Practical Ecommerce

Utilizing ‘Voice of the Customer’ for Competitive Advantage

In the extremely competitive retail environment, merchants are always looking for a competitive advantage. If you haven’t considered using “Voice of the Customer” (VoC) feedback, you may want to give it a try.

VoC involves capturing and listening to what your customers are saying, in their own words in text and speech. It encompasses both solicited and unsolicited comments. Feedback can come from email messages, online chats, forums, social media sites, surveys, and call centers. Ecommerce merchants can glean useful data from these listening posts. When used as a research methodology, VoC can assist merchants in implementing improvements suggested by customers.

While listening to customers has always been important, it is critical in an environment where negative online product or company reviews can destroy a business. New ways for shoppers to critique merchants are constantly popping up. Twitter didn’t exist 10 years ago. Pinterest is less than five years old.

While listening to customers has always been important, it is critical in an environment where negative online product or company reviews can destroy a business.

Well-managed companies need to be both organized and prepared to respond to and act on customer feedback. That means having a systematic feedback program in place with a process for how and when you respond to feedback, and how you integrate customer comments into your business strategy. To be successful, companies must listen and analyze the feedback in the context of business objectives, devise a strategy to respond to customer comments, and implement the strategy in a timely manner.

Customer Experience Specialist Adele Sage at Forrester Research states in her blog, “At Forrester, we describe the continuous cycle of activities that make up VoC programs as: listen, interpret, react, and monitor. ‘Listen’ is all the customer feedback you’re collecting via listening posts like surveys, emails, calls, and comment cards. ‘Interpret’ is the analysis you do on that feedback (and other related data) to understand what it all means. ‘React’ is what you do to fix the experience based on the analysis you’ve done, and ‘monitor’ is how you make sure that whatever you did to react is actually working. It’s critical to go through the full cycle with whatever data you’re already collecting. Because here’s the hard truth: You get no ROI from listening or interpreting. None. Zero. Zip. You only get business results from actually improving the experience.”

What Can VoC Do for an Ecommerce Merchant?

While most unsolicited comments might be negative, once in awhile you get a compliment. Highlight what you did right and try to repeat it. In fact, merchants should view all feedback as an opportunity to learn and improve. Often unsolicited comments are the most revealing and useful because they are not in a structured format (such as a survey) dictated by the business. Sometimes one customer’s suggestion results in new product features that many other customers want as well.

The advantage of using a software tool is the elimination of silos of information — customer service, marketing, and product silos are typical for ecommerce vendors. Integrating feedback from all channels provides for an overall picture that can provide greater insight and lead to better solutions.

Use VoC to:

  • Ascertain customer satisfaction with their shopping experience.
  • Retain customers and increase market share by meeting their expressed desires. This boosts customer loyalty.
  • Increase efficiency by eliminating products and services that customers don’t want.

Should You Purchase a VoC Platform?

If your customer base and the volume of feedback are small, you may be able to manage and analyze feedback on your own without the benefit of a platform or software. However, you must have the time and discipline to review the comments on a regular basis. While you can delegate the analysis to a customer service representative, that individual may overlook a very important piece of feedback, not realizing its importance. Top-level managers have to be involved.

If you have a large customer base, a prominent social media presence, and receive a lot of feedback, a software or cloud solution would be cost-effective. The benefit of using third-party platform is that you get analytics tools such as reports, dashboards, and scorecards and visual results that make it easier to spot trends. A third-party platform or software also offers real-time collection and analysis, something that is critical if, for instance, you sold a product that is defective. By the time you find out about the problem on your own, there could be hundreds of negative comments on Twitter and Facebook and your business might not recover.

While many of the software solutions are designed for large enterprises, there are tools for small businesses. Software covers both speech and text feedback. The speech analytics component requires that telephone calls with customers be recorded.

Among vendors that offer VoC or customer experience management software solutions for small businesses are Allegiance, Mindshare, NICE, and Verint. For cloud-based social listening tools, see “Social Listening: Benefits, Tools, Tips,” a previous article.

Marcia Kaplan
Marcia Kaplan
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