If customer experience is "the thoughts and perceptions that people have towards the brand," as defined by Nate Brown in the latest Marketing Smarts podcast, then a voice-of-customer initiative is "capability that we have to go where our customers are and to listen to them and absorb their feedback in structured and unstructured ways."

PLAY NOW
Listen to it later:

Don't miss a MarketingProfs podcast, subscribe to our free newsletter!

In Episode 509, Nate shares with host George B. Thomas some best-practices when crafting a voice-of-customer engine. The process of listening to customers should be habit-forming, not something you do once in a while. Even negative feedback can be spun into something motivating and inspiring. And please don't take only the feedback that conveniently supports what you're already doing.

Plus, he emphasizes how important it is to involve your internal teams in the process of customer feedback and problem-solving. Brands need internal advocates, as well as ways to connect customer stories to company policies.

"That's your job as a CX professional, as a marketing professional, to help tell that story and bring the reality of the customer into the everyday lives of the business operators," he says.

Nate also tells stories of his past mistakes, drops wisdom on customer journey maps, and recommends no less than three books—so, after you listen, it's time to get reading!

Listen to the entire show now from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.


This episode brought to you by Semrush and Casted.

Semrush   Casted
Semrush is an online marketing platform that helps businesses of all sizes achieve their goals. With Semrush, businesses can expand their presence online, attract new customers, create social media campaigns, manage advertising, and more. Try Semrush free today and get your business growing.   Casted is the B2B Podcast and Video Platform used by some of the best B2B marketers from companies like Salesforce, PayPal, HubSpot, Drift, and more. Casted's platform empowers you to activate, amplify, and attribute audio and video content while increasing brand awareness, driving lead generation, and bolstering customer engagement.

"Marketing Smarts" theme music composed by Juanito Pascual of Signature Tones.

Full Transcript: How to Leverage Voice of Customer for B2B Business Growth

George Thomas: We have an amazing podcast episode for you today. It is about how B2B marketers can leverage this mystical, magical thing (not really) called voice of customer for your business growth. Today we get a chance to talk to Nate Brown.

Nate Brown is a perpetual student of the world's greatest experiences and the people who create those experiences. Having spent the first decade of his career managing a complex technical support environment for occupational health and e-learning software, Nate transitioned to customer experience in 2015. After authoring The CX Primer, Nate Brown was dubbed the CX influencer of the year by CloudCherry in 2019, and a top global CX thought leader by ICMI, Exceeders, Netomi, Martech, and many more. Guess what? You get to listen to him today dropping some serious bombs on this conversation.

As a passion project, Nate created CX Accelerator, a first-class virtual community for customer experience professionals. Nate serves as the senior director of customer experience for Arise Virtual Solutions and can be found at a variety of conferences speaking and training on the CX topics he loves. You can check him out on Twitter or LinkedIn, but what you need to do is check him out right now on this episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast. Without further ado, let's get into the good stuff, the interview on how B2B marketers can leverage voice of customer for growth with Nate Brown.

One of the things when we first get started on these Marketing Smarts Podcast episodes that I like to dig into is what just (I hate to say it this way) stresses people out a little bit? What I mean by that, the real question, the easy question, is what about this conversation on voice of customer that we're going to have today keeps Nate Brown up at night?

Nate Brown: It's the gaps. It's the gaps in our voice-of-customer engine and people moving forward thinking they understand the thoughts and perceptions of the customer when they understand diddly squat, they understand the very tip-top of what the customer is actually thinking, because they haven't done the work to establish the larger framework of a voice-of-customer engine. That's what keeps me up at night.

George: I love that so much. We're going to dig into what the heck you mean by the work later on in this episode, because I do want to give the Marketing Smarts listeners some action items, some direction that they can be jotting down in their notepad or typing in their iPad, or any device. It doesn't matter if you're on Apple. For a foundation set here, when we think about this, and so that the audience can come along on this journey with us and they're properly set in the seat, what the heck, when we talk about voice of customer, what is it and about it that B2B marketers need to know and need to be paying attention to?

