On paper, giving customers what they want sounds like something any company can do, provided it just tries hard enough. But when it’s time to deliver, it gets complicated.
In fact, one of the biggest challenges in addressing customers' needs is knowing exactly what those needs are. Customers describe their desires and intentions in varying detail on a wide range of channels, from community and social forums to NPS surveys, user research groups, and more. Everyone has a valuable perspective, but knowing what to listen to can be difficult.
And this can get even harder when there are many different teams inside a company gathering information about customer needs.
That’s why it’s essential to design an effective Voice of the Customer program, which helps companies filter out the noise and make sense of customer voices. A Voice of the Customer (or VoC) lets a company gather and analyze customer feedback—and then act on that feedback, adjusting its own products to truly give customers what they want.
We interviewed product leaders at companies like Figma, Etsy, and Google about creating a VoC program that works.
1) You need a dedicated lead and champions.
When many people on many teams are gathering information, someone needs to distill it. Assign a leader or owner of this task who can collate and analyze customer feedback across organizations like customer support, research, and product operations.
If the work spans different organizations and swim lanes, then each team should elect a champion. This champion represents the team, collects and comprehends org-specific data, and evangelizes the outcomes.
2) Find a home for the VoC program (ideally on a customer-facing team).
A Voice of the Customer program is often run by customer support, research, or product operations. But in general, this program should probably live where the majority of the data is generated—usually customer support—or a more analytical or independent function, such as Research.
3) Do not focus on a single source of customer feedback.
Data that informs a VoC program can (and should) come from a wide range of sources. Those sources include account managers, community forums, customer support tickets, relational and transactional surveys (e.g., NPS), sales conversations, and social media posts.
Airtable can help you decipher information from all these sources.
“Airtable is magical," says Jenny Bodenlos, who uses the platform to manage both internal and customer-facing projects at martech startup Blue Ocean. "With a single input, it is possible to understand and visualize information from a variety of perspectives. Airtable offers the ability to finally anticipate the implications of convergence across all of the end-to-end activities along your customer and product journey.”
4) Aggregate data according to themes.
Each input source includes different data types and varying volumes of data. Apples-to-apples comparisons are not helpful, and weighting systems can be tricky.
For example, Director of Research Cristen Torrey says the data quality and volume are high on many channels. “But we don’t always know how to quantify that data—how do we know if one thing is a bigger issue than something else?”
Remember those team champions mentioned above? They should identify themes that appear across channels and use their judgment to establish priorities. Do customers on all channels mention slow response times? This is likely a high-priority piece of customer feedback to address.
Data quality and volume are high, but we don’t always know how to quantify that data—how do we know if one thing is a bigger issue than something else?
5) Not all feedback should be acted on.
In fact, not all feedback can be acted on. Leaders of VoC programs should clearly outline their priorities, which will then guide which customer feedback to act on and the timeline for doing so. Feedback aligned with company goals and priorities is often the most valuable, but other feedback can help inform future goals and priorities for the company.
We had an internal charter for our feedback program. For example, a clear process for how feedback can be submitted, a cadence for review, and visibility into prioritization. Developing a charter in partnership with Sales and Marketing pays dividends down the road.
6) Airtable can help with collating, analyzing, and reporting.
While plenty of tools can help wrangle specific types of data (like Looker for customer support and Qualtrics for surveys), they usually aren’t great at integrating other data types.
Companies sometimes turn to spreadsheets as a generic solution. But a spreadsheet simply lacks versatility. Cincinnati-based clothing startup Cladwell switched from spreadsheets to Airtable for a variety of programs.
"Airtable was the missing piece in our data collection, editorial organization, and customer insights workflow," says Levi Bethune, former creative director at Cladwell. "Airtable has reduced the learning curve..."
7) Shout your VoC results from (a bunch of) rooftops.
- Start a Slack channel to serve up findings to leadership teams and others. Cristen Torrey at Figma says the company created a “customer feedback” Slack channel. Executives and leaders consult these Slack channels regularly to help make business and product decisions.
- Create progress reports that show off not only themes in customer feedback but also the actions you’re taking. Google found particular success in reporting what the company is doing about VoC, as opposed to simply giving an overview of the feedback itself.
- Start a VoC newsletter to disseminate learnings from the Voice of the Customer program. This may take a lot of work to produce, but will be worth it in the end.
- Share dashboards that let people in your company explore Voice of the Customer data themselves.
Slack channels get traction when there is a focus—stakeholders live in these channels.
8) Close the loop with customers.
Customers are genuinely happy to see their feedback incorporated into a company's product roadmap. Retention increases, loyalty increases, and NPS scores generally go up. For instance, at some companies when they launch a new feature, they also roll out a custom marketing campaign highlighting customers who gave the feedback that prompted that new feature.
Customers appreciate it when you bring them along for the journey—and give them context on the ‘why’. A great feedback program creates healthy and regular feedback loops and dialog.
Special thanks to Airtable’s Head of Research Andy Warr for gathering these tips, along with Ashley Church, Becca Hare, Cristen Torrey, Jason Mueller, Lasse Wassermann, Michael Nguyen, Michelle Kittrell, and Sian Townsend.