Some businesses have everything right from the get-go: they build disruptive products and continually innovate features that delight customers.
Think of B2B SaaS brands like Slack that earned a valuation of $1 billion valuation in just 15 months since its inception. Snowflake had one of the biggest software IPO launches recorded in the world’s history—just eight years after it was founded. Zoom acquired its first million users in 2013 (just a couple of years after its launch), went on to acquire 10 million users in 2014, and 40 million more in 2015.
One of the common threads across these three companies is their extreme obsession to listen to customer feedback from day one.
It’s a valuable lesson in customer success—listening to customers facilitates customer-led growth which in turn contributes to your company’s growth.
As a customer success manager, one of the ways you can champion customer-led growth in your company is by operationalizing the Voice of the Customer (VoC) program. Not many companies leverage VoCs well—or they don’t do it in a way that affects meaningful change across the organization.
There’s a silver lining to this.
As a CSM, this gap gives you the perfect opportunity to contribute to improving retention, identify revenue expansion opportunities, collaborate better with other functions in your organization, and become a seasoned customer success leader.
In this post, we will cover:
- What's a VoC program?
- When should you run a VoC program?
- How to use VoC data to inform your CS strategy?
- How we use Avoma to make the most of VoC data
What is a VoC program and why do you need it?
When customers churn, it’s rarely because of how you run QBRs or poorly manage other processes in the CS department. Churn happens due to a lot of reasons including marketing and sales acquiring the wrong buyer persona, the customers having a bad product experience, or due to lack of useful features in your product.
While most of these things are outside of the CS team’s control, you as a CSM can leverage the VoC data to share insights with everyone in your organization to build better features, improve sales, and prevent churn. VoC research is a proactive way for you to capture your customers’ sentiments either about your brand, the product, or the teams.
Customer feedback is fuel. You need to understand their experience in order to manage and improve it because customers today have a choice — and if you’re not catering to their needs, your competitors will be more than happy to take your place
- Leela Srinivasan, CMO at Checkout.com
A VoC program helps you establish an effective process of managing customer feedback and understanding them better. With VoC data at your side, there’s little room for guesswork and miscalculations when it comes to understanding your customers.
Most high-revenue companies leverage VoC data to build products and continually innovate new features that delight their customers.
The VoC data comes mainly through six different channels:
- Customer surveys like NPS
- Customer calls/meetings
- Live chat interactions
- Social media posts
- Support queries
- CRM insights
Recorded VoC data funnels a wide pool of customer feedback together, saving you from losing critical customer insights into thin air. It also enables different departments like sales, CS, marketing, and product to align on how to meet customer expectations throughout different stages of the buyer journey.
A 2018 Bain research survey on Customer Experience Tools and Trends found that VoC programs lead to amazing outcomes:
- 55% higher customer retention rates
- 10-times greater year-over-year increase in annual revenue
- 23% decrease in year-over-year customer service costs
- 292% greater employee engagement rates
The research also showed that companies that excel at CX understand and monitor VoC and then integrate that feedback. Those companies grow anywhere from 4% to 8% more than their competition.
Who owns the VoC program?
The findings of VoC data benefit every team and help them improve their relationship with the customers. But like many business initiatives that have floating dependencies across many functions, VoC research faces the inevitable question: who owns the collection and distribution of the VoC data?
Our research shows that VoC is most effective when teams that are most tightly involved with the customers (like sales or CS) share the burden of collecting customer feedback.
Bigger companies that can afford to invest generous resources to run VoC programs have a cross-functional CX (customer experience) approach to address this problem. They form a special squad team—consisting of members from the marketing, CS, and product teams—dedicated solely to collecting and analyzing the VoC data.
Regardless of who gets the job of collecting data, you must consolidate the VoC data into a single source of truth so that the findings don’t get tangled in a disparate web of tools and dashboards.
The distribution of the data is easy as long as you have it under one roof, it’s the implementation of the feedback that’s tricky. We will discuss the challenges and solutions to implementing the findings in the next section.
If you are a CSM at a fast-growing startup, you must be wondering if a VoC program is the right initiative to take up for your CS team.
At what stage should you run a VoC program?
It mostly depends on how committed your company is to delivering on the customers’ needs, if you have the leadership buy-in, or your team’s bandwidth. As an initiative, there isn’t a set rule that prevents small companies from running a VoC program.
