Voice of the Customer – a buzzword that’s shaken the marketing world in recent years like no other.
We all aspire to put customers in the spotlight, but how do we ensure our efforts are truly effective?
We’ve asked CEOs and Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success leaders to share their experiences with establishing customer-centrism across the entire organization. We’ve asked for advice for companies at the beginning of the journey, about mistakes that should be avoided, as well as how you can tackle the most common challenges.
The result: a list of actionable tips & best practices that will guide you through the ins and outs of putting your customers first.
Let’s start with what our experts have to say on cross-organizational changes:
Embrace customer focus, organization-wide
Stay close to customer service, no matter how big your company grows
“One thing I still do as a CEO is spend 20 minutes a day reading through every support ticket. It’s an invaluable part of my day” says Tim Hewson of USLegalWills.com. “Our support tickets are the single best source of new feature ideas, preventing revenue losses, as well as highlighting design improvements that need to be made to the user interface. I am amazed at the number of businesses that outsource their support team, regarding it as simply a cost overhead.”
Budget for customer success team growth
Yaniv Masjedi, CMO at Nextiva, agrees that investing in an in-house customer success team pays off in the long run:
“More than 40% of our company’s 1,000 employees work in customer service, and they are all in-house. Why do we devote so many resources to our customers? [We want to] show them day in and day out, through all of their interactions with the company, that their needs are valued and prioritized”.
Asked about the long-term outcome of such a strategy, he confirms that it’s definitely paid off. “Micah Solomon wrote [a Forbes piece] about his visit to our office in 2015, when he saw a Nextiva employee record a video response in real-time to a tweet that came in with a question about a service we didn’t offer”. He also mentions that a customer-centric focus brought the company to initiate an entire conference, NextCon, around the subject. “We have had tech leaders such as Steve Wozniak speak there”.
Have zero tolerance for Glengarry Glen Ross sales techniques
Jonathan Prichard, now CEO & Founder at MattressInsider.com, reminisces on a situation he encountered at a past company. “Our team’s sales manager led with high-pressure car salesman type tactics, which he also taught to trainees. While they were very effective at closing sales, they also resulted in an above average rate of returns and exchanges which were costing the company money”.
“When I took over as the sales trainer, I adopted a more customer-centric sales approach. This style of sales involved asking qualifying questions to identify customer needs and creating custom presentations that addressed them”.
Prichard also emphasizes the role of customer-company transparency: “ If we didn’t have a solution for the customer, we’d simply refer them to someone else”– he says.
He points out that cross-company changes resulted in a reduction of returns and refunds, as well as improved company reviews.
Don’t put the cart before the horseTish Gance, Brand Experience Designer, takes a similar stance, pointing out how her business flourished after she’d realized clients simply don’t prioritize the same way companies do:
“Most businesses put the “cart before the horse” and structure their customer outreach and interactions based on the features and functions of their product or service, and think strictly in the aspect of the sale, not in the relationship and journey the customer is a part of” she says. “By driving the conversation of improvement from the perspective of helping the customer and not how to get the sale, we bring compassion and common sense back to the business”.
Which brings us to another distinguishing characteristic of customer-centric companies:
Collect and anticipate feedback
Let’s take a look at what it takes to take customer feedback potential to the fullest.
Don’t be afraid of online reviews – embrace them
“We wanted honest to goodness responses that included the good, bad, and ugly.” Andy Moquin, President of Andrews Jewelers, tells us about their feedback collection efforts. “To do this, we implemented review aggregation software. It gave our customers a platform to share their views without having to face the employee that helped them”.
“The responses were extremely insightful” he continues. “Largely good, some not so good. Our staff sifted the reviews to find the reasons why people did business with us. We took those phrases and made them part of our employee handbooks and marketing. Future marketing campaigns were built around these concepts, and procedures were instituted to support them as well”.
Run NPS surveys
“We have a mantra. Listen to your customers, otherwise, you will have none” says Zach Hendrix, Co-Founder of GreenPal. He says NPS surveys were a true game-changer for their company, most accurately described as the “Uber for Lawn Care”.
“We ask, “on a scale of 1-10 how likely would you be to refer a friend to use GreenPal?”.
“We solicit feedback from our customers. If it’s good, we ask them for reviews for our site and also third-party sites like Yelp. If it’s bad, we get out in front of the issue immediately”.