Nate: Allow me to answer that question of a definition with a different definition. Let's start with CX, customer experience. This tangential but very critically important aspect of marketing. Customer experience is the thoughts and perceptions that people have towards the brand. If we want to know what the thoughts and perceptions are, how are we going to do that? We're going to do that through a voice-of-customer initiative, a program, an engine that is the capability that we have to go where our customers are and to listen to them and absorb their feedback in structured and unstructured ways. That's what VoC is.

George: I love so much about that. There are certain words that people say as I do these interviews that literally just reach the camera and like punch me in the face. When you said listen, but went a step past that and said absorb, listen and absorb what's happening around you, Marketing Smarts listeners, I want you to pay attention to that. How are you absorbing it? How are you documenting it and actually being able to do something with it?

Here's the thing, they're like customer experience, voice-of-customer engine, interesting, I'm intrigued, I know what it is now, I'm ready for the journey. I find that as humans, we only allow time in our day for those things that we find important. We have to answer the question why is voice of customer important from a strategic standpoint for all of the B2B marketers listening to this episode?

Nate: What a great question. Let me first reach back for a second and give credit on that term VoC engine to the brilliant Jean Bliss who wrote Chief Customer Officer 2.0. She talks about that engine metaphor, so I want to make sure to extend that credit there. Why is this important? When we talk about CX change or marketing change or culture change, what we're doing is change management. Any good change management cycle is going to have the ability to identify the true priorities of what we actually need to change and then validate that that change accomplished the objective.

So, I ask you this. How the heck would we know if the changes that we made worked if we didn't have a robust voice-of-customer capability to first establish the right priorities of these are the things that are going to make a difference in the lives of our customers and then be able to use that same capability around voice of customer to validate through qualitative and quantitative data to say we made the change and look at the impact that we had for the people that we serve? Without that, you as a CX professional are flying completely blind. You made these changes and you just have a hypothesis on what you actually did to impact anybody's life.

This is the first thing that we do as CX professionals, we come in and we establish this foundation of listening before we make any changes so that we don't do more harm than good, so that we know how great our good is, so that we can validate our own existence and feel this work and earn the right to do more of it.

George: The words "capabilities" and "work" keep popping up in this. I love it because I fully understand some of the Marketing Smarts listeners could be like, "That's me, a life with no guardrails or goal posts," like the Wild Wild West, and I fear for them. But then some of the listeners might be like, "So far so good, I'm not feeling too bad about myself."

We're going to dive into the deep end of the pool later for the folks that are still feeling good, but for the folks that are realizing they're in the Wild Wild West with no guardrails and goal posts, here's where I want to go. How in the world can B2B marketers get started? I sort of want to use air quotes, but not really. I do mean started, but I think there are a couple of different directions of starting here. How can B2B marketers get started to put a system in place for this voice-of-customer engine that we're talking about?

Nate: Let me start with a brilliant example from Brad Cleveland. A lot of times we do over-complicate this. The thing that you're trying to do as a B2B marketer is to be where the customers are expressing feedback about you. You need to be there to listen and to take that feedback in. That is what we're trying to do here.

I'm going to give you the case of this restaurant in southern California. They have their entire staff as they navigate these interactions with their guests inside the restaurant, they have a 3x5 notecard, and as people express feedback, positive and negative, about their experience in the restaurant, they just simply jot it down. At the end of the day, the staff comes together, and they celebrate, they seek to understand the voice of the guests that they collected that day together.

What a galvanizing thing that is. "This new menu item is performing great, this person loves this. I'm seeing this theme where this type of person really loves this entree, especially when we describe it this way, they're prone to try something new and they're loving it. This new drink that we just introduced is not a fit, doesn't fit our brand, isn't pairing well with this entree," etcetera.

Just that simplicity, that intelligence, that cadence, that habit-forming process of taking that feedback in, absorbing that voice of the customer, being the vehicle for that as a representative of the restaurant, and then doing that together, that is the heart of this. As we layer on complicated systems, that we can scale this effort up and do incredible things in the virtual world to take in customer feedback, we do not want to lose the heart of what that simple program does.