Of course, the bigger the organization the more reasons for you to make the VoC program a recurring organizational exercise. Bigger companies have more teams and tons of touchpoints and it warrants that you have a formal process to systematically gather and distill the data points regularly.
They also use high-end tools like Canny.io to collect and analyze customer feedback. But you don’t necessarily have to break the bank to run effective VoC research.
It’s no secret that 95% of businesses talk to their customers regularly through sales, marketing, or support touchpoints. It means you are probably already capturing customer feedback in your everyday interactions with customers—even if you aren’t doing it with the intention of capturing VoC data.
The only thing that prevents a company from running a VoC program is not its size or its current CS strategy—but the willingness to learn more deeply about your customers, organize the feedback, and put it into action.
Companies that don’t want to prioritize VoC or other forms of customer feedback shouldn’t pretend to be customer-focused or customer-led.
- Ferdinand Goetzen, Co-founder & CEO, Reveall
For most companies, a good starting point to launch a VoC program is to observe how frequently they talk to customers—and through what channels. The other thing you need to formally kick off the initiative is an intention to document those customer conversations and share the findings with the rest of the company.
How to use run an effective VoC program
Chad Horenfeldt, Director of CS, Kustomer (acquired by Meta), says that a well-run VoC program aims to achieve three major objectives:
When you are able to meet these goals and bring them together, you can affect important functional and behavioral changes in your organization such as adopting a better CS strategy or influencing the product roadmap.
Capture customer feedback
Gathering customer data is more than just sending out NPS or CSAT surveys to your customers once every three months. Like we discussed earlier, collecting customer feedback can take place across many interfaces. To get a holistic understanding of the customer experience, you have to multi-thread the data collection process across those channels.
Luckily, you have the luxury of capturing customer feedback in the wild through many tools that you might already be using in your everyday operations. Use HubSpot CRM to glean customer conversations happening in your sales or get a hold of Mention or Meltwater to keep a tab on social media mentions about your brand. To carry out NPS or CSAT surveys, try Retenly.
Remember, customer feedback is a continuous process that takes place in each customer interaction even in the absence of a formal VoC program. Your diligence to document the data is what makes your VoC research effective and more systematic. And it’s even more efficient when you can automate note-taking using AI for these conversations.
Ask specific, pointed questions to customers. Schedule customer surveys and hold customer roundtables bi-annually. If you are looking for granular data points, survey your customers after every major interaction like onboarding, implementation, upgrade, renewal, expansion, or churn.
Follow up with select customers if you need more context on their feedback—don’t leave loose ends. But be mindful of the cadence of your surveys. Don’t overdo them so as to ruin the experience of your customers. Do it too little and you will lose touch with ground reality.
To make the capturing process impactful, practice and communicate the value of active listening to everyone who is involved in literally ‘capturing’ the voice of the customers.
Lastly, don’t miss out on capturing feedback from customers who churn. We have had a few learnings of our own on what information to capture when a customer churns and how to leverage that information for a better customer experience in the future.
Analyze the data
Analyzing the data is a somewhat complex problem because now you have to figure out how to organize the data so that it makes sense for your business. Curate the data coming from all directions, but try to keep your techstack as lean as possible so that you don’t have to jump from one tab to another to connect the dots.
The bigger your organization, the more critical it’s for you to get the information organized in a simple, easy-to-access way.
The key is to bring all of the data together so that every team can be on the same page and synthesize it from their respective lenses. A company-wide public discourse of the feedback under the same roof also makes it easier for your organization to make critical decisions or implement certain kinds of feedback.
At this point, you might want to compare the feedback data (e.g. NPS, CSAT) with your industry benchmarks to understand where you stand in comparison. But keep in mind that industry trends are just that—benchmarks and reference points. Don’t get carried away by the averaged-out trends and statistics that analyst firms put out.
The exercise for analyzing the VoC data is to understand what’s going on in your customers’ universe, especially in relation to your brand or product. Be warned though: sometimes the data can create noise that might distract you from focusing on important work.
If you are in the business of talking to customers frequently, you know that there is usually a big difference between what they say they want and what they actually need.
- Yaagneshwaran Ganesh, Director of Content Marketing, Avoma
Implement the feedback
It’s tempting for you to take up every new feature request to the product team based on your latest VoC finding. But just like in customer success, the product and engineering teams never have enough time and resources to do everything they want.
They already have enough things on their roadmap to meet customer needs. They are probably swimming in the sea of bug fixes, tech debt, or other projects of bigger priorities. Plus, there’s a problem of building failed products or features if you don’t understand your customer needs fully.
