05 Feb 13 Five Voice-of-Customer Features which score over Customer Satisfaction Surveys

CSS and VOC – Two popular methods for customer feedback.

The challenges to human communication are well documented. If communication between individuals can be so challenging, then what about communication between two organizations of at least a 100 people each!

Clients usually ask us what’s more effective – Customer Satisfaction Studies or Surveys (CSS) or in-depth Voice of Customer (VoC) studies. This is a tricky question and I have to admit that among the many challenges in my research career, getting the feedback process in a B2B scenario “just right” has occupied significant mindshare!

CSS is a popular method with many companies for gathering customer feedback. A typical CSS

  • Targets a large number of customers at the same time
  • Gathers feedback using mostly quantitative survey methods
  • Includes a “score” for customer satisfaction
  • Evaluates the score as a benchmark for performance and satisfaction

A VoC, on the other hand, is an in-depth study of the customer issues and goes much beyond a CSS.

Top five features of an effective customer feedback program

Based on my experience of designing detailed customer feedback studies, and seeing the impact they have had on clients’ businesses, I have listed below what I think are the top five features of an effective customer voice program.

1)      Designer program, tailor-made for you. So you can hear YOUR customer.

The feedback program should be designed for your unique business. It can’t be an off-the-shelf CSS program or even a modified version of an off-the-shelf program. It must be tailor-made for your unique business. The customization will ensure effectiveness on many levels. For instance,

  • The program manager and the interviewers should understand your business issues and should be able to “speak the language”,  so the respondent is able to share freely and not restrict themselves to layman language
  • The questionnaire should use terms, words and language which is unique to your specific business, so that the respondent relates well to the questionnaire and the corresponding responses are “real”
  • The analysis should benchmark against similar businesses and not against general customer satisfaction benchmarks

The end result of a custom-designed feedback solution is that you can hear a unified voice of your customer, nice and loud.

2)      Customers should include target customers, not just invoiced ones. So you can hear ALL your customers.

Customers are from the past, present or the future. Most CSSs speak to just current customers. This does not give you any insights on why your past customers aren’t with you anymore; and neither do you have insights on why non-customers aren’t signing up. Speaking to the general target group provides the feedback with additional teeth:

  • What were deal breakers for ex-customers?
  • What’s stopping target customers from using your products / services?
  • Are there unmet market needs?
  • Are there emerging opportunities that you may be missing?

 3)      Should include feedback from all stakeholders. So you hear your customer COMPLETELY.

The voice of even a single customer is heard from at least three different mouths! A common drawback with regular CSS programs is that they take inputs from a single stakeholder. In a typical B2B buying process, the stakeholders whose opinions and perceptions matter in the decision-making process are at least three, and in larger companies could be even five or six.

To illustrate, for a company selling, say, ball bearings to a Tier I automotive supplier, the customers are,

  1. The actual user, who could be a ground engineer toying with the bearings
  2. The operations supervisor who is responsible for the quality of the end product
  3. The F&A purchase person, who decides  how competitive the quote is

Negative perceptions from any of them can derail your case. Ensuring that the feedback covers all critical stakeholders is a must. This has the added benefit of ensuring less questions per respondent, that would translate into clear, thought-through responses from an unhurried respondent.

4)      Should elicit in-depth responses from probing by trained analysts. So you know WHY your customers are saying WHAT they are.

The program should probe the “whys” of all critical issues.  Suppose the customer says the product meets expectations, the interviewee has to probe why it only “meets” and not “exceeds” expectations. The resultant insight from probing could be an input to product innovation, product development, feature marketing, or whatever else that is contextually relevant.

This also means a VoC is as good as the interviewer who conducts it. A trained and qualified analyst well versed in elicitation methods and with relevant expertise in the specific business domain is a must.

5)      Should be designed to provide actionable insight. So YOU can take decisions.

The entire program should be designed in a way which will give you specific and actionable insights. “Actionable” is key – at the end of it all, you have to know what to do to increase sales.

  • Build new warehouses in location X because distribution delays are not working out?
  • Educate your sales personnel on technicalities and impact of excise duties?
  • Provide a bundled service offering to compete better with a market leader?

It could be anything, but the program has to provide you enough meat for you to take a decision.

CSS vs VOC – Which is better?

The value of a CSS such as described earlier, in a B2B scenario is often limited. Key reasons being,

  • Focus is on the quantity of responses, and not so much on quality
  • Interviewers are typically low on technical knowledge of products and services
  • Apart from customer satisfaction and perception, there’s no “so what” or a scenario build for the company conducting the CSS
  • Online CSS additionally suffers from
    – Respondent fatigue from answering too many questions or surveys
    – Lack of authentic responses
    – Lack of insightful responses
    – Respondent concerns over privacy issues

However, a typical  CSS program can work great if you have a large number of customers (excess of 5,000) and therefore the largeness of the sample will ensure that the responses will still carry a voice which can still be heard, loud and clear. However the usefulness of a typical CSS, in my opinion, starts to go down when we consider a typical B2B business, where it’s critical to get in-depth actionable insights on the customer.

That said, CSS and VoC are mere terms or labels. I have seen some really in-depth incisive CSSs, and then again some really superficial VoC studies. In my opinion, a quick check against the above mentioned five features, for a CSS or a VoC, would be a good starting point.

Keep listening!

Pratibha Kurnool

Pratibha was part of the ValueNotes solutions team, creating and designing business proposals and business propositions.

  • Ribhu
    Posted at 08:15h, 07 February Reply

    Good read. Helpful, practical checklist. Will certainly aid decision makers in choosing ways to listen to the customers.

    • Pratibha
      Posted at 08:23h, 07 February Reply

      Hi Ribhu,

      Thank you for your comment. There are many ways of listening for sure, but actionability of most methods is limited for various reasons. So, to paraphrase Shakespeare, a CSS or a VoC will smell just as sweet if the feedback solution considers the 5 must haves.


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