George: So good. It might be the rewind point because there were some nuggets. You were dropping the mic multiple times in that section. Here's the thing. You said something about positive and negative feedback, and the words you used after that was something like celebrate and then seeking to understand. Celebrate and seek to understand.

I want to go off the beaten path for a second. One of my fears, I think maybe one of the things that would keep me up at night, is we do this interview, somebody puts the VoC engine in action after the rest of what we talk about, and they only talk about the positives, or even worse, they only talk about the negatives, and it becomes this whipping of 'have to do this'. Can you paint the picture or talk about and unpack your thoughts on the importance of really laying a foundation of positives and negatives and what you're trying to get out of both, and maybe what you do with both when you get them?

Nate: What a great question. I made this mistake early in my CX career. I thought the only thing that mattered was the negative feedback, and I accidentally subscribed to what I now call the Moses model of CX, where I took the golden tablets of voice-of-customer data down from Mount Sinai and slammed them in front of the organization and said, "All of you suck. You're ruining the customer relationship in all of the following ways." You can imagine how motivating that was. It wasn't. Like get out of here, you're not solving a problem, you're not inspiring us towards a better outcome, you're not galvanizing more positive relationships with our customers.

That's what we're trying to do. We are trying to bring the customer's reality to the organization with authenticity. Period. We're trying to remove ourselves out of that equation. We're just a vehicle, the helper to express and bring this gift of feedback to the organization. If there is a ton of negative feedback out there, then that story needs to be told, but in a way that is inspiring and motivating. If we can fix this problem, we can improve our customers' lives in the following ways, we can achieve our distinct unique mission as an organization, the reason that we started this whole thing, we can do it this much better and impact this many more people if we can solve this CX problem.

So, even if it's a negative thing, it's bad feedback, but it's still positive, it's still motivating because of the way that you brought it to them. We have an opportunity to serve better. Then that great story that you get to celebrate of, "Wow, look at these things we're doing so well, here's the impact that we're having on these people that we serve, here's the difference we're making in our communities, this is why we started the organization, here's our unique mission, we're living it out, and here's why the work that you do every day is so important. By the way, I brought a customer in, and they're going to tell you in their own words the impact that you've had on them."

However you tell that story, whatever you do to bring that inspiration, that's your job as a CX professional, as a marketing professional, to help tell that story and bring the reality of the customer into the everyday lives of the business operators. Otherwise, we get so disconnected, we get so in the weeds with the garbage, the frustrations that we experience every day inside the metaphorical walls of our organization. We need to know. We need to be connected to the customer and the people that we serve in a very compelling and regular way.

George: You just hit my forehead with a knowledge 2x4. Here's the deal. We as an organization talk about always getting customer testimonials and putting them on the website so that other people can see that they did a great thing, but what I just heard you say and what unlocked in my brain was I can write down the positive feedback and email it out. I could even come to you and tell you the story of the positive feedback. But many times, it is hard to be a prophet in your own town. Being able to show a video or have that person tell their story and see the face, the emotion, the micro expressions, the way that is going to impact your team in a way to move forward, I love that part.

I love where this conversation is going. I think people are understanding some nuggets that they can pull and put into their businesses and into their B2B marketing processes, but I always like to lean into how the heck as humans are we going to jack this up. What are the hurdles? Obviously, we know too much negative and too much positive may be hurdles, but I'm sure there are hurdles past that. What are the hurdles that you've seen companies run into when facing or starting to use or have been using this voice of customer in their marketing efforts?

Nate: Let me tell you about one hurdle that I ran into that I didn't expect that was a critical learning moment for me. I was trying to be innovative in the way that we captured customer feedback in a safety science company that I was working for, for a long time. I was working as a customer service director, we were getting the issue, "Here's the problem, resolve my problem," and we were very good at that. But a lot of times, there was another layer to the interaction with the customer, "It impacted me in this way," or, "When you solved the problem, it helped me in this way," and we never captured that feedback.

I just gave all of the people in my department this little USB web key button and was like, "Any time you get customer feedback, just hit the button." It took them to this ultra-simple little VoC form that was right there in our CRM at the time, Oracle Service Cloud, and it just captured that simple expression of the customer feedback. We tenaciously closed the loop on that. We would celebrate that.

