Whatever happened to VOC?

Remember back in the '90s, when voice of the customer (VOC) was all the rage? It was a process discipline, a way for companies to gather customer insight to drive product and service requirements.

But VOC got lost amidst a booming tech sector, abundant resources, and the many, many new markets, customers, and transactions that companies pursued. Somewhere along the way, pulling out all the stops to delight the installed customer base got lost. One-to-one marketing, personalization, and demand creation rose above truly understanding customers, above assessing their needs and driving higher order benefits for them and their customers.

Today, VOC is again moving to the center of the radar. We know this because the very recent Phelon Group/MarketingProfs VOC survey revealed that more than 80% of companies sponsor either formal or informal VOC activities. But this time, customers aren't just king—the integration of customer retention, repurchase, and referenceability is a full house.

Because marketers have neither time nor resources to experiment, we're joining forces with MarketingProfs to bring you this regular column, as well as the VOC survey results.

What's VOC today? More than a once-a-year review or online survey...

Voice of the customer means tuning your organization, at all its touch points, to what customers feel and think, what they say, how they act and respond to plays by your company and its competition. And, unfortunately, that can't be relegated to a once-a-year business review or a complex, online loyalty survey that uses dozens of questions to get the same answer: "Do you plan to buy more... and when?"

VOC is the collective body of information that informs and in some cases drives decisions within your organization. Specifically, voice of the customer comprises:

  • Customer perceptions of your brand
  • Customer satisfaction and loyalty data
  • Customer usage information
  • Customer inputs: future needs, business challenges, specific requirements
  • Customer word of mouth within their companies and peer groups, in the industry through events and testimonials

Become the VOC implementation expert in your organization

This column is about helping you lead your organization toward embracing the customer's voice. It will provide you with the insight and information you need to act as a leader and VOC implementation expert in your organization. It will share with you our perspective—formed while working in and with large corporations, with marketing practitioners, and leaders of emerging and enterprise companies, and after speaking with several thousand of your customers each year.

Most of all, it will help you do what you want to do: Close the feedback loop on the brand or new positioning, drive go-to-market planning, reinforce the corporate reputation, foster reference customers, and strengthen targeting efforts.

What's on your VOC agenda?

Here are four key lessons we've learned; they'll prepare the ground for coming articles—to help you prepare for next quarter's VOC activities:

1. Use the channels already at your disposal

The VOC you seek is already in your backyard. Success story and PR agencies, customer reference and competitive intelligence programs are sitting on mounds of customer insight and real intelligence, as are blogs, forums, and other online communication vehicles, and industry/financial analysts. Yet that important information seldom gets back to those in your company who need it in a way that improves how decisions are made. I'll tell you how to get it, what forms will best support the achievement of your goals and how to maintain an ongoing flow of meaningful data.

2. Define a VOC blueprint

Blessed by all customer-facing business units and your management, the VOC blueprint shows your company what to do when customer information is gathered. It defines what is needed to drive go-to-market, road map planning and prioritization, pricing, and other critical decisions. Which framework elements create VOC success? I'll clue you in and describe ways you can foster companywide agreement and acceptance.

3. Create a shared language

Every company has a unique culture. Develop a vernacular for discussing the various types of and "stages" in the customer relationship, then help the company speak it. Assuming you influence or are in charge of internal communications, define what "promoter" means and what "defector" symbolizes. I'll help you learn how to make colleagues and associates fluent and get the shared language of VOC to gain currency.

4. Avoid the landmines

Marketers can get trapped in jockeying for position and political quagmires. Unless you've got enthusiastic C-level support for massive customer data integration efforts, for attempts to minimize customer touch points, and for changing who/how customer data is captured, these programs encourage the loss of budget, brain-power and energy. Without executive sponsorship, such efforts bleed the life out of a marketing program. I'll tell you why and what to do instead.

* * *

What I'll share with you through this column will benefit your programs and campaigns. Properly used, VOC will impact your revenues. But it will also help you help your company get better at customer listening. Whether you call it enlightened self-interest or relationship management—it works and it wins!

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Promise Phelon is president and CEO of UpMo and founder of the Phelon Group.

Twitter: @PromisePhelon

LinkedIn: Promise Phelon