When synthesizing customer feedback, ask yourself:
Are the problems in your findings big enough for you to fix right away? Or can you fill the gap later while you address other bigger customer issues?
It’s best to prioritize feature requests based on how urgent the customer needs are, how well it fits into your product roadmap and vision, and the revenue that it promises upon its launch.
Here’s the product prioritization framework that we at Avoma use to identify and build features that have the biggest impact on our customers.
There’s another parallel to think about: you can’t always take customer feedback at face value. After you synthesize the data, you need to validate it with the corresponding teams (and perhaps the leadership team) and then prioritize which feedback you want to act upon.
As a CSM, it’s times like these when you have to double as an analyst and derive insights from raw data that leads to a meaningful conclusion. Like Mark Stagi, our VP of Customer Success, puts it:
Data without actionable insights is just noise. As a CSM, you have to put on your analyst hat and synthesize the data for it to make sense.
One of the biggest challenges with implementing customer feedback is how to convince other teams to act on it. Of course—it’s the CS team’s job to collect, analyze, and present the data to everyone, but you can’t make decisions for other teams. Implementation is not the CS team’s prerogative—the entire organization needs to be involved in making that kind of decision.
As a CSM, your job is to inform the CS strategy and influence other teams’ behavior—who might already have their own set of hypotheses or findings about how to improve customer experience. The VoC data that you share either is a driver for new CX decisions or a way to validate the decisions other teams are arriving at through other means.
There’s one more contradiction to implementing customer feedback.
Sometimes, the solution to a VoC finding is not to fix the product.
You might have to slice and dice the data cross-functionally and think about how you can fix it from the customers’ point of view.
It’s easy to implement certain feedback when you can position the problem in a way that communicates value—both for the team you are working with and the customers.
If new customers are churning fast and without concrete reasons, ask yourself: should sales change the way they position the product to the prospects?
If the product adoption is lagging, perhaps the marketing can run more webinars to help more customers see value in your product. Or maybe the product team should start making their feature release announcements more engaging.
And if the VoC research concludes that customers want faster resolution time for their support queries, perhaps you should add more articles in the help center—or switch to a better help desk solution.
The VoC data might find that pricing—and not product—is the reason why you are struggling to improve the expansions and renewals.
The point of these examples is, the successful outcome of a VoC program is not necessarily implementing changes to your product, but tying it to one of your go-to-market initiatives. There are several ways you can approach customer feedback if you look at VoC data holistically—from the customers’ perspective.
Ferdinand Goetzen, Co-founder & CEO of Reveall, shares an interesting experience about looking at customer feedback from a CX perspective.
In one of the companies that I previously worked at, we had a very large feature we were working on. According to us, it was supposed to be a game-changer in our market. We worked on this for a long time, everything was scoped and ready to go.
We presented it to the sales team because we were trying to get inputs from different departments, and they said—the #1 thing that’s blocking us from closing deals isn’t some kind of fancy feature no one has built yet.
It’s the fact that we don’t have SSO.
And from the product team’s perspective, SSO is probably one of the least sexy things you can build. It’s not exciting.
It’s the kind of insight that you can get only if you talk to the customers and observe their workflows from close proximity.
Use the VoC data to inform your CS strategy
One of the biggest challenges to running VoC programs is implementing the findings to practice. For the VoC program to help you achieve meaningful results, you have to analyze the findings from the business strategy point of view.
VoC programs are most effective when you have a prior buy-in from the leadership team. Ideally, you should let the C-suite know what data you are going to collect and how you plan to use the insights.
As an example, you can state that you want to track the reasons the sales team is winning and losing deals. Or, you want to derive insights from the onboarding process to address the gaps in customer experience.
It all starts with driving the right curiosity behavior to unearth insights.
After you wrap up the VoC research, use the data as proof to advocate changes in other departments. Sometimes, it can be simple workarounds that don't require the product team to build new features or make changes to the product. Or, they can be groundbreaking suggestions that can help the leaders shift the current product strategy.
When your recommendations get implemented, monitor the improvements in the customer experience. For example, track the NPS survey result within the product using in-app messaging and report the improvement in the NPS back to the executive team after a certain point of time.
Analyzing support queries is another example. Are you still getting a lot of customer complaints about the same kinds of issues even after you addressed them?