But here's the big thing. When there was an opportunity to do a better job in that relationship with that customer, we would leverage the agent, the person who captured the feedback. We would leverage them in that loop closure process, which they got to solve a problem, they got to put on their critical thinking hat and help to navigate the improvement of the relationship with the customer. That is very intrinsically motivating.

That's the first hurdle to overcome is disconnecting the VoC process from the people that are collecting it. That's a problem. You want them to be a part of resolving things, creatively coming up with new solutions. You want them to be a part of celebrating things, too, on the positive side. Make your VoC process as inclusive as possible.

We started to do these mini town hall meetings that were all about voice of customer. Here's what we learned about our customers this month. Here's a problem that we've isolated, and we want your help to think through this and how we can reduce the friction in this situation. They were wildly popular because people wanted to know what customers were saying about the work that they were doing. How can we serve our customers better? We were changing the culture there.

Here's the big learning moment. I've given them this button, and we extended it beyond the service center to some other departments that were customer facing that were getting great feedback. I'm giving this button to a salesperson, and she goes, "So, that button is for customer feedback. If I get meaningful customer feedback, I hit that button and I put it here?" Yes, that's what it does. "Where is my button?" she asked, because we had no culture, no repository, no channel for her voice, for the voice of our own employees inside of the organization.

That was a tremendous gap in my thinking. As a CX leader, now I know that anything that we do for our customers, we do even more intentionally, we design even harder for our own people first, because that's the gift that we give them, and that's the only gift that they have to pass onto the customer is their own experience that we offer them first as an employee of the organization. That's a metaphor from Denise LeeYohn in her brilliant book Fusion. Any marketer, any CX professional, anyone, I don't care what kind of leader you are, if you're designing something in this area of voice of customer, make sure first that you're listening to your own people.

George: It's so good. First of all, Marketing Smarts listeners, are you taking notes on the number of books that Nate has mentioned? That's two, by the way. You have to be a person who is always trying to learn more. I would say maybe get your Audible account out and ready because there might be more coming. Nate, I love a couple of things in that section. Here's where my simple brain goes. One, you were enabling your people to be helpful humans instead of robots. When you can enable your people to be helpful humans, you can really reach some magical places inside your company. The other piece that I heard was we're so focused on getting external advocates for our brand and our company, but here's the secret tip, you have to have internal advocates to reach external advocates. They have to be bought-in and ready to get these people to go along that journey. Such good information that people could be pulling for their B2B strategies, this voice-of-customer engine that we're talking about.

We've talked about hurdles. We know that there's going to be pain points. I like to stop and look up the mountain and think of what does success look like. We've climbed the mountain, maybe we have the Olympic gold medal on, whatever it is, whatever you'd like to envision. What does voice-of-customer success look like for B2B organizations?

Nate: It would be your ability to have a 360-degree view of your customer and the different customer personas that you have that is so intimate that you can be an effective guide for them. Let me unpack that a little bit. This is coming from Building a StoryBrand, Donald Miller book three. He talks about how we're not the hero of the story here, we're not telling our own story, which we as marketers have a tendency to do that, "Look how cool we are. Look at this new thing we have." No. We exist because we offer something to the world, to our customers.

They are trying to achieve a definition of success. We exist to guide them to that destination, that definition of success that they have. We have to understand that customer, their definition of success, and what the journey looks like to get them there. That becomes the expression of the customer journey. You hear all the time, and CX professionals have probably hit you up a million times around these things called customer journey maps. That can be an effective tool, but there are other ways to do this. What matters is that you are capturing that journey for this group of customers, this persona, and what it looks like for them as they try to achieve their definition of success with you as a business.

Here's the magic question. Are you an effective guide? Are you bringing value to them? Are you accelerating that journey? Are you making that journey more fun, more exciting? Are you bringing friction out of that journey? Whatever it looks like for you as a business to be a guide in that scenario, are you doing it well? A great voice-of-customer engine will be able to answer that question at every stage of the journey because we have that 360-degree view.

Here's the other big trademark of that gold medal VoC program. We're able to take in both structured and unstructured data and bring it together in some kind of customer experience management platform that brings a lot of capabilities to us.

