Voice Of The Customer Programs Need Better Understanding, Not Just Better Analytics

Voice of the customer (VoC) leaders are constantly on the hunt for better analytics to identify what customers are saying and doing and, in turn, where companies should focus their attention. For the most part, the hunt is worthwhile. Just think about the value that text mining has delivered during the past few years. However, this focus becomes a problem when it turns into tunnel vision, leading VoC pros to ignore other research tools that yield deep customer understanding.

Analytics based on customer feedback and interaction data can determine important things like which known experience attributes drive customer loyalty and where customers encounter problems, and these insights can lead to a variety of operational improvements. But big changes require deeper understanding. As we were all reminded recently, customers didn’t tell Steve Jobs to build an iPod, nor did any sophisticated analytics.

Fortunately, other customer understanding tools are well suited to fill gaps in traditional VoC activities. Qualitative research methods like ethnography and related tools like personas and customer journey maps dig into what customers really need on both emotional and functional levels. As a result, they can help VoC leaders figure out:

  • What to look for in feedback and interaction data. On the front end of VoC efforts, personas and journey maps can help identify the things that really matter to customers. VoC leaders can then ask about and look for those things in customer feedback and interaction data, leading to more relevant insights.
  • What to do based on the findings. On the back end of VoC efforts, these tools can help firms figure out what they should do in response to issues or trends identified through analytics, leading to more valuable solutions.

The relationship here is also mutually beneficial. VoC efforts can feed into other customer understanding tools to keep them fresh over time.

So why don’t most companies embrace this virtuous cycle by bringing their customer understanding tools together (see below)? I suspect it’s just a historical thing — VoC always sat in one place; design personas and journey maps always sat in another. As companies try to really rally around customers, that will need to change.

What do you think? Should firms bring these tools together? Are any companies doing it well?



A key activity is missing

A key activity is missing from the VOC cycle. There needs to be a "Learn and Adapt" activity between "Monitor and Listen."

"React" is what the organization does based on its interpretation of the "Voice of the Customer." Is "Engage" a better term than "React?"

"Monitor" is where the organization assesses the customer's and market's reaction / feedback to what it has done ("Assess" might be a better term than "Monitor").

"Learn and Adapt" is perhaps the most important activity in this cycle. It enables the organization to learn, apply, and adapt to knowledge gained from the "Monitor" activity. Without this organizational learning and adaptation (as necessary), there cannot be any meaningful performance improvement. This also provides two key VOC learning opportunities for the organization; the first being "Interpret." The "Interpret" activity can be viewed as establishing initial hypotheses with supporting actions ("React" or "Engage"). "Learn and Adapt" is the second learning opportunity that serves to validate those hypotheses based on information collected from the "Monitor" or "Assess" activity. It is here where information becomes knowledge. That knowledge should driven any organization adaptation actions that may be necessary.

"Learn and Adapt" may also be the most challenging of these VOC activities. Adaptation may involve changes that range from incremental process improvements to real innovation - all of which involves organizational change. However, it's importance cannot be emphasized enough. How many case studies have been written about organizations failing to adapt to changes in the market?


Thanks for the thoughtful comments and suggestions, Joe. I completely agree that learning and adapting is key and that it happens at multiple levels and times. We certainly think about them all but just fold them into the same basic framework at a high level. I can see how that could suggest that we've omitted some things, especially when looking at the framework without additional explanation or voice-over. I'll definitely keep your suggestions in mind as we revisit the framework in future research. The feedback is very helpful.


Good depiction of the cycle. For the VOC, sequence can be - Listen, Interpret, Learn, Adapt (Instead of React) and Monitor. And then you go all over again. This way you keep listening and adapting.

Yes, bring them together

There is no doubt in my mind that the journey map and the customer voice data need to be fully integrated. It creates a huge void to have the customer voice data captured and maintained separately from the map. The best platform (yet to be created as far as I can tell, and a likely cause for why they still remain separate), would be a journey mapping tool that would overlay the customer voice data. That way, you could see what the customer was feeling at any given point on the map, and have the ability to drill down into a pain point to see the supporting evidence.


I'm with you, Jeff. Some tools are starting to get there (interestingly, from very different kinds of companies, like ClickFox, Mulberry, Vovici), but I think we'll see something more like what you're describing in the near future.

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