Hendrix also recalls an anecdote that shows the level of transparency NPS surveys brought into customer communication. “[Running NPS surveys] allowed us to capture some funny reviews, like the one below:
“We were using a guy recommended by our Landlord, who while entertaining at times, looked like ZZ Top, was also a bit of a pain–racist, drank beer on the job I think, would get mixed up about us already paying him. GreenPal solved these problems for us“.
Optimize constantly for survey feedback quality
Siddhartha Gupta, Chief Executive Officer at Mercer-Mettl, shares how the company revisited the way questions were asked to boost response quality.
“We discarded traditional survey forms to multiple-choice questions with design-centric and visually appealing formats. We listed down everything about our products in explanatory notes from our end and asked customers to choose as many as possible. Multiple-choice questions worked and divulged a lot of details, issues, and pain points related to our products and helped us improve them tremendously”.
Gupta says such an approach turned clients into brand evangelists. “We use their points of view, testimonials, [and] video interviews as marketing collaterals, and ask them to share that as well on their social media. They stick to us, continuously pointing out bad features, giving genuine feedback about our new product implementations, and helping us create a factor of customer delight for them”.
That being said, you should also…
Make your customers feel valued for their patronage
“We request a simple feedback survey from our clients and vendors to assess and ascertain our customer satisfaction rates,” says Brian Sheehan, Marketing Manager at Hollingsworth.
“We implement this continuously and are able to make changes in our process to better improve our customer experience. Our metrics are simple – [we] use the smiley face customer satisfaction survey tool and offer fields for further commentary and suggestions”.
Sheehan admits, though, that the survey response rate wasn’t impressive straight from the start. “We experienced only 12% of responses and needed more in order to better understand our customers. So, we implemented free codes and a chance to win a gift card when people responded. This increased our survey responses to 19%”.
Asked about the key takeaways of running customer-centric surveys, he says:“We experienced repeat sales (customer loyalty) increasing by 8% and we [now] have valuable data that can be shared with our vendors to improve their sales and customer experience”.
Which brings us to…
Analyze customer data from all touchpoints
Jason Patel, Founder of Transizion, sheds light on how the company started using data from multiple communication and marketing tools. “When we first started giving customers more of a voice, we didn’t have a way to track their feedback nor were we getting good response rates from them. When we switched to a CRM and began sending feedback forms to their emails, things became much easier”.
“You need data to survive in the shifting marketplace” he continues. “One or two data points can make all the difference between customers purchasing from you and not a competitor. If you do this at scale, you can survive, grow, and scale your business with success”.
Delivering upon your promises
Empathize with your clients’ challenges
Depending on the industry, some businesses need to go the extra mile in ascertaining their clients they’re their first priority.
Zeshan Jeewanjee, Operations Agent at travel insurance company Go One Global, shares his thoughts on what customer-centrism means for companies that directly, and literally, impact customers’ lives.
“Filing claims for travel medical insurance is a stressful experience since you are busy trying to look after you or your loved ones’ health. Our process used to be confusing for customers, many of which were skeptical of travel insurance claims because they were under-informed about how it worked. And so, we decided to upgrade our customer experience and established a designated Claims Advocacy Team.
“Our role is to ensure our clients can file their claim with peace of mind, from start to finish” he continues. “We check your claims status for you, make sure you get the medical care you need, and – in some cases – even send clients flowers to let them know they’re in good hands.
“Since implementing this approach, we have received great customer feedback in Google reviews and have gotten many referrals. We have also received gifts and thank you notes from customers who were pleased with our service, and nothing is more satisfying than being able to help another person during their tough times”.
Don’t be afraid to give away some intellectual property – show just how good you are at what you do
At times it may also be hard to convince your customers they’re your main focus without revealing some of your know-how. This is especially true of companies that don’t sell products, per se but offer services, for instance, professional consultations.
Courtney Barbee, COO & Co-Owner at The Bookkeeper, says putting in the extra effort upfront made the world of a difference:
“Like many companies in our industry, we offer a free initial consultation. We started with a template interview, hoping to determine a potential client’s exact accounting needs in that way. However, we found this approach too clinical, and not representative of the sort of relationship we want with our clients.
