How to go beyond Voice of the customer


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Voice of the customer (VOC) programmes have grown rapidly over this last decade. The need for business to be listening to customers appears to have become an accepted norm. But does that make it right?

The old David Ogilvy quote “Consumers don’t think how they feel. They don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say…” is fairly well backed up by behavioural research. Why then do we think that listening to what customers say is the answer to delivering a better customer experience? Should customer surveys be relied upon to provide insights into customer behaviour? Organisations spend £millions on VOC programmes and this may make them feel like they are listening to customers but it is not the voice of the customer we need to understand.

We shouldn’t entirely disregard VOC programmes because they do serve value in understanding and dealing with customer complaints. When organisations annoy the pants off customers, then customers will voice their opinions. To reach this point the experience has reached a level of consciousness that customers feel the need to express themselves. There is value in understanding conscious customer feedback and intention but this represents just a small fraction of human behaviour. You are certainly not discovering the whole truth (and nothing but the truth) about your customers.

Beyond the voice of the customer

For most brands, only a small proportion of customers reach the point where the experience reaches a level of consciousness where they respond to the customer survey. For most customers, the experience barely flickers out of the unconscious. And it is our unconscious that dominates our brain – this BBC Horizon video puts this nicely in perspective. This means that we don’t consciously know why we do many things and when asked about the whats and whys about our behaviour, we often make things up – not intentionally, but we do. Asking customers about their behaviour becomes a lot less valuable when we consider this science. You may think that you are listening to your customers and being customer-centric, but the reality is you’re just scratching the surface.

To get meaningful insights organisation need to go beyond VOC. The focus should be on customer behaviour, what customers do, why they do it and how to influence this behaviour. If you love an acronym then you could call this BOC (behaviour of customer) but frankly, I don’t like acronyms, so please don’t ever use this. There are several tools to uncover behaviour. Analytic data can help understand what customers do and advanced solutions can uncover detailed customer journeys, voice analysis can understand call behaviour, facial coding can monitor the unconscious facial response of customers, advanced CCTV can track (anonymously) your customers as they walk around your store, biometric devices can monitor your customers’ physiological response to the experience, ethnography can observe behaviour, behavioural games can be created to mimic real-world behaviour. The tools exist to discover the truth behind what customers do, how they feel and why they do it – the challenge is to step out from the norm of a VOC programme and embrace a better understanding of human behaviour.

Reduce risk

Traditional research and surveys have been around for a long time and with so many organisations now having a VOC programme they are seen as a safe bet. Most organisations are very risk-averse about new approaches (which is another blog entirely) but the real risk is relying on what customers say and using this insight to drive your decisions! The opportunity is to reduce your risk, increase your customer understanding and go beyond the voice of the customer. This will not only make you more customer-centric but it will provide insights that drive genuine value.

We have lots of resources where you can learn more about customer behaviour.

Tim Wade
Tim is the founder of CX Lab, a customer experience consultancy using behavioural science rather than rhetoric to deliver results from customer and employee experience. Tim has lead the transformation of businesses across multiple sectors including hospitality, retail, telecoms, financial services, B2B, energy and technology. Previously a marketing leader Tim turned to the 'dark side' of consulting, a path that has taken him around the world consulting and speaking on marketing and customer experience.


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