What is structured and unstructured? In this context, a data scientist would tell you something else, but in this area of VoC, structured data is where we create the channel for the customer to give us feedback. That is a survey, that is a customer advisory board, that is a community, which is my favorite form of structured feedback. We create the environment in which they give us feedback.

Upwards of 80%, at this point, of customer feedback exists in this unstructured world. We didn't create the channel, but the customer is still giving feedback. They're giving it to their friends, they're giving it out on these review sites, they're putting it in third-party communities, Reddit, Discord, and whatever else. They're expressing feedback about you as a brand in these unstructured areas that they love. They love the communities that they're already a part of. We have to be there and be present to listen to that and take that unstructured feedback in, whether it's voice, text, video, or whatever it is. The newer technologies can take all of it, bring it in, and automate a visibility around customer sentiment. How did the customer feel about this interaction with you? They can roll that into themes, trends, friction points, and just intelligence, and then we can know very effectively in this area of this journey we have set some poor expectations. We said we were going to be the guide in this way, and we're not delivering on that.

This is where marketing and CX come together, because nobody in the company sets expectations more than you, marketing team. You're creating the brand promise, you're telling the customer what we do, what to expect in this journey, and how we are the guide. The CX team is delivering on that promise. So often we separate these two entities, these two areas, these two trains of thought from the people creating the brand promise and the people delivering on the brand promise. That is very dangerous. It's a voice-of-customer engine that prevents us from doing that, that brings harmony to these two critical groups.

That's what the gold medal looks like.

George: Marketing Smarts listeners, when you have your next meeting and you're sitting with people, I literally think you should ask the question, "Do we have a 360-degree view?" To go back to the first question that I asked Nate, he said the gaps. Do we have a 360-degree view? If the answer is no, what in God's name are the gaps? How can we start to fill those gaps so that we do have this view? Nate, again, so many good words in that last section. I want to dive just a little bit deeper into that. I fully know the Marketing Smarts listeners could be like, "That was a nice story that you told about the restaurants and the cards and they jotted it down, but my business is different. We have layers upon layers and we have technology." When we think about this almost zero gaps or zero gaps and 360-degree view, what is a great case study or use case of the voice of customer around marketing or B2B marketing, but the efforts of using that somebody or some system that you've seen where you're like that's amazing?

Nate: I'll use B&H Photography. I had a small business as a wedding photographer, so B2B situation here, and I am seeking some very expensive new equipment and I have no idea what the heck to get, so I engage in a live chat situation. Most of the time when you engage in a live chat situation, it's like, "What's the problem? How can I fix your problem and move on to my next chat, because I have 20 that I'm juggling right now." Not the case with B&H Photography.

This other person is a photographer and spent time to figure out what I was actually trying to accomplish—in other words, my definition of success—and they acted as the guide for me. They were like, "You should take a look at this. Here's another alternative that could be really helpful if this is important to you." I didn't know the question to ask, all I knew was what I think I wanted to achieve. This brilliant, creative person guided me so effectively to a piece of equipment that I now love. That's a great example right there of an interaction.

Then here's where the VoC part blew me away. I'm thinking this is a special engine going on behind the scenes, that they have this person ready to go for the need that I had as I was expressing that need. One time I'm navigating a different situation in the same period of time, in the same couple of months. I was having a little bit of trouble finding a lens that I needed. Wouldn't you know it? I actually got a little pop-up on the UI for their website that was like, "How is your experience going today?" So, I just left some quick feedback of, "I actually had a little bit of trouble finding X, but I've got it now. Thank you." I never expected to hear back from B&H Photography. I've done a hundred things like that. When do you expect loop closure on something that simple? I didn't even have a problem anymore, there wasn't even something to resolve.

I heard back within 48 hours from one of their UX designers that said, "Thank you so much for that feedback. I actually looked into that situation. Our key search terms were a little off on that product. I was able to go fix that now, so anybody else that is looking for that is going to find it faster. Thank you for what you did as a gift to our other customers for B&H Photography." Mind-blowing loop closure on that VoC engine right there.

