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Recently I've had the opportunity to speak with several people who head up their company's voice-of-the-customer (VoC) and customer-experience (CX) programs. They all have different methods of gathering insight into how their customers perceive their products and services; but notably, none are a one-size-fits-all approach.

One company uses its VoC solution to measure how more than 120,000 employees (internal customers) worldwide feel about the business and the IT services they receive. It uses a combination of quarterly satisfaction ratings, executive engagement surveys, and instant customer satisfaction surveys to gauge how its team is doing. Every time a low score pops up, the company must respond immediately so that employees know they have been heard. Any changes made due to survey results are then measured in the next survey.

Another B2B enterprise software provider, a client of ours at Alchemer, tailors its customer feedback surveys to each customer. The company has just a couple hundred customers, each worth millions to the business. Senior executives at each customer are interviewed face-to-face, whereas most users of the company's software receive email-based surveys. Then the customer business manager who owns the account reports what was learned from the in-person meetings so that all of the data can be stored in a data lake and analyzed for each customer as well as overall. The customer business manager's performance and compensation are tied to the feedback, and he or she is responsible for putting plans in place to take action on the feedback for their customer.

All voices are not equal

In a B2B relationship, all voices are important, but not equal or the same. The strategies to address a senior executive's concerns at a large organization are different from those to address a day-to-day contact's concerns.

That doesn't mean the day-to-day contact's issues aren't valid; they're just different. Users might be more focused on training and support, whereas the executive is concerned with higher-level business concerns, such as ROI, adoption rates, and ways the product or solution makes customers better or smarter at what they do.

This difference in perspectives between an executive and front-line employee is why Alchemer SVP of Product and Services Ryan Tamminga says "NPS can be directionally accurate, but precisely wrong." Net Promoter Score might tell one tale, while the senior executives tell a different one. If you lose either audience—your product's users or their execs—renewals are that much harder.

All customers are not equal

Most VoC programs count each vote with equal weight. However, a bit of research might show that certain customers have a greater lifetime value than others, and your high-value customers might have opinions that differ from those who only dabble in your offering. And if you give a massive enterprise the same weight as a small shop, your strategy around feedback might be skewed toward small shops at the cost of large enterprises in your customer base.

There are also customers who are more difficult and expensive than others. Some even cost you more than they are worth. Although it's true that in an ideal world you want to keep all customers happy and engaged, having your support or customer services team spend too much effort keeping a single customer happy could lead to changes that keep one client satisfied but do not help your more profitable customers. That could result in exactly what you don't want: keeping more unprofitable customers while pushing away the profitable ones.

To understand which customers' voices you want to hear, you need to isolate and identify each piece of feedback and pair it with your customer records.

Review feedback and tie it back to your customer segments for deeper and contextual analysis, whether geographically, by product, or by touch point. Then you can make better decisions for your business.

Seek to improve business, not scores

"We all have our blind spots," explains the global head of VoC at an enterprise software company. "Fear of feedback is real. But wouldn't you rather know what you have to fix?"

The company measures the entire customer experience. "NPS is not a key metric for us," he explains. "It's more important to look across all the data sets you have to truly understand how your customers are experiencing your services and products."

Focusing on driving up scores can improve things temporarily, but at what cost? Are you creating customer relationships that depend on your team customizing your solution or service for free when you should be charging for such work? That is the danger of relying only on NPS or other customer satisfaction scores.

Although any decent VoC program will provide trending numbers, a good one will give you the good, the bad, and the ugly feedback along with specific examples. Most VoC programs focus on sharing only positive feedback. However, it is equally important to look at all feedback, including the reported challenges. That is where you can improve. It is also the area where you show your customers you are listening.

Listen, but also act

Most people have forgotten the unspoken contract that when customers give you feedback, they expect to see proof that you heard them. If you are just asking so you can compile a report, you are breaking the contract and so you will get progressively worse feedback.

How many surveys do you receive from the companies you buy from, and how many do you answer? If you're like most people, you answer only the ones that allow a response beyond a thank you screen.

When your organization starts to truly listen, each customer response creates an action item for someone in your organization. However, those responsible for responding can't always be the same people. You may find that diverse customer segments, locations, and responses need to be handled by different team members.

On a Friday, an executive at one of our clients, an enterprise software company, received an email notification that a customer had given his team a 1 out of 10. Because the customer gave a low score, it triggered an automated workflow to open a customer support ticket with the weekend customer service team. The executive not only responded to the customer over the weekend but also explained to the customer how the company was going to fix the problem. When the senior stakeholder got to the office on Monday, the problem was already fixed.

Always be closing the loop

When your company doesn't close the loop, it looks as if you're not listening at all. One pharmaceutical company's technology and business services group noted a 21% improvement in satisfaction and a 30% increase in response rate once it began acting on feedback. "If you don't close the loop, they don't give feedback the next time," explained the program lead for the project.

"As an industry, we need to decouple analysis from action," says Ryan Tamminga from Alchemer. You do not need to wait for the results to be sanitized and analyzed before acting.

Think like a customer. Consider how often you've received a survey or a request for feedback. How often do you respond? Do you feel heard when you do respond? Have you stopped responding because it doesn't seem to matter?

Any company that listens has an opportunity to surprise and delight their customers.

More Resources on Voice-of-the-Customer Programs

How B2B Marketers Can Leverage Voice of Customer for Business Growth: Nate Brown on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

Voice-of-the-Customer Data: The Key to Human-Centered CX

How to Use Voice of the Customer in B2B to Improve CX and Increase Engagement

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Why VoC and CX Can't Be One Size Fits All

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image of Vanessa Bagnato

Vanessa Bagnato is the director of product marketing at Alchemer, an enterprise online survey software company..

LinkedIn: Vanessa Bagnato