What is Voice of Customer? Definition, benefits, and techniques

Collect and leverage Voice of Customer feedback to improve your company’s CX.

By Patrick Grieve, Contributing Writer

Published November 14, 2019
Last updated December 17, 2021

If a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, a customer’s journey could begin at a myriad of touchpoints from every possible direction. It’s dizzying, but because customer experience is a key differentiator, it’s more important than ever to have a holistic understanding of the buyer’s journey from each touchpoint. Teams across the entire company need to understand one another as well, but to do so, they need the right tools and data.

Many organizations adopt a Voice of Customer (VoC) approach, going straight to the source to gather, share, and act upon customer feedback. A VoC program is the process of capturing your audience’s wants, needs, preferences, aversions, highlights, and pain points to gain visibility into the customer journey.

Sharing VoC data across your business means breaking down internal silos, moving toward a better customer satisfaction (CSAT) score, and affecting change where necessary to improve the overall customer experience.

What is Voice of Customer?

Voice of the Customer definition: A program that businesses use to collect and analyze customer feedback about their brand, products, or services.

The Voice of the Customer methodology involves gathering data that can then be gleaned for insights into the customer experience. Companies often use a variety of strategies to collect such data, from brief automated surveys to full-on focus groups.

Though there are many data sources that go into a Voice of the Customer analysis, the process often begins with a single overarching question. For example, a VoC program might aim to find out how customers feel about a new product or feature. Or, it may attempt to discover the root cause of a recent phenomenon, like a sudden rise in customer churn. Once a business has identified a problem or concern, they will create feedback forms and customer interview questions that get to the heart of the issue.

The VoC process usually involves multiple departments, from customer success managers to support agents to product development professionals. Teams and employees need to work together to analyze and refine every stage of the customer journey.

Ideally, the VoC approach not only improves the customer experience but also helps the business enhance its internal collaboration and communication.

Why is Voice of Customer important?

Traditional measures of success (like revenue and churn) indicate how your business is doing but not why it’s performing that way. The VoC methodology looks at the numbers behind the numbers: data that reveals what makes or breaks customer loyalty to your brand.

VoC data focuses on aspects of the customer experience (CX). A Qualtrics study found that high-quality CX is one of the best predictors of customer loyalty. Ninety-four percent of consumers who experience “very good” CX are likely to buy more products and services from the company. Additionally, about 75 percent of buyers who give a company a “very good” CX rating say they would forgive the business after one bad experience.

The key to offering “very good” CX is learning how your customers really feel about your brand and your offerings. By examining the customer journey from every touchpoint, you’re able to identify potential problems, resolve common issues, and customize your products or services to better satisfy your customers. All these outcomes contribute to better customer retention and more brand advocates who will sing your company’s praises.

What are the best ways to collect Voice of Customer data?

VoC data largely consists of key performance indicators (KPIs) such as CSAT ratings, Net Promoter Score (NPS®), and first reply time (FRT). Relevant KPIs differ between industries and businesses.

There are numerous other metrics that can also lead to a better understanding of CX. VoC insight draws from support queries like the number of tickets for each feedback type—think feature requests and problem categories. It might include bug reports, ticket deflection, and billing issues. Or, it may include information like open rates, click-through rates, and unsubscribe requests in outbound messages. It might mean looking for holes in your help center: Which search terms garner no results? Which articles are most read?

Ultimately, important VoC data is as specific to your organization as your customers are. It’s up to you and your company to determine which metrics are most important and impactful. With that in mind, let’s explore popular strategies for collecting Voice of the Customer data so you can identify the ones that best fit your business.

Net Promoter Score℠ (NPS)

Developed in 1993, NPS is a simple metric for measuring customer loyalty. Businesses send customers a one-question survey that asks, “How likely are you to recommend us to someone you know?” Customers can then respond on a scale of 0 to 10.

