Spam. Survey fatigue. Junk mail. The widespread nature of each term perhaps highlights just how stale many customer feedback initiatives are.
Yet, capturing, sharing, and acting on the voice of the customer (VoC) is seemingly more critical than ever. Indeed, a Walker Study suggests that customer experience will soon overtake price and product as the number one brand differentiator.
Alongside this trend, CX management has become a mission-critical initiative. Yet, it’s an initiative that can only thrive with an abundance of customer insight.
As such, many customer feedback programs must evolve. Our panel of experts has worked with many brands, helping them do precisely that. This month, they include:
- Bruce Temkin, Head of Qualtrics XM Institute
- Bill Staikos, SVP, Evangelist & Head of Community Engagement at Medallia
- Rick Blair, VP of Product Strategy and Experience Management at Verint
- Anthony Gaskell, Managing Director, EMEA at Reputation
Below, they tackle many of the most frequently pondered questions relating to customer feedback, sharing how contact centers can transform VoC processes to drive better experiences.
How Can Companies Capture More Customer Feedback?
Temkin: In today’s environment, where customers are talking to and about companies across multiple channels and touchpoints, businesses must invest in a portfolio of listening mechanisms. But the goal isn’t just adding feedback; it’s about listening in ways that deliver more actionable insights faster.
The cost-of-living crisis has changed what people want from their customer experience with an emphasis on price. Indeed, recent Qualtrics research found that over half of UK consumers (56 percent) have switched to a cheaper brand for essential products in the past six months. All of this shifting requires companies to learn and respond faster.
Instead of relying on single, point-in-time surveys, companies that want to truly understand their customers must widen the aperture. It combines solