses hone their product or service into something that customers truly want and will continue to invest time and money into. Instead of just collecting data, VoC focuses on understanding it. Why? Because if you know customers are having problems, it should be your goal to get to the root of it. On the flip side, if you know where customers are finding enjoyment in your product, you should want to find out why so you can expand on it.

There’s more to Voice of the Customer than sending out a survey and hoping for a good response. If you have dreams of becoming a champion gymnast and pay a coach top dollar to train you, you’d expect them to tell you when your form is off, right? That’s because constructive criticism is necessary for improvement. VoC best practices stress that you ask probing questions and not just set yourself up to receive positive remarks (which can still be useful, but we’ll touch on that in a sec). Are customers unhappy with the price point? Do they have trouble using your product? Does your service actually make life easier or does it just stress them out? While the responses may not be all smiles, they reveal insights that drive change.

"If you had some magic power and were able to discover exactly what customers are craving, and if you also knew how to produce their dream product at a low price, then you would be guaranteed to get rich! Therefore, capturing the exact Voice of the Customer is like striking gold."
- Kai Yang, Author of Voice of the Customer: Capture and Analysis

A business that is truly invested in a VoC program will listen to every customer, act on their responses, and analyze the data to improve processes. By being attentive and responsive, you can mitigate rough patches for future customers and get immediate value from customers with positive feedback. Without a VoC strategy, businesses miss out on valuable opportunities to leverage happy customers and assuage dissatisfied ones. The former can create new business opportunities and the latter is paramount for reducing churn. Customers are very responsive to positive and negative treatment, and a little can go a long way for both. A study by Oracle on the impact of customer experience states:

  • 46% of consumers were pleased when an organization responded to a customer’s negative comment.
  • 89% of consumers began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience.
  • 24% of consumers who had unsatisfactory service interactions shared their experiences through social networks in 2010.

What is Voice of the Customer’s role in Customer Success?

If your VoC program isn’t tied to Customer Success, you’re doing it all wrong. Customer Success is meant to help your customers achieve their desired outcome while using your product. The customer feedback generated through VoC programs dictates these desired outcomes, making it a crucial component in Customer Success strategy. This article on the value of VoC notes that best-in-class VoC users experience:

  • 10-times greater year-over-year increase in annual revenue
  • 55% greater customer retention rates
  • 23% decrease in year-over-year customer service costs
  • 292% greater employee engagement rates

A Voice of the Customer program can also greatly enhance the effectiveness of your Customer Success team. The individual approach to gathering customer feedback garners valuable information that helps Customer Success Managers (CSM) perform their job more efficiently. Ask questions like:

  • Is our product easy to consume?
  • Are we truly creating value?
  • How do you define success?
  • Are we helping you achieve that definition?

The answers to these questions can help Customer Success Managers (CSMs) set priorities on an individual, prescriptive basis and establish a dialog. CSMs get a clear definition of what success means to each customer and can strategize ways to help them achieve it. Customer Success is a company-wide initiative and VoC fits into the same narrative. It’s important that all departments understand the importance of both Customer Success and VoC. It takes an entire company, from sales to marketing to product development, to give customers a satisfactory journey from start to finish.

Chapter 3

The Basics of Voice of Customer Programs

Voice of customer programs can include a wide range of tasks, from collecting data, to extracting insights, to putting them to work in your customer lifecycles. We’ve created a simple, three-step strategy upon which you can build your VoC program. Following this framework will give you the power to act quickly and drive significant impact from your VoC efforts.

  1. Listen: Capture insightful feedback by giving your customers frequent opportunities to submit feedback.
  2. Act: Follow up promptly so customers know that they are heard. Quicker response to customer feedback results in a greater impact.
  3. Analyze: Assess progress against goals and measure improvement to keep the program on track.

Technological advances have drastically streamlined Voice of Customer processes. Software with VoC capabilities can automate many daunting tasks, such as reaching out to thousands of customers, addressing replies en masse, aggregating data, and much more. When used alongside Customer Success software, VoC data can be a powerful storyteller. It can help to identify trends, create individual customer health scores based on responses, and much more.

3-Step Approach to Capturing Your Customer's Voice

This concise approach to Voice of the Customer expands on the three core components to reactively close the loop, proactively improve consistency, and predictably deliver value.

Step 1: Listen

The information gathered in this stage will determine the success of your entire VoC program, so while it sounds like we’re exaggerating when we say, “This step is super important,” we mean it. Gathering useful, actionable feedback depends on three things: asking the right person the right question at the right time.

Finding the right person

Before you go sending out surveys left and right, VoC best practices suggest creating customer personas. Building standard personas help to easily define who is involved with your product and the level of their interaction. This will take the guesswork out of finding the right person to answer your questions. You wouldn’t ask a project manager how the sales cycle was, just as you wouldn’t ask a CEO about the ease of use of a product they don’t frequently interact with.

Asking the right question

Once you’ve built your personas, it makes asking the right questions a lot simpler. A good rule to keep in mind is to only ask a question that you’re ready and willing to take the initiative to solve. There are two main types of feedback we’ll be focusing on:

Direct feedback: Feedback received directly from clients, commonly through surveys. Some examples include NPS scores, lifecycle Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) scores, transactional CSAT scores, community posts, etc.

Indirect feedback: Feedback generated by the ways clients are engaging with your product. For example, usage data, support data, and other behavioral metrics.

Combining direct and indirect feedback gives you a holistic look at an individual’s perception of your product. They work together to fill in the blanks that would be left if you only relied on one type of feedback. For example, someone could send indirect feedback in the form of a negative NPS score, but not give any other feedback explaining why they chose that answer. Taking a look at their indirect feedback, you notice that they have multiple support tickets that concern a particular aspect of your product. You can infer that their unhappiness is a result of the trouble they’ve had with that part of your product and start a dialog based on that.

Finding the right time to ask

When you reach out for feedback is just as important as who you reach out to. Your timing can directly affect the answers you receive. Align your surveys with important milestones along the customer journey. This also ensures you don’t let an unhappy customer stay that way for too long. For example, a critical juncture in a customer’s lifecycle is right after they’ve completed implementation. Send out a survey within a few days of the end of their implementation to get their current sentiments about the process and how comfortable they are now that they are on their own. Another common practice is following every support ticket with a one-question survey to close the loop. Asking if they’re satisfied with the support they received lets you know whether or not you need to reach out and offer additional help.

You’ve created personas, decided what feedback you want, and identified ways to ask for it. Before we send you off to the next step, there’s one last thing to keep in mind: the bane of VoC—survey fatigue. This can happen when you send too many surveys in succession or fail to set accurate expectations for the amount of time your survey will take. Using your personas, establish a cadence for your surveys so you can be confident that you’re reaching out to the right people at appropriate intervals. If a survey is longer than one question, write out how long it’ll take so people know what they’re getting into. Fail to follow both of these best practices and your customers may ignore your surveys, leaving you with nothing to show for it.

Step 2: Act

Step number two focuses on providing value for your customers. Value doesn’t need to be a three-year long process that has to go through multiple approvals and plopped onto an annual plan. When it comes to Voice of Customer, value happens immediately and at a grassroots level. It requires a quick response, strong tactics, and a shared company mindset to truly show customers that you are listening and adapting.

Act on feedback immediately

Voice of Customer best practices stress a “closed-loop” form of communication, meaning that all customer input should be addressed and resolved ASAP. Don’t wait until Step 3 to close the loop! Respond quickly to make the most of the situation, whether it’s positive or negative. An unanswered positive response is just as wasteful as its negative equivalent. In NPS terms, these Promoters are valuable advocates for your product. The longer you wait to thank them and stoke the fire that is their advocacy, the greater chance they may slip into becoming Passives or worse, Detractors.

Using a high-touch/low-touch model can make customer outreach more digestible. This blog post by Lincoln Murphy does a great job of explaining the difference between high-touch and low-touch and the benefits of this bilateral approach. High-touch customers, important accounts that require a high level of communication, tend to receive one-on-one attention. Low-touch customers, smaller contracts that may not require as much attention, can be effectively reached through one-to-many (1:Many) communications.

Provide resources that help close the loop at scale

Reading about VoC is one thing, carrying it out is another. And we get it—spending your whole day getting berated by unhappy customers is nobody’s idea of fun. Motivating team members to do that all day can be equally grueling. That’s why we suggest creating VoC playbooks, or a set of best practices that your team can use to streamline how they address customer feedback. This is a highly effective way of standardizing customer outreaches that can grow with your company.

Strengthen your playbooks and outreach strategies by providing team members with as many resources as possible. Customer relationship management (CRM) software is a valuable tool with myriad capabilities. For your outreach team, it reveals insights about a customer’s health which can then be used as talking points. Instead of having to rely on their own instincts when mediating situations, pre-populated emails give team members confidence and save them time. Keeping support documents organized and easily accessible enables team members to quickly share them with customers in need.

Create a culture that values feedback

In order for feedback to become reality, your entire company, from sales to services to product development, needs to view VoC as a priority. This can be a challenge for established companies, but it’s necessary. Encouragement from management is key for this mindset shift to happen. Departments need to realize the importance of feedback and feel the motivation to act on it. Once this realization occurs, standards can be set and feedback can flow smoothly.

Step 3: Analyze

Now that your feedback loop is closed, you should have a good bit of data to work with. To simplify things, we’ve divided this step into three buckets: business analytics, outreach analytics, and program insights.

Business analytics includes all the metrics you want to track and benchmark against. It’s for internal use and will give your teams something to report on and be held accountable to. Data in this bucket can include NPS trends and follow-up response time. For example, track your NPS score to see how it trends quarter over quarter.

Outreach analytics reflect the performance of your customer outreach attempts. You can take these metrics and use them to optimize your outreaches against industry benchmarks. Examples include the performance of surveys, the number of recipients, the number of emails sent/bounced/clicked, and unsubscribes. Combine direct and indirect feedback to create a holistic health score across subjective and objective measures. This health score will give you a high-level view of customer health and enable you to easily identify at-risk customers.

An important metric to keep an eye on is the number of people who didn’t respond to your survey. Unless this number is jarringly low, it’s sometimes overlooked. Don’t ignore it. Instead, dig deeper. Maybe you need to change your messaging, or perhaps certain people aren’t interacting with your product at all and you need to find a way to engage them. Outreach analytic data is powerful and tells a story, all you need to do is look at it at different angles to glean a wealth of insights.

Program insights are gleaned from both business and outreach analytics. Use these insights to identify strategic priorities to improve your overall strategy. For example, text-based answers can be extremely valuable but hard to analyze at scale. Some software, like Gainsight, have analytics tools baked in that help to extract tone and intent. Using this technology, identify themes in feedback to get a better overall view of your customer experience. Then, apply these learnings to your strategy and track your results.

Chapter 4

What makes Gainsight different for Voice of the Customer?

Gainsight offers more than just a survey builder, instead, we supply you with an entire suite of applications that enable companies of all sizes to close the loop, act on feedback, and work towards proactively and consistently delivering a great customer experience. We like to say that Gainsight’s Voice of Customer solutions are the first steps for building a mature Customer Success strategy. We built them to align with the three stages we mentioned earlier: listen, act, and analyze.

Listen: Gainsight combines visual journey orchestration with powerful automation to trigger personalized outreach at scale, drive higher response rates, and capture more insightful feedback.

  • Pair your CRM data with Gainsight’s visual journey orchestration capabilities to ask the right people the right questions at the right time.
  • Drive impact by pre-planning human and digital actions that dynamically change based on survey responses.
  • Create and send a variety of surveys including NPS, CSAT, and more with our Survey Builder. Attain higher response rates with in-depth personalization and in-email question formats.

Act: With Gainsight’s cross-functional Playbooks, your team can quickly close the loop with customers to drive improvements in customer satisfaction and retention, as well as take advantage of upsell and cross-sell opportunities.

  • Gainsight gives visibility to field teams by bringing customer feedback into the CRM they already use, encouraging them to review and respond directly from your core platform.
  • Powerful cross-functional workflows in the form of automated CTAs and Playbooks take the guesswork out of customer outreach.
  • Email Assist provides field teams with pre-populated email templates so they have the capability to close the loop consistently at scale.

Analyze: Powerful reporting capabilities let you identify trends in your business, optimize feedback programs, and prioritize strategic investments.

  • Dashboards report on the completion of Calls to Action (CTAs) from a business perspective to provide executives insight into internal outreach efforts and team members with goals and benchmarks.
  • NPS text analytics provide a deeper understanding of the sentiment towards recurring themes within your NPS survey and uncovers data that would otherwise be lost.
  • Our feedback funnel analytics allow you to see survey performance data, allowing you to quickly determine opportunities to improve feedback request processes.

Customer Showcase: Adobe Uses 3-Step Voice of Customer Strategy to Improve Onboarding Processes

"With Gainsight we go up and down the food chain delivering value. It gives us confidence to make bold decisions."
- Domenico Batteate, Program Manager of New Customer Experience at Adobe

The onboarding stage is a pivotal moment in the customer journey. Having a weak onboarding process, or none at all, is like giving your customer unassembled furniture with no instructions. The pieces are there, but when they’re left with a wobbly table, they start to doubt why they bought it in the first place. Adobe wanted to make sure their customers ended up with the sturdiest tables they could. But their large customer base made tracking customer sentiment difficult—they weren’t sure if customers finished their onboarding process feeling confident, or if it just left them with a pile of useless particle board. That’s why they turned to Gainsight and created a Listen, Act, Analyze strategy that boosted their VoC efforts and improved their onboarding strategy. You can find the complete case study here.

Listen

  • Gainsight’s Survey Builder and Advanced Outreach features enabled Adobe to automatically send every customer a CSAT survey upon completion of the onboarding phase.
  • Adobe used the data in Gainsight’s survey response reports to prove that survey length was impairing response rates and reduced their survey questions from six to four.

Act

  • Gainsight assigns CTAs and playbooks based on customer’s CSAT responses. For example, if a customer replies with a low CSAT score, the owner of that account get assigned CTAs that follow a re-engagement playbook.
  • After a customer’s concerns are addressed, a follow-up survey is sent through Gainsight to close the loop and ask if improvements were made since initial CSAT.

Analyze

  • The Adobe executive team was given easy access to onboarding CSAT data in a Gainsight Dashboard. This visibility helped them understand the success of new initiatives and led Adobe to justify an investment in fully-automated onboarding.
  • Adobe A/B tested this approach and Gainsight VoC data confirmed that the fully-automated segment was still responding with a high degree of satisfaction. These results gave the executive team the confidence to proceed with fully automated onboarding for their small business segment, where the customers resonate with easily available, self-serve and 1:many resources.
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