Voice of the Customer

CX Measurement Is Hot, But It's Not What You Think It Is

Listen or Die author Sean McDade, PhD shares the definition of Voice of the Customer (VoC), and explains the significant differences between customer experience measurement (CEM) and market research.

Sean McDade, PhD

Sean McDade, PhD

Founder & CEO, PeopleMetrics

The following is an excerpt from Listen Or Die by Sean McDade, PhD.

As noted previously, the term VoC is frequently used to describe the measurement of the customer experience; so is the term customer experience management (CEM). A consulting firm mentioned in the introduction, Forrester, coined a third term: customer feedback management (CFM).

In this book, you’ll see VoC more than any other term, though you can use each of these terms interchangeably. So, what is CX measurement or VoC? Let’s start with what it is not.

As I mentioned in Lesson 1 and will dive into deeply in Lesson 8, VoC is not market research. Market research provides answers to a specific question and provides those answers in the aggregate. And in providing these answers, market researchers often wisely take a small sample of the overall population, which is less expensive and faster than surveying all customers.

Market research methods are great for solving the right problem, and I am a big fan, but it’s not VoC and it’s not the optimal approach to customer experience management.

Market Research vs. VoC

Consider a telecommunications company whose business model is signing up customers for a one-year contract for various wireless services. One month in, a customer feature disappears, such as transcription of voicemail to text. New customers may see the change as a bait and switch, while those close to renewal of their contract may think about switching to another carrier, and they begin to flood social media with complaints.

Market researchers might not ever know about the problem, since they usually survey a sample of their customers and may do so only once a year, if at all. So a company with 100,000 customers might hear from 500 customers total and only if they happen to have scheduled a market research study during that time frame.

VoC, on the other hand, provides daily customer feedback that allows the organization to discover that the feature was a favorite in real time and that customers value it as part of their daily experience. VoC is about continuous, real-time feedback. In this example, VoC would reveal negative customer sentiment immediately, allowing the telecommunications company to course-correct.

VoC allows customer issues to get identified and resolved before they require a separate study by market researchers!

Different Purpose, Different Audience

Without a doubt, the job of market researchers is important; it’s just very different than VoC. Plus, the findings from a typical market research study aren’t typically shared across the entire organization, and there’s no expectation of follow-up with individual customers providing the feedback. In fact, customers who provide feedback for market research are anonymous.

What’s interesting is that, in some companies, the head of market research is also responsible for VoC! In Lesson 8, I discuss how this actually makes sense and how market researchers are using VoC to get answers to pressing questions in super-short time frames and tight budgets.

So What is VoC?

Okay, so CX measurement (VoC) is not market research. Then what is it?

Simply put, it’s the process of collecting and acting on customer feedback that was collected during or shortly after a recent experience. And customer feedback is usually identified, not anonymous.

Here's a quick guide on the different types of feedback ranked by their level of connection to VoC, from most to least:

  • Transactional surveys provide solicited customer feedback about their most recent experience (also referred to as CEM or CFM, as noted earlier). As the name implies, these surveys reach out to customers during or soon after an individual experience (e.g., visit to store, call to contact center, visit to website).

    These surveys are not anonymous, and customers often have an expectation that the company will follow up based on negative feedback provided. This is primarily the type of feedback I am referring to throughout most of this book.

  • Social reviews provide unsolicited customer feedback about a recent experience and are key to a comprehensive VoC program. Gathering feedback from social review sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google Reviews is an essential VoC task. This feedback is especially important in business-to-consumer (B2C) industries, such as hotels and restaurants.

    Similar to transactional surveys, customers often expect the company to respond, especially if the social review was negative.

  • Relationship surveys, as the name implies, help companies gauge the strength of their relationship with customers and are often used to get VoC off the ground. Relationship surveys are usually sent to every customer who’s had an experience with the company in a given period—for example, in the past six months.

    Questions on a relationship survey will probe into overall customer feelings about a company based on a series of cumulative experiences, rather than a specific or recent experience. They also can include questions about customers’ experience with competing brands and identify gaps compared to these competitors.

    Relationship surveys are a great way to start a 
    VoC program by getting a baseline on where you are today. These surveys will also help you ask the right questions for the touchpoints that really matter to your customers and are usually well worth the investment!

  • Market research surveys seek anonymously provided, solicited feedback, typically from a small sample of statistically relevant customers, on key strategic questions. For example, which advertising messages resonate best with a specific audience, or what is the optimal price for a new product?

    Market research surveys are usually one-off, meaning that once a company gathers the necessary data, they move on to their next study.

  • Focus groups are a popular way to gauge customer opinion, but they tend to have little or nothing to do with VoC. They are conducted with eight to ten people in a room with a one-way mirror. A moderator asks the group about something specific, such as whether they would consider using a new product, and the responses are recorded as a form of unstructured, qualitative feedback.

    Online focus groups are another way to gather qualitative feedback from customers. These are similar to in-person focus groups, except customers join an online forum to provide their opinions. 

This is an excerpt from Listen Or Die by Sean McDade, PhD.

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Sean McDade, PhD is the author of Listen or Die: 40 Lessons That Turn Customer Feedback Into Gold. He founded PeopleMetrics in 2001 and is the architect of the company’s customer experience management (CEM) software platform. As CEO, he guides the company’s vision and strategy. Sean has over 20 years of experience helping companies measure and improve the customer experience. Earlier in his career, he spent five years at the Gallup Organization, where he was the practice leader of their consulting division. His company offers CEM software with advanced machine learning solutions and hands-on analytical support to help companies make sense of their CX data. Sean holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration with a specialization in marketing science from Temple University in Philadelphia. He has published eight articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and has taught over 25 marketing classes. Sean was named a 40 under 40 award recipient of the Philadelphia region. He is an active Angel Investor, including investments in Tender Greens, CloudMine and Sidecar.


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