Using B2B VoC to Transform Customer Experience


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Customer experience transformation is the top priority of business-to-business (B2B) companies that track customer survey data. That’s according to a series of global B2B customer experience studies that I led. 80% of B2B companies said they track voice-of-the-customer (VoC) as a means to improve business processes and 63% do it to increase customer-centricity. So, are we really setting ourselves up for success in these objectives? My conversations with B2B VoC managers over the years, and even recently, indicate that most of us are falling short.

b2b voc objectives

Five levels of VoC maturity were identified in a report by Temkin Group:
1) VoC Novices — in the very early stages of VoC development
2) VoC Collectors — focusing on listening-post selection, which questions to ask, and which metrics to use
3) VoC Analyzers — spending the majority of their time finding insights from VoC data
4) VoC Collaborators — tailoring customer feedback to stakeholders who are engaged in continuous improvement
5) VoC Transformers — linking customer insights to operational data and processes and strategic planning throughout the company

VoC Maturity Levels
Sources: levels identified by Temkin Group; this slide is from the ClearAction CCXP Exam Prep Course

About half of B2B firms are still in the pre-action stage of VoC maturity. This does not jibe with the objectives mentioned above: 80% intend to improve processes and 63% intend to improve customer-centricity. Why is there a gap?

Often it’s because of the way we start our customer experience management efforts. It’s tempting to start with VoC. But it’s better to start with a change management plan. This plan should be about who needs to do what, when, why, and how, regarding the overall objectives: business process and customer-centricity improvement. When you start with a change management plan, you can set everyone’s expectations for what they need to do when they receive VoC reports. When you’ve thought through the potential obstacles to follow-through on VoC insights and action plans, you can put things in place to move quickly into the upper levels of VoC maturity. There’s no reason, really, why it must take many years to be strong in the top two levels. It’s mostly a matter of mindset and advance planning.

When we start with VoC rather than an overall CX change management plan, we are usually thinking that we need to get customer input first, in order to know what changes are top priorities. We tend to think that once we get our bearings with VoC collection for a few cycles, then the action will naturally follow. What typically happens with this mindset is that VoC administration takes on a life of its own. VoC managers find themselves on a never-ending treadmill of surveying and reporting, with little bandwidth — and often, very little know-how for driving action that transforms business processes and customer-centricity.

When we start with VoC, we get the alphabet soup of listening posts that I mentioned in my last post in this series: "How to Increase Synergy in B2B Voice-of-the-Customer". Most companies have a variety of surveys, along with customer advisory boards, user groups, and many other types of VoC. When I ask them how all those VoC paint a full picture for General Manager A and General Manager B in their company, it's rare that anyone has connected those dots. Think of the power that could be tapped into by business units if there were a sequencing of VoC methods to build upon one another, preventing duplication and increasing subsequent collective wisdom about how to align the company with customers’ needs.

B2B VoC Maturity

When we start with VoC, we tend to be more tactical and less strategic. That's why the business process improvements and customer-centricity currently driven by VoC may not fully offset the investment we're making in VoC. In Forrester Research's 2013 "State of Customer Experience" report, 90% of executives said customer experience is vital to their company's success, yet 86% said they didn’t expect to see significant value from customer experience management. We need to think bigger, and more strategically.

When you pre-plan who needs to do what, when, why, and how, think big. In addition to closing the loop with customers at a micro level with survey participants, plan how you will close the loop at a macro level, to benefit your whole customer base. In addition to expecting immediate action on dissatisfiers, look for patterns with each VoC effort — and across all your VoC efforts — to create an end-to-end view of customer experience, and to create a single view of each account's customer experience. In addition to engaging customer-facing staff and channel partners, plan to engage everyone across the company in understanding and proactively managing their ripple effect on customer experience.

B2B VoC Action

Only 61% of B2B managers said that they expect Operations departments to take action of VoC insights. Only 34% said they expect cross-organizational teams to take action. Yet the types of issues getting in the way of ease-of-doing-business are typically operational and cross-organizational. These findings from our research magnify the mis-match between VoC objectives and VoC realities.

Whether you're starting out in customer experience management or well underway, it's better to create your big-picture customer experience change management plan now. Don't delay. In fact, change management is the most essential tool for any customer experience manager. Improving processes and customer-centricity to differentiate your company's customer experience requires careful, ongoing planning, with big expectations. The only thing standing in the way of customer experience transformation — by linking customer insights to operational data and processes and strategic planning throughout the company — is our mindset.

This article is part of a series on Optimizing B2B Customer Experience:

Lynn Hunsaker

Lynn Hunsaker is 1 of 5 CustomerThink Hall of Fame authors. She built CX maturity via customer experience, strategic planning, quality, and marketing roles at Applied Materials and Sonoco. She was a CXPA board member and SVAMA president, taught 25 college courses, and authored 6 CXM studies and many CXM handbooks and courses. Her specialties are B2B, silos, customer-centric business and marketing, engaging C-Suite and non-customer-facing groups in CX, leading indicators, ROI, maturity. CX leaders in 50+ countries benefit from her self-paced e-consulting: Masterminds, Value Exchange, and more.


  1. Hi Michael. Thanks for your comment. I do hope that companies will separate “ends” such as advocacy behavior (word-of-mouth) from the “means” such as improving trust via (1) ease-of-doing business, via (2) business process and customer-centricity improvements.

    While the end-game is both valuable and noble, it’s being forced all too often.

    By earning the end-game, rather than short-cutting to it (emphasizing external change in lieu of internal change), the end-game results will be longer-lasting and will require fewer resources to sustain ongoing benefits to the supplier company.

    My article points out that we’re far less strategic than we need to be. More change management and earlier think-big planning is needed. More engagement from more types of managers is needed, making real internal change happen because of customer feedback. Otherwise we’re risking skepticism about real business results — skepticism that may eventually paint a big black eye on customer experience management, and be insurmountable, with a lot of heartbreak for those of us whose passion is customer experience excellence.

  2. Your thought provoking post makes me hungry for more like this, Lynn. One striking statistic is the paucity of organizations that use VOC intelligence for cross-organizational teams. Yet, as you point out, the majority of hiccups that impact customers occur at the interfaces between units. Using the “people will care when they share” principle, I wonder if the VOC effort were a cross-organizational sponsored effort from the git go, would there be greater commitment to do analysis, planning and execution as an organizational change initiative? In many of the B2B companies with whom I work, VOC is managed by marketing or CE and conducted by an outside vendor. If line units helped design and implement the VOC intelligence gathering methodology wouldn’t there be a greater commitment to turning learnings into improvements? When outside vendors “do it for them” rather than “advising them on how to do it” might it take the pride of ownership out of this important initiative? And, if VOC was the responsibility of the line (guided by staff experts) with clear accountabilities and consequences anchored in the line, wouldn’t there be a greater desire for real change?

  3. This is the clearest discussion I’ve seen to date on the role and value of VOC. And has changed my perspective on how VOC fits into ‘outside in’ customer alignment. I agree that too many folks see VOC as single dimensioned and I love the maturity continnum. Great job Lynn. You make think, again, and I appreciate that about you.

  4. Good questions, Chip. All good change management plans have joint sponsorship — or at least in-organization championship — among key stakeholders. Establishing a plan from the git go is essential.

    It’s possible to start VoC with well thought-out stakeholder plans as a pilot within one part of the company — but then it’s vital to promptly roll out the whole plan company-wide. It’s a lack of company-wide thinking, data collection, and stewardship that most often inhibits cross-organizational collaboration needed for CX transformation. Silo-ization is counterproductive, except to the extent that customers naturally silo-ize their dealings with the company.

    It’s not so much a matter of line units designing and implementing VoC rather than a central unit doing so (and central units seem to have higher data integrity and VoC maturity), but there are some critical success factors:

    (1) involving line units (and support functions) in co-designing methodologies for data collection, analysis, reporting, actioning, and action follow-through accountability;

    (2) involving line units in co-analyzing VoC data alongside operational and financial data;

    (3) equipping line unit champions to conduct cross-functional action planning workshops and drive change management within their line units (with formal training in quality tools and change management tools);

    (4) facilitating information-sharing across all the line units and support functions, for coordinated efforts and organizational learning.

    How I did it at Applied Materials:

  5. Thanks for your comment, Christine. I suppose a lot of the short-sighted view that is prominent is due to well-meaning marketers of EFM systems and other consultants who base their advice on studies. Another source of VoC short-sightedness is practitioners’ silo-ized thinking and naive/misplaced hope in silver bullets for CX ROI. There’s no substitute for being in the throes of a complex organization and seeing what’s needed, where the resistance areas are, and having in-the-trenches experiences and pressure for moving the needle. You’re a testament to deep wisdom in marketing, sales, and executive leadership through your long career in the CMO role, and I’ve learned a lot from you because of that, too.

  6. Hello Lynn,

    The following assertion made by you sums it all up for me: “It’s tempting to start with VoC. But it’s better to start with a change management plan.”

    VoC can provide information. Some of this may even be useful. And it will only be used if there is someone leading and committed to a corporate transformation effort. As that someone has to effect change, a change management plan is necessary.

    I wish you the very best.

  7. Hi Maz, yes! In fact, just about every company already has some sort of voice-of-the-customer on-hand that’s going to waste.

    I know you agree with the following, and I can’t resist the opportunity to elaborate:
    Why ask customers what they’ve already told you? Sure, statistical validity is nice. But directional correctness is plenty valid for most customer pain issues. Companies can leapfrog the norms in CX ROI by taking into account (1) what they know are hassles for customers and (2) what they know about their company culture (resistance factors, adoption factors, early adopters, existing infrastructure and rituals to weave into). Then they’ve got to keep everything real: minimize gaming and flakiness, maximize sincerity and follow-through.

    In fact, most companies could probably make great strides in customer experience excellence for several quarters before it becomes prudent to monitor VoC via a survey. And when they do, they’d be better off tracking just those things that (1) matter most to the customer and (2) are needed to fine-tune the business’ alignment to customers.

    There’s an art to it, and I’d welcome a discussion with anyone who’d like to leapfrog the norms and manage CX smarter!

  8. Thanks for publishing this thoughtful article. One of the gaps I continue to see across many industries is the separation of VoC to actual action whether tactical or strategic. To use a phrase I use with my children they “hear but don’t listen.” Taking client information and looking for root causes for the various responses, positive and negative can tell you areas to improve as well as what you are doing right! I like the focus hear on using your clients and the VoC data to help determine strategic direction. I am constantly asking my clients where they plan on opening new offices and what new services or products they plan on offering. VoC is an opportunity to not only partner with your client to improve your business, but an opportunity to go with your clients and help them be successful in their goals.

  9. Thanks, Bob; I appreciate your perspective in observing that not enough action happens, and that there are many untapped opportunities.

    One of the stumbling blocks we’ve noted in our multi-year research of B2B CXM is over-emphasis on micro action at the expense of more profitable macro action. My next article will explain ways to shift to strategic action with insights from B2B VoC.


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