“Now, these initial consultations are treated almost like a “first date”. We strive for organic conversation and encourage potential clients to come to the meeting with any questions they might have, as we don’t feel that this is a sales meeting, but rather an hour designated entirely for their benefit. Sure, we have given away some intellectual property to people who will never sign with us. However, it’s worth it to begin establishing trust with clients right from the first meeting” she says. “We’ve even received referrals from people whom we helped in those initial meetings, even though we didn’t end up working together”.
Use customer proof to identify (and market) your strong suits
“I have found that when you give your advertising the voice of the customer, your marketing starts to really resonate with your customer base. To do this, you can interview customers asking about the pain point your solution solves, and use their exact words in your own marketing. You’ll see a huge difference in results” says Stacy Caprio, Founder at Accelerated Growth Marketing.
Making customers feel they have a say
Educate your customers
Katarzyna Rosa, Customer Happiness Officer at Zety, offers a fresh point of view on the relationship between customer education and satisfaction.
“Probably every CS team deals with the stereotype of ill-functioning CS, customers being held hanging on calls for hours or left without email responses. We figured, that the more you help customers help themselves, the more satisfied they are” she says.
“We focus much of our efforts on directing them to the most straightforward path they can take to get answers and help they need. We regularly update our Knowledge Base with new #hashtags and answers to allow customers easy navigation and finding the support they are looking for.
“Apart from that, we still actively run multi-channel conversations with our customers (email tickets, chats, Trustpilot, Twitter, Facebook). To deal with the growing number of customers, we formed a Customer Happiness Team and introduced Zendesk and integration with social media pages. Hiring new team members and introducing new solutions allowed us to decrease the initial email response time from 15 to just 7 hours and increase the customer happiness rate from 87% to 93% in 6 months.
Asked about the biggest obstacle, Rosa mentions finding a solution to maintain response time for clients from all time zones:
“When we entered the international markets, customers growth wasn’t the only challenge; also the time difference became a problem. We’ve implemented work shifts to cover our work 24h/day and are looking into outsourcing solutions now to get even better at it”.
Make your customers see themselves in your content
Robb Hecht, Adjunct Professor of Marketing at New York-based Baruch College, shares his observations from years of work in the brand building industry:
“Being in the industry most of my career – we were followers of “positioning” and centrality of the brand, the brand attributes, USP (unique selling proposition), and RTBs (reasons to believe, to name a few. Marketing campaigns used to be developed against SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).
“With the rise of the empowered customer, the VoC “Voice of the customer” is now the most important “positioning” to wrap your business around. Why? Given our customers now look to content on social media to inform their buying decisions, they need to see THEMSELVES in that content – mainly because there is so much of it.
“Customers today want more than just being heard; they want to co-create brands by having their stories valued and integrated into campaigns. They also want to be heard and responded to by customer service in real time” he continues.
Asked about the long-term results, Hecht say: “The fruits of developing content based on the needs, intent, values and preferences of customers (vs. just the band) are typically dramatically increased engagement with content and therefore increased sentiment and favorability with the brand”.
Let your customer choose their own journey, but to an extent they can truly handle
Before you can give voice to your customer, you must understand them and their behaviors” says Virginia Case, CEO of Strategic Tactical Marketing, STRATAC.
“Ask yourself these questions:
How do they consume information?
How do they hold it in their head, how much information can they hold onto at once?
What’s the hierarchy of information and relevance?
Example: a doctor’s office, where your customers are patients. If you want to upgrade their customer experience, you should communicate in a streamlined way so that they understand the significance and importance of what you are asking them to do”.
“If you don’t first understand how they process or how much information they can hold onto at one time, you run the risk of overloading them and having them forget something that could seriously impact their health.
Case continues, pointing to an extremely important matter, at the core of customer-centrism: “When it comes to the how your customers consume information, you must first look at the customer demographic, which tells you what the group is most likely to do, and the psychographic, which is what they will be happier doing”.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, giving the voice to customers comes down to being analytical and empathetic towards our customers’ motivations. It is imperative that we collect user feedback – if not actively through running customer satisfaction surveys, then by monitoring online reviews and brand mentions.
We must also put a strong emphasis on educating customers, granting them more autonomy, and increasing their product awareness levels.
Lastly, being customer-centric means not being afraid to challenge the status quo and launch company-wide changes. In the competitive digital realm, it’s the only way to secure your role in the market and to make sure you contribute quality to your customers’ lives.
Ready to take the first step and track what’s on your customers’ minds? Take a look at this post on customer feedback management!