Zendesk’s NPS survey asks customers if they’d like to share the reason for their rating and provides a space for them to write a response. Over half of NPS survey respondents will leave additional open-ended feedback, which is helpful for determining:

  • Why detractors (customers who leave a rating between 0 and 6) are having a bad customer experience
  • What promoters (customers who leave a rating of 9 or 10) value most about your company
  • What issues are preventing passives (customers who leave a rating of 8) from becoming promoters

To calculate your overall Net Promoter Score, subtract the percentage of your detractors from the percentage of your promoters.

Customer satisfaction (CSAT) rating

CSAT is another quick survey that gauges customer sentiment. After an interaction with a business has concluded, the customer will automatically receive an email asking them, “How would you rate your recent experience?” The customer can select “Good, I’m satisfied” or “Bad, I’m dissatisfied,” and then add an optional comment explaining their choice.

Though CSAT surveys are traditionally associated with customer support interactions, they can be used for other touchpoints as well. For example, a customer might receive a CSAT survey asking how easy a self-guided online shopping experience was or how well their order was fulfilled. The more CSAT scores your company collects, the more touchpoints you can analyze. You can also ask additional customer satisfaction survey questions—including demographic details, product usage, and follow-up questions—to compile an even richer set of data.

Customer surveys

CSAT and NPS are popular surveys, in part because they’re so straightforward. But sometimes, you’ll want to ask a customer more than just one question.

Be careful not to ask too many questions, though—the longer the survey, the more likely it is that a customer won’t finish it. According to Customer Thermometer, only 9 percent of people will take the time to thoughtfully answer long surveys, and nearly 70 percent admit to survey abandonment.

So, try to build surveys that take no more than a few minutes to complete, and write questions that are easy to comprehend (aim for an eighth-grade reading level). You may also need to incentivize potential survey-takers with a reward, such as a discount, coupon, or gift.

First reply time (FRT)

FRT tells you how long, on average, it takes a support agent to respond to a customer service request. Automated responses aren’t included in the metric.

When it comes to FRT, the shorter, the better—customers hate waiting on hold for long periods of time. Of course, time is relative when it comes to support interactions occurring over different channels. Take a look at the ideal first response time by channel:

Voice of Customer first response time

Data source

Businesses often improve their FRT by embracing live chat and messaging, two conversational support channels designed to deliver immediate assistance.

Community forums

An active, robust community forum is a great source for direct and indirect feedback. This owned platform on a company’s website can provide a powerful combination of customer support, social networking, and frank communication about a brand’s products or services.

Regularly check on the forum to see what customers are talking about, and use that information to design better practices, products, and resources for them.

For example, if you find that forum members are asking questions that haven’t already been answered by knowledge base articles, you can create content to address those FAQs. If an article does already exist but a forum member can’t find it, that may indicate something else is wrong—perhaps the help center is too difficult to locate, or the article itself is unclear or outdated.

Actively observing (and participating in) a community forum will help you tune your ear to the Voice of the Customer.

Online customer reviews

A lot of customer feedback about your company may already exist in the form of online customer reviews. On review sites like TrustRadius, Capterra, and Angi, customers will often share lengthy, detailed opinions about what businesses do well (and what they don’t).

Reading reviews is a wonderful way to gain additional insight into the Voice of the Customer. Monitoring reviews (and responding to negative ones) is also an important aspect of reputation management, as the majority of consumers will hesitate to buy from a brand that has negative online reviews.

Customer interviews

One of the oldest Voice of the Customer examples is the customer interview. Though more time-consuming than automated surveys, an interview with an individual buyer can allow you to dig deeper into someone’s feelings about your brand, services, or products.

Customer interviews can happen over the phone, through email exchanges, or in person. It’s important to select a consumer who is representative of your overall audience or a key demographic you’re trying to learn more about.

Focus groups

When you want to hear from multiple customers at once, put together a focus group. Gather a handful of consumers in a room (or virtual conference space), and use questions about your product, service, or customer experience as the starting point for active discussions.