The implementation and monitoring of customer feedback don’t always have to be negative. Let’s say you asked questions like “what’s your favorite thing about our product?” and the majority of customers picked one feature as the best. Pair the data you unearthed with the actual product metrics like adoption, activation, usage, or other feature-specific metrics.
You can use tools like Amplitude or MixPanel to cross-match findings with the existing metrics. If you can validate that the adoption rate for the feature is actually high—it means the VoC data is working. The takeaway here is that you need to narrow down the larger VoC findings to understand your customers’ granular use cases.
Subsequently, what you should be measuring is the high-level retention metrics like Churn, Net Retention Rate, or Customer Lifetime Value.
There’s just one catch: some of these metrics (NRR, LTV) take a few quarters or a year to show the change. It’s generally complex to measure whether the data implemented from the VoC finding is working or not. It’s also unreasonable to expect VoC to be single-handedly responsible for bringing about changes to retention and revenue, but the data coming out of it certainly acts as a vehicle to gather distilled insights and affect changes.
For you to champion the VoC program and get buy-ins to do it routinely (e.g. every six months), you need to show your leadership some or small wins that indicate bigger yields—especially with regard to retention and revenue.
That way, they will believe in the value of running VoC research and accept the recommendations that you are making in informing the company’s strategies. If things go well, you will be able to marshal the troops to help kickstart internal sessions like employee workshops or webinars to discuss the VoC data and launch vision-driven company initiatives.
How we use Avoma to leverage VoC data
At Avoma, we don’t have a formal VoC initiative—but that’s because we already have our own product to capture the creamiest customer insights in an easy-to-access, shareable, and searchable format.
As opposed to the tools mentioned earlier in this post, Avoma is not just limited to one stage of the VoC lifecycle.
Avoma truly delivers on all fronts of the VoC journey—capture, analyze, and implement cycle.
Fortunately, we are not the only ones doing it. A ton of our customers—mostly CS and product teams—use many of Avoma’s features to run informal but effective VoC initiatives. Here’s a rundown of all the use cases and the capabilities inside Avoma that facilitates them.
Avoma lets you capture customer feedback across all the calls and meetings that you schedule with the customers. It connects with your Google or Outlook calendar and your favorite web conference and tags along automatically to every event scheduled on your calendar—unless you change the preferences.
With Avoma, you can not just schedule, record, transcribe, and automate the note-taking for these conversations but also create Playlists such as new features requested by the customer, the positive and negative feedback. You can then share the information across the organization and let people subscribe to those Playlists.
Avoma’s integration with CRMs lets you automatically update notes from your customer notes/meetings in your CRM, making it easy for you to review those conversations.
You can analyze customer feedback in your CRM or get alerts on Slack for key topics. For instance, you can set up custom filters in Avoma to get a Slack notification when certain meetings meet the filter criteria that you had created.
A great way to analyze your customer feedback is by sharing it across the board. To that end, Avoma offers horizontal, truly collaborative, and cross-functional features that facilitate org-wide visibility.
No CEO or CS leader has the time or willingness to go through a 10-page transcript or three hours of video of customer feedback. You need a way to distill and synthesize that data into actionable insights that they can process and use to make decisions.
Thankfully with Avoma, all meeting transcriptions are also meaningfully summarized into one page under specific topics which you can simply glance through.
Here’s how Avoma’s one-pager AI summarization looks like:
You can further create snippets and share that portion of the recording with other teammates across functions. You can also tag specific people in your organization and comment on the transcripts as well as snippets to share feedback contextually.
With the meeting recordings, transcripts, notes, snippets, and playlists—you build a single source of truth for all customer feedback that you are capturing through customer calls and meetings.
Out of many possible customer feedback signals upon which you implement solutions for, one of the top ones is potential churn signals. Avoma’s Conversation Insights lets you set up trackers to identify mentions of churn-related keywords such as “leadership change,” “champion left,” “change of direction,” “critical for operations,” or “in-house initiative.”
To track these signals proactively, you can also set up Slack alerts for mentions so that you can take the right action based on the context of those conversations and alerts.
You can also monitor the interaction patterns of your sales reps and CSMs in customer calls, give scores based on their performance, and coach them for a better customer experience.
Your team is probably interacting with a dozen customers every week, but are you deriving insights from those conversations and implementing them? Perhaps not. The good thing is that you can start doing it right away.
Sign-up with Avoma and start making the most of your customer feedback to design a better CS strategy. You might be surprised by the insights that you are missing out on!