That answers the question of how they have this great culture, this great live chat person ready to go who understood my needs and understood the mentality of the guide. It's because they care about the voice of the customer, they're bringing it to the organization daily, and they have this incredible back-end engine that whether I'm coming through the web or coming through the retail store, whatever it is, you know that they're able to take my feedback and close the loop effectively.

George: You said the word, and the whole time you were talking about this, I was like I don't know how to say this to the Marketing Smarts listeners, but the key to success is maybe something that we can't teach, but something that you just need to have, and that is the fact that you care. You passionately care about the human being on the other side of the process, on the other side of the sale, on the other side of the aspiration or hurdle, that you care.

It's so interesting to me, too, because when you were telling the story about B&H Photo and them actually closing that loop, my brain started to sing the song. I'm not a singer, so I'm not going to sing on the podcast, but I started singing that You've Got a Friend In Me song, and was like I wish I could do a rendition of You've Got a Customer In Me, because from now on I'm going to be like I'm going to go to B&H because they literally changed their system based on the way that I couldn't search and find it. That's super impactful.

You've added a ton of value. I have two more questions for you. I want to swing back and ask this question. When it comes to voice of the customer, CX and marketing playing and working together, what are one or two, I'll leave it up to you, myths that you would be like I'm going to step up on the podium and I am going to bust this right now, what would you say to the Marketing Smarts listeners that's a myth, knock it off?

Nate: Kind of a myth, just something that we need to bring integrity to this process because I've seen this too many times. I'm speaking to you, SaaS world, more than anything else. We tend to perpetuate our own existing biases as a business using small pieces of voice-of-customer data, conveniently using voice of customer to do what we already wanted to do, to validate an action that we were already taking. That's not voice of customer. That's not this work.

Once again, we are bringing integrity and authenticity of the customer's narrative back to the organization. There's going to be a lot of times where that is inconvenient or it doesn't immediately make sense. That just means we need to dive in deeper, we need to work harder to understand. I'm going to back to that phrase, seek to understand. If we're using voice-of-customer data to validate, to justify and existing bias, and we're not doing the work to dive deep and really listen to the larger subset of our customers, then we're doing ourselves a tremendous disservice as a business, and we're doing a tremendous disservice to our customers.

That's the myth that I would like to dispel is that if you're about to make a change, you're already down the path, but somebody tells you, "You need to go make sure the customers are okay with that," and you interview five customers, or take some convenient data from your surveys or whatever and just use that, you're not doing voice of customer.

George: This has been an amazing interview. We've talked about gaps, we've talked about the customer, we've talked about listening and caring. So many good pieces in this. One of the last things that I always like to ask all of the guests, because we have gone through these journeys ourselves to be able to talk about them, we've had the bruises, we've had the success, we've seen the best and worst case scenarios, so I always like to end with this last question.

By the way, it can be about voice of customer, it can be about CX, it can be about the fact that you're wearing a banana shirt. I'm just kidding, it can't be about your shirt right now. Ladies and gentleman, I might have to put a picture in the show notes of the banana shirt, but let's get serious. What I want to give the listeners is the words of wisdom that Nate Brown would want to leave them at the end of this podcast episode.

Nate: So many things flooded into my mind right now. Here's going to be my little piece as a CX professional to you as a marketer.

Really work hard to crystallize that brand promise that you are the keeper of and bring the gift of that to the organization every day as an intrinsic motivator and work with your CX team to unlock that motivator in the business. We do something as an organization that nobody else can do, we are unique, we're distinctive, we're taking a bold stance of who we are and who we serve, and here's how we're being the guide in this special way, and here's the CX team that is on the front lines of that every day collecting this feedback, and we know the impact that we're having.

Leverage that, let that wash over your employee population to galvanize their loyalty, give that gift to them of the impact that they're having so that they can then give that gift onward to the customer and generate customer loyalty. Work together with the CX team to give that gift every day. That would be my parting words to you.

George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast episode? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.

Also, I have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to Mprofs.com/mptoday. You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.

We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode where we talk with Pam Didner on B2B marketers, the customer journey, and sales, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.

Don't miss a MarketingProfs podcast, subscribe to our free newsletter!

Published on