Focus groups are especially helpful when asking a sampling of customers how they’d feel about a new process, feature, or concept.

How to leverage Voice of Customer analysis to improve CX

The Voice of the Customer methodology involves collecting, sharing, and acting upon customer data taken from all available sources, with the ultimate goal of enhancing your CX. Highlighted below are three ways that VoC data can be used to refine the customer experience and elevate your business.

  1. Training opportunities

  2. Sharing VoC data can lead to training opportunities for support agents, according to Leah Guest, Zendesk’s VoC operations manager.

    Guest explains, “Say we get a lot of tickets on insights and reporting. We can look at the total time to resolution on those tickets, we can look at first reply time, and we can look at CSAT to identify areas we can improve to create a better experience. That might be training our advocates on how to better respond to people who reach out so they’re decreasing that total time to resolution.”

    According to the Zendesk Customer Satisfaction report, companies with slower FRTs have lower CSAT scores. Decreasing time to resolution could be achieved by training support agents to resolve certain issues more swiftly. And you could further improve resolution times by introducing new support channels—like asynchronous messaging or self-service—that provide convenience and empower customers to solve their own problems.

    It’s no wonder that businesses with a VoC program enjoy higher customer satisfaction and a better reputation when it comes to CX. The insights gleaned from customer data can educate anyone and leave a lasting impression of your brand.

    Consumers also expect their opinions to be heard. That’s the standard set by today’s most innovative companies, and it’s what sets better businesses apart from the rabble. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is known to read and circulate customer emails that catch his eye with a succinct “?”—a gesture that’s grown to urban-legend proportions in CX discussions.

  3. Knowledge base management

  4. VoC insights can help boost your knowledge base, too. Self-service takes some of the heat off of agents by enabling customers to find solutions to their problems before they even start a support conversation.

    In the same way that Rome wasn’t built in a day, a solid knowledge base takes time to put together. Thankfully, you can make the process easier by using support tickets and customer conversations to inform knowledge base content. Voice of the Customer data lays the foundation for a knowledge base that ultimately results in shorter resolution times.

    Guest says, “We look at tickets that were resolved with one answer—that’s a really good way to figure out if there are knowledge base articles we can create. … That way, customers have more self-service opportunities, which ultimately decreases ticket volume.”

  5. Product roadmap influence

  6. Data gleaned from support agents can lead to product roadmap changes and create opportunities for proactive engagement with customers. When a support workflow proved to be confusing for Zendesk customers, Guest pointed out how sharing customer feedback across the organization influenced both the product roadmap and support strategy, ultimately resulting in a better customer experience.

    She says, “With that feedback, the product team was working on some stuff, but it wasn’t solving the issue completely. So, we took it to our advocacy team, who started a proactive campaign that said, ‘Hey, here are some best practices to make it easier to understand your workflow.’ And it worked really well.”

Use the Voice of Customer methodology to really listen

A modern support strategy isn’t just about which channels you’re on and which software you’re using (though good CX software is a great start). It’s also about listening to your customer, circulating their feedback, and acting on that data to deliver concrete results.

But customer interactions don’t happen in a void. Like the butterfly effect, even a seemingly unremarkable customer conversation can be the catalyst for massive and important change.

Sharing support data across your organization has a significant impact, with the benefit of improving KPIs like FRT, CSAT, and NPS. Voice of the Customer data can also be a source of actionable insights that result in superior customer experiences, less churn, and more customer referrals. Internally, mastering the VoC methodology translates to better advocates, a solid knowledge base, and a product roadmap that leads to customer success.

CX Maturity among SMBs of North America

Zendesk partnered with ESG Research to create a framework around CX maturity and CX success to help leaders at small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) identify where they stand and build a roadmap for the future.

CX Maturity among SMBs of North America

Zendesk partnered with ESG Research to create a framework around CX maturity and CX success to help leaders at small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) identify where they stand and build a roadmap for the future.

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