By recording and processing what consumers are truly telling us, we can provide great customer service and sustainable business growth.
For two-way communication … sentiment should be measured at the end.
Tips for Getting the Most From the Voice of the Consumer
- Sentiment should be kept simple (positive, neutral or negative) and shouldn’t default based on the contact reason.
- Respect the consumer’s choice of channel and use it when responding.
- A single consumer interaction may contain multiple contact reasons. Each should be noted separately.
- Have a way to eliminate the “noise,” as it doesn’t reflect how consumers feel about brands or companies.
- Be sure to bring the VOC to the appropriate audiences within your business.
As consumer relations professionals, I think we can all agree that our primary purpose is to provide excellent customer service. With every interaction we have with consumers, if we are truly listening to them, if we are doing our absolute best to answer all their questions and resolve all their issues, then we can likely ensure the highest degree of customer satisfaction. Ultimately this will lead to increased customer retention, brand loyalty and net promoter scores, which, in turn, will prove that our function is providing value to our business, right? Well …
The role of consumer relations is so much more than resolving issues. It is now a marketing opportunity, and there is great potential to educate, promote and build corporate reputation while delivering excellent customer service. But how do we achieve this?
There is a byproduct of providing excellent customer service that provides an invaluable benefit to our business—the voice of the consumer (VOC). With every interaction we have with consumers, if in addition to listening and providing resolution, we are doing our absolute best to record their voice, their whole voice, and nothing but their voice, then we will be in a position to help guide our business to use this wealth of information to drive the actions and innovations that promote sustainable growth.
What Is the True Voice?
So, what is the VOC? So often business is focused on complaints, but the VOC is so much more. It includes the questions consumers ask, the concerns they have, the comments, the praise, the things they want help with. The VOC is a reflection of how consumers feel about brands, the category, the industry, the service they receive, the company, company policies and competitors. The VOC is dynamic—it can vary over time or by demographic. It’s impacted by the environment, the media, economics, natural disasters, the list goes on.
The VOC also covers the tone or sentiment of the consumer, which should be captured in both verbal and written communication. Sentiment should be kept simple (positive, neutral or negative), and it should not default based on the contact reason. This means that a complaint shouldn’t automatically be assumed to be negative. If we use sentiment to measure the tone, it is telling us some additional information. Consider the difference between these two complaints:
- I just wanted to let you know that I found what appears to be a hair in my food product. I’ve never had any issues with your products, but I thought you should know.
- I AM DISGUSTED THAT I JUST FOUND A HAIR IN MY FOOD PRODUCT. YUCK!!!! I’M TELLING EVERYONE I KNOW TO NEVER BUY YOUR PRODUCTS AGAIN!
Additionally, for two-way communication, unless we are measuring sentiment at the beginning and end of the interaction, sentiment should be measured at the end. This way, we are able to show more value in what we do. Consider the same two complaints above. If both are sent in an email or posted on a social-media platform, we would probably label the first as neutral and the second as negative. But if they come through a channel such as phone or chat where we can speak with the consumer, perhaps we can turn the first to a positive and the second to a neutral (or even a positive if we are really good with our resolution). True, sentiment can be considered subjective, but it is still a great way to gauge the overall tone of an issue and to see how it is trending.
Respect Channel Choice
Another important part of the VOC is found in the channel of communication that consumers choose to use. We need to respect that choice and always try to stay in that channel as we respond. After all, it’s likely that the consumer already scrolled by the company’s toll-free number when they found the chat or email submission button. Sending a “call us” response to written communication from consumers might make for an attractive average handle time, but it won’t do much for first time resolution and customer satisfaction.
There are many insights we can learn about consumers when we compare the methods used for various contact reasons, especially when we look at private channels versus social. There are certain issues where some people are more interested in voicing their opinions than actually seeking resolution. This is not meant to imply that social commentators don’t want to hear from us, quite the contrary. But it’s interesting to look at how a rumor that starts in social media can actually drive a high volume of calls.
Finally, the VOC is also noted in the degree to which responses are accepted. We won’t always hear back from the consumer on all channels that are not immediate, but when we do, we need to capture their response in relation to the original.
The “whole voice” is about making sure to capture every reason covered in each interaction.
Capture the Complete Voice
The “whole voice” is about making sure to capture every reason covered in each interaction. Often, a single phone call, email or post on a Facebook page actually has multiple subjects imbedded within it. Consider this comment:
“I love your new package but I swear there is not as much in it as the old one and it costs more! I’m hooked on this product, so I’ll continue to buy it. I just wish you offered more coupons.”
Wow! This quick statement contains four sentiments: new package praise, an accusation of less product, product praise and a coupon request. That’s two positives, one negative and one neutral. And of course, we must note this consumer is loyal. If common practice is to record one contact reason, which one do we pick? Do we mesh all of the sentiments together and call it a neutral contact? Will all customer service agents be consistent in what they choose? If we report the top five contact reasons, did we get it right? Even if we do a great job of capturing the verbatim correctly, this does not make for ideal reporting conditions.
However, if we record each of these things as a separate contact reason within the same interaction, we can then easily report how many people say they like the new package as well as how many coupon requests we get, how many are upset about the amount—you get the picture. We are then able to look at data and find everything it has to offer. If three of the four reasons are buried in the verbatim, we may never find it.
Another important aspect to capturing the whole voice is recording the consumer’s reaction to initiatives. Remember those promotions, services and surveys that we offer to consumers when appropriate? If we are consistent in recording their willingness to listen, and their acceptance or rejection of the offers, then we will be able to measure which initiatives are worth further investment.
Eliminate the Noise
To enjoy everything that the VOC has to offer, we need to have a way to eliminate the noise. Noise can be prank calls or hang-ups, SPAM, test interactions, and the like. We still need to record these things, as they take handle time, and it might be necessary to analyze why these types of interactions occur. However, they don’t really reflect how consumers feel about brands or companies. Even conversational social-media posts need to be put in proper perspective when reporting the VOC. If we ask fans what their vacation plans are, it might drive engagement, but depending on our business, it probably does not apply as VOC.
It is important not to add anything to the VOC. We should not include any conjecture or assumptions of what they meant. Similarly, if we have any internal practices to record actions we take within a file, we must not mix this in with the VOC. For example, although we probably need to record the fact that we attempted to reach a consumer, or that we left a message, this is not really the VOC. The bottom line is, the people reporting the VOC must know the data in order to know what to include, and when.
It is important not to add anything to the VOC. We should not include any conjecture or assumptions of what they meant.
Using the VOC to Guide Business
When we go through all this effort to provide excellent customer service and accurately record the VOC, the next step is to be sure to bring the VOC to the appropriate audience. This isn’t always easy or comfortable to do, particularly when the voice may not ring sweetly in our ears. Nonetheless, it’s crucial.
Aside from the standard reports, we must know when it’s worthwhile to dig deeper and provide analysis of the data, highlights and suggestions. It’s often helpful to bring the actual VOC. This may be in the form of audio snippets and selected verbatim comments that best represent the broader voice.
If we have a great relationship with business partners, we will know the information requirements and ensure we are gathering the appropriate data upfront. We can use the VOC to anticipate issues and resolve them quickly, perhaps even proactively. We can use the VOC to improve products, services and offerings. We can collaborate to prepare Q&A for new initiatives so that self-service tools are most effective and staff is best prepared to handle the more complex questions that may arise.
The VOC—the voice, the whole voice, and nothing but the voice—is a natural part of providing good customer service that allows us not only to do right by consumers, but also to help grow business.