Voice of Customer (VoC)

Voice of the customer, or VoC, is the research and analytics that capture customers’ needs, wants, expectations, preferences, and dislikes. It can also refer to feedback in the form of customer needs, requests, and pain points.

VoC’s roots lie in product management. However, today it’s leveraged by teams across the organization, including operations and marketing. At a high level, VoC work aims to improve or enhance customer retention, customer experience, and success. More specifically, in addition to winning more business and growing revenues, a strong VoC practice helps your organization:

  • Better anticipate and meet customer needs, wants, and hopes
  • Exceed customer expectations
  • Remain on the cutting edge of innovation
  • Increase customer satisfaction
  • Create customer advocates
  • Prioritize themes and projects with the maximum impact

How do teams gather the voice of the customer feedback?

Interviewing current or potential customers comprised most of this research initiative, hence the “voice” aspect of this feedback. This unedited, direct feedback gives businesses an unabashed and honest take on customer problems, current solutions, and ideal experiences. 

Individual interviews may be the gold standard. However, other methods can increase the number contributing to customer input. Focus groups and customer advisory boards represent excellent opportunities to uncover the additional voices of the customer insights, particularly since the team can witness the interplay between multiple users discussing their own experiences.

Lengthy surveys or even one-question, in-app queries can gather data from a broader target market pool. They reinforce or contradict findings from individual interviews. These also add a splash of quantitative analysis to complement the qualitative nature of interviews and smaller group settings.

Today, VoC’s scope encompasses more indirect ways of capturing customer feedback and sentiment from online content. This kind of indirect research is frequently enabled by tools enhanced with artificial intelligence. This allows teams like marketing to extract meaning from the noise of the Internet. 

It’s important to realize that the most vocal individuals online may not be or target customers, so proceed with caution. General sentiment and feedback may cloud or distort the business’s vision of the market landscape.

Product management’s central role in voice of the customer

Product managers must play a key role in defining the topics or questions used during the voice of the customer interviews and sessions, as well as working with product marketing to ensure the target audience lines up with the user personas of interest and that the feedback collection modalities match the audience and goals of the exercise. 

They must also generate the survey instrument or discussion guide. Moreover, they can either participate in the interviews directly or observe them. They can then apply it to the relevant product strategy and roadmap. Finally, due to their closeness to the product, product managers extract the ideas, customer needs, likes, or dislikes from the feedback, presenting summaries to the product team and senior leadership. This ensures that relevant stakeholders understand these market realities. 

The unique role of voice of the customer feedback

With no filter between them and the stakeholders listening to these accounts or reading excerpts from the transcripts, everyone from senior management to individual contributors gets the unvarnished truth straight from the horse’s mouth. Hearing these truths—sometimes positive, sometimes ugly, always in the customer’s own words—serves as a useful check on internal leaders that tend to overvalue hunches and assumptions, as well as fostering a greater sense of customer empathy.

As the product team prioritizes future work, defining and scheduling key themes and projects on the product roadmap, VoC feedback becomes an invaluable tool for explaining the “why” behind some of these decisions. The ability to reference direct customer quotes and anecdotes acts as a powerful defense against individual naysayers or executives consumed with shiny object syndrome… although sometimes the VoC can spark that syndrome to begin with. 

In general, VoC acts as the ultimate “truth bomb” to foster stakeholder alignment and solidify support for a common product vision and strategy.

Putting voice of the customer research to work

VoC research is only as valuable as what the organization does with it, so teams need a solid plan to extract meaning from the flood of generated input. Sometimes it is as simple as coding and contextualizing responses and identifying how those align with gaps or deficiencies in the product.

For larger data sets that can be sliced and diced, sometimes analysts will weigh the data to adjust the results to reflect the actual user base better. This ensures that if a disproportionate portion of responses come from a single industry, geography, or other demographic, they won’t get overrepresented in the data.

Whether the approach is high-tech and AI-enabled or hand-coded in Excel, the final step is reviewing product roadmaps and backlogs and then reprioritizing work as necessary to ensure future releases deliver maximum value.