This is part two of a series of posts on the four components of a good CX system.  I introduced the concept here and my first post, on CX strategic alignment, is here.  Soon I’ll write about Process Engineering and wrap up with notes on what it takes to build and maintain a Customer-centric culture.

Folks often simply boil the Voice of the Customer (VoC) down to surveying.  This is a big mistake.  You’ve heard of the expression that we need to “meet the Customers where they are” when it comes to our offerings.  Well, gathering their input should also take that approach.  Just as different needs of different Customers are differently met by our products and services, so too should we understand the individuality and unique journeys of each segment of our Customer base when it comes to soliciting their feedback.

Part of this means different types of surveys at different points along the journey depending on what the Customer feels is important at that touchpoint.  For example, you may not find (in fact, it’s very unlikely) that, during the investigative pre-sales period, a Customer will have the same concerns as during the sales process, or delivery, or the post-installation use and service experience.  That’s natural, and you should allow for different surveys to ask different questions along the way.  How easy is it to actually purchase from you?  Your ordering process and invoicing?  That’s a good candidate for Customer Effort Score (CES).  Once they’ve encountered your support function and a broader experience with your brand, it may be wise to survey them on Net Promoter Score (NPS, or more specifically, sNPS, the extra ‘s’ for support) to gauge their overall loyalty and likelihood to re-purchase.  Other points along the Customer journey should likewise take into account what the Customers are thinking and what’s important to them insofar as what questions you should ask and how.

These are transactional, incident-based surveys:  Something happens, you send a survey.  A sale, a service or support incident, a re-purchase…All followed by a “So, how’d that go, friend?  Tell us about your experience.”  These are very valuable when it comes to actionable insights (the topic of the next article on Process Engineering) and direct feedback for your front-line team members.

There’s another way to survey though, also:  Relationship surveys.  These are designed to take into account not only all these specific interactions but also how they add up to an overall impression of your brand and your Customer’s feelings about you overall.  While it’s surely the case (and perhaps you’ve experienced it yourself) that one horrible experience can sour you on a business completely and forever, usually your relationship with brands is something that builds over time with each encounter or interaction with an organization.  Relationship surveys are intended to capture that overall sentiment and, much more reliably can be tied out to the actual likelihood you have to come back as a Customer than a transactional response.

Another nuance to note is whom you’re surveying.  Especially in B2B circumstances, you’re likely to survey one person who had an actual interaction (say, a client’s team member who’s using your product or service in the moment as part of his or her day-to-day job) transactionally, but someone altogether different (a C-level officer, or the spending authority) when it comes to the relationship survey.  That makes sense too, because in the process-centric work that can be improved based on results from that transactional survey, you’ll want to know how the Customer was impacted by the things you did, whereas when it comes to actually making that next sale or generating good word-of-mouth with the decision-maker set, it’s usually going to be that buyer who’s judging you on how you’re doing.

A big mistake organizations make is conflating these two purposes of surveying and an even bigger one is missing a disconnect between the results…that mismatch usually indicates a gap in communication within the Customer’s organization; it’s a gap that can cost you as much as it may cost them.

Keep in mind, though, VoC isn’t just about surveying (in some cases, it’s not about surveys at all)…

In some circumstances, for example, there’s no way to survey people who simply come to your website to check out what you’re offering and then balk to head to your competitor’s site.  In a situation like that, it may be more useful for you to experience it yourself by Walking in the Customers’ Shoes (WiCS).  Here you’d go through the entire process as if you were searching for your offerings in the same way your Customers would do.  This also offers the benefit of allowing you to compare how you’re performing first hand against how your competitors are doing.  Pull up your website right next to theirs and see which one is easier to manage and has more useful information.  Check out the aesthetics and branding while you’re at it.  Or walk through one of your retail brick-and-mortar locations (as well as those of your competitor).  Basically, you should be familiar with the experiences however your Customers interact with your brand.  And don’t stop there, either…walk through your entire Customer’s journey and let the learning begin!

There are still other ways you can discern the VoC, and depending on what’s important to your Customers (“where they are”), you should choose the right one.  There are Customer Advisory Panels for getting insights from your more active or dedicated Customers; Focus Groups, usually administered by a neutral third-party but paid for by you; independently published market analyses; Customer interviews; or simply searching through the organic feedback collected on social media or review websites.  Depending on your business model, you can even look directly at your Customers’ behaviors and glean information from that.  SaaS organizations, for example are fortunate simply by their own design:  they have a treasure trove of adoption and usage information for their Customers—you can bet that when that use goes down (Customers using the tool less frequently) it’s likely something to do with the perceived value of what they’re offering.

There’s more.  Tons more.  Do a Google search to find volumes of texts about it.  If you’re truly curious you’ll come up with your own ways of gaining insights into your Customers’ thoughts.

Ultimately, though, the first thing you need to do is determine what’s important to the Customers at each stage (and for each segment too!) of their journey.  That, itself is an investigation that may take work to determine (it’s a sort of meta-VoC exercise). If you barrel right into, say, sending a CES survey to every Customer who encounters your online ordering platform, you may be missing the boat if, according to those same Customers, ease of effort falls behind product or service offering variety.  So make sure to do your due diligence to find out what’s in their hearts before you ask about what’s on their minds.

Most importantly, it’s vital that you embark on your VoC journey in the right frame of mind:  You’re not seeking just to get a number (a survey result, for example)… You should treat your VoC program as the first step of a journey of your own.  Its purpose, more than anything else, should be to provide insights into what you can do to improve your Customers’ experiences.  If all you’re doing is reporting it (or alternatively lamenting or celebrating it), you’re missing the whole point:  You have to do something with it!

And there’s more to learn about that as we turn to Process Engineering next.