Gathering new customers is an expensive process and can cost companies up to 25 times more than it costs them to retain existing customers. With the key objective being customer retention, voice of the customer (VOC) research is a proven method for capturing customer data at every key point in the unique buying journey, and then using it to secure customer loyalty by constructing a better overall experience. Among other things, VOC research can help companies tailor and tweak their products and services, identify customer pain points and areas of friction in their buying journey, and minimize risk during new product development by accurately evaluating the viability of new products or ideas.
The ultimate goal of VOC research is to compile a detailed list of the needs and wants of the target customer. Gathering it requires both qualitative and quantitative measures. The key questions at hand go beyond simply asking customers what they want, but gathering real-time customer experiences and assessing needs and wants from there. While there are many pitfalls and areas of misunderstanding around what VOC research is and how best to gather it, several key objectives and methods can help provide a solid blueprint.
Allocate your budget
Before beginning the research process, it is critical to understand key areas of focus and allocate budget accordingly. Without specificity, research will lack focus and time and resources will easily be wasted. Key considerations are:
- What information you’re looking for
- Who can provide you with that information
- What you plan to do with that information once you’ve obtained it
Some research methodologies are more costly than others; therefore, it is important to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before engaging in any research strategy. For example, customer interviews are often the most costly method; however, they are also generally proven to be the most effective in building trust and gathering specific, relevant data. Other methods may be less costly but also less effective. This is why it’s important to let budget revolve around the key considerations at hand, and develop strategy from there.
Create buyer personas
Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of a company’s target customers constructed using real customer data. Personas are a practical way of helping companies connect with their customers and better understand their unique wants and needs. Well-crafted buyer personas can help guide new product development, drive a targeted content strategy, and help companies understand how best to follow up a sale.
Creating buyer personas is an area of research unto itself, involving tactics like direct customer interviews and gathering data on customer prospects using lead generation forms or surveys. Where relevant, you can even reach out into a larger network of contacts to find interviewees that fit your target customer. This is labour-intensive work, but if conducted carefully will result in a highly accurate persona which in turn will help you focus your research methodologies and gather very high-quality data.
Customer interviews are ideally conducted in person but can also take place via phone or email. One of the most traditional and effective methods of gathering VOC research, interviews can be used to help understand the customer’s point of view and assess the implications. It is critical to listen to exactly what the customer is saying and develop a needs assessment accordingly.
While being the most costly and time-intensive method, interviewing customers is widely considered to be the most valuable toward building trust, because it is the most directly personal.
A focus group involves gathering an average of 8-12 customers in a room and asking them to openly share both the negative and positive elements of their experiences, opinions and perceptions of a product or service.
This method can be used to evaluate existing ideas or test new ones, and help companies understand the customer’s most pressing needs and how to prioritize those needs.
Customer experience audits gather data about the “back-end” experience of sales strategy, identifying key pain points in the customer experience and real-time customer opinions. This involves examining the customer lifecycle from the awareness stage all the way through to post-sale satisfaction and loyalty, and identifying the key touch points the company has with their customer all the way through this journey (for example, social media channels, email, or trade shows). The influence of each touch point on the customer should be measured for value and efficacy. An experience audit also examines customer satisfaction against the likelihood of customer loyalty in the face of competition - for example, will even the most satisfied customer be likely to remain loyal if a competitor offers a similar product or service at a cheaper price? An audit can be a highly effective way to track customer engagement, and should be an ongoing analytic tool that is repeated and revisited frequently.
On-site customer surveys
Another way to gather VOC research is by utilizing on-site customer surveys. A survey could be as simple as a “yes” or “no” question, or a short series of questions about customer experience. The most important thing is to reduce friction by keeping questions clear and concise and avoiding excess. No one is interested in sitting down over a 20 or 30 minute questionnaire. Furthermore, questions that are jargon-heavy or confusing are self-defeating as they’re more likely to cause customers to jump ship before completing the survey. Ask only necessary questions that help leverage your end goal. Additionally, it is important to ask open-ended questions that do not demonstrate any preferences or try to manipulate the customer toward a particular response. The point is to gain as accurate a picture as possible of where the customer is at right now.
Leverage social media monitoring
Monitoring conversations around a product or service offers companies access to unfiltered customer feedback. While gathering conclusive data from these interactions can prove difficult, the main advantage of social media interaction is the ability to connect with the customer in a very direct, real-time way. Whether directly participating in customer conversations or just tuning in to listen, companies can leverage these interactions toward addressing customer pain points and improving services. The end goal is to connect with the customer and build trust.
On-site chat can be a valuable tool in gathering real-time data from your customers. While helpful in driving customer satisfaction by directly addressing complaints and pain points, live chat can also be used to capture VOC data by following up customer exchanges with a brief survey. As with any other form of on-site surveying, questions should be as direct as possible and easy to answer.
One of the most direct ways to get VOC data is by analyzing how exactly customers are behaving when they come to your site. There are numerous tools that offer this functionality, like Google Analytics or SEMRush. While Google offers several forms of visual data including pie charts and funnel visualizations which depict where customers are losing interest and clicking out of a page, other yet more advanced tools like ClickTale offer features including visual heatmaps, which provide information about mouse movement and scrolling on any given web page.
Voice of the customer research helps companies connect with their customers and drive conversions by creating great customer experiences. The data gathered from this research also helps innovative thinkers connect their ideas to real-time customer needs and wants, ultimately driving new product development.