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Here's How Cutting-Edge Companies Use Voice of Customer Data

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Kindra Cooper

Voice of customer research

Companies harvest more data on their customers than ever before – even a noncommittal website visit is tracked for time spent on the site, pages visited, and items abandoned in cart. But the chasm is broadening between what customers want and what brands churn out in terms of product and messaging. Why?

Too many brands neglect to heed the Voice of the Customer, so their data collection system is a rote process of populating static spreadsheets rather than being treated as a living, breathing trove of real-time feedback.

The first resource to tap for VoC data? The contact center

Ernan Roman, President of VoC research innovator ERDM Corp and author of Voice of the Customer Marketing says the contact center is a haven for capturing VoC data, both quantitative and qualitative. Speech analytics tools, for instance, can track why customers are calling, such as identifying a recurring complaint, and consequently alert the company to a faulty product feature or laggy online checkout process.

“That is golden intelligence that is coming out of a customer-initiated interaction with the company,” Roman says. But the insights don’t stop at what is wrong. Say an agent proposes a particular solution to a customer complaint; speech analytics help you determine not only whether or not the solution worked, but what the customer had to say about it.

No company acquires industry leader status without listening to the customer. In fact, says Roman, customer feedback is ideally so integral to the company’s operations that “it should be circulated to marketing, product development, training and so on.”

Contact center chat, email and social media channels are also rich with qualitative signposts for what customers want, which can be deciphered from complaints, testimony and requests. In 2015, McDonald’s started offering the all-day breakfast after tallying a total of 120,000 requests on Twitter from customers saying they wanted to be able to order an Egg McMuffin past 10:30 AM.

Having contracted for household names like Disney, Hewlett Packard and NBC Universal, Roman says most companies are overly preoccupied with customer acquisition while neglecting to assess why certain customers never buy from them again. ERDM research has shown that once a customer makes two to four purchases, the likelihood of retention is very high.

If those purchases were spread across product categories – say apparel, accessories and shoes - retention becomes extremely likely. In other words, a company that fails to inspire a repeat purchase loses out on significant customer lifetime value, and not just the sticker price of that follow-up sale.

VoC helps companies answer questions with far-reaching profit implications like: “Why doesn’t [the customer] want to engage?” says Roman. “And more importantly, the ‘how to.’ How does a customer base want their frustrations, their expectations to be delivered?”

While working with Gilt, a luxury online retailer offering flash sales on items like an Hermes bag or Louboutin pumps for up to 70 percent off, Roman discovered through VoC research that Gilt’s customers disliked being marketed to as a generalized Millennial female cohort. Customers found that the personalization based on purchases was “old-fashioned” and mistargeted overall.

VoC is integral to customer retention, says You-Mon Tsang, founder and CEO of customer success platform ChurnZero, because customers take on different behaviors after purchase, so a non-segmented marketing automation approach won’t work. “If you don’t treat them the right way and you automate without VoC,” he says, “you will send the wrong message at the wrong time.”  

Treating customer data as VoC insights

Millennial and Generation Z customers who grew up with connected devices know the value of their personal data but are willing to provide “astonishingly deep information” in exchange for an improved customer experience. “We call it reciprocity of value,” says Roman, who has done VoC research for over 35 years. In fact, he adds, the labels B2B and B2C are outmoded – marketers should be aiming for person to person “because you’re solving a human being’s problem.”

Since founding the company in Douglaston, NY, Roman and his team have cultivated a unique strategy for gathering deeply empirical insights by conducting hour-long phone interviews with past, current or prospective customers, depending on the CX problem at hand. Each interview is led by a former CMO.

“I believe strongly that the people doing the interviews have to have a significant level of business and marketing experience to know what questions to ask,” Roman said. “And also to understand the answers they’re getting and probe deeply.”  

Charged with helping clients like Microsoft and IBM grow their revenue by gathering insights from a range of customer segments across B2B and B2C, Roman believes thoroughness is of the essence. Traditional research tools like SurveyMonkey, Net Promoter Score or widgets on the website designed to collect survey data don’t tell the full story.

For technology companies like Microsoft, the business model of selling its product through third party distributors means the company doesn’t have a direct relationship with a large proportion of its customers. Rather, products are sold by independent software vendors, such as a retailer like Staples, or by value-added resellers, consultants who help businesses in specific industries customize their software for a particular business function, like a NetSuite consultant helps an accounting firm optimize their ERP software.

“In the case of Microsoft, a lot of our work has focused on segments where they did not have a direct relationship, for example the small-medium business segment,” Roman explained.

Microsoft wanted to find a way to reach customer segments with which it did not have a direct relationship, such as the small-medium enterprises that purchase software through a value-added reseller, to discover how it could personalize its product to their needs and offer additional portals for them to do business.