Published in Retail

How Well Are You Capturing the Voice of the Customer?


Most organizations understand the value of the Voice of the Customer (VoC).  Today, hundreds of organizations regularly conduct surveys and focus groups, solicit comments and complaints, scour social media, and gather data from other sources.  The expectation is that insights drawn from VoC sources will enable these firms to prioritize, focus, and drive efforts to manage and improve the customer experience.   

Odds are your organization currently utilizes more than one method of customer listening and learning.   Our own research shows that nearly all companies employ two or more methods of capturing the Voice of the Customer, and that a majority of firms (52%) use between 3 and 5 such methods.

But, it’s not just about using multiple methods of customer listening and learning:    The crux is properly matching the number and mix of methods to the information and decision support needs of managers, employees, and partners.  This can be tricky when resources to invest in customer listening are limited, or when managers believe strongly that they can learn all they need to know from a single source, such as customer surveys or social media.

The simple fact is that no single method of customer listening and learning is capable of addressing all learning objectives or managerial applications.  So, you should ask yourself two questions when trying to decide how best to capture and leverage the Voice of the Customer in your organization:

  • What are our key learning objectives?  Into what aspect(s) of the designed and/or actual customer experience are we trying to gain insight?
  • What method of capturing the Voice of the Customer is best-suited to address each of these objectives? 

Suppose your question is:  “What are the key elements of the customer experience – the specific things that customers are most likely to notice, scrutinize, and evaluate?”  You might be tempted to look at your customer surveys, but that is probably not the best approach, since the quality of survey content depends largely on knowing what the key customer experience elements are in the first place.  A better approach would be to conduct exploratory research via focus groups and/or depth interviews, supplemented by analysis of inbound customer communications and social media:   These methods enable customers to talk in detail about their needs and expectations, and about the specific elements of their experiences that they notice and evaluate. 

What if you already have a pretty complete understanding of key customer experience elements, and your organization has developed performance standards and specifications to address these elements?  Now the question you might want to answer is: “Are standards and specifications for meeting customer needs and expectations being met consistently?”  Since customers may not have a complete knowledge or understanding of your organizations actual performance standards and specifications, relying on direct feedback from customers is unlikely to provide a very effective means of addressing the preceding question.  Mystery shopping and/or observational methods are more likely to provide the answers, as shoppers and observers can be prepared in advance regarding what the standards and specifications are, and for what behaviors, events, or performance levels they should be on the lookout.

Now, what if results of mystery shopping and observational research reveal that performance standards and specifications are not being met?  The question now becomes: “Why not – what organizational processes, policies, practices, or other characteristics inhibit our ability to meet performance standards/specifications?”  Direct customer feedback will be of limited usefulness here, as will be reports from mystery shoppers or observers (who can only describe what they observed, not why).    In this case, the information we are seeking can best be provided by those who are being held accountable to performance standards/specifications – you need to talk to employees and managers.   These people can tell you a great deal about what enables or inhibits their ability to meet standards and specifications, as well as actions that can be taken to improve performance effectiveness.

Nearly every organization asks the question:  “How are we doing in the eyes of customers?”  Unlike the preceding two questions regarding performance standards and specifications, this is a question that demands direct feedback from customers.  In this case, customer survey ratings and verbatims, along with insights gleaned from customer comments and social media, all furnish relevant and useful VoC data.

The point is that success at capturing and leveraging the Voice of the Customer requires more than one method of listening and learning.  However, merely having more than one method of customer listening and learning is only a partial solution.  It is critical to have “the right tools for the job.”  This means clearly defining all of your organization’s customer experience learning objectives, and then identifying and applying the listening/learning methods that are most appropriate for each.

Try this:  List 3-5 customer experience learning objectives in your organization.   Then, identify the methods currently in place to address each of these objectives.  Does your organization have the right methods in place?  If not, what can/should be done better or differently?

Answer the above questions, and you will be a step closer to building the best customer listening and learning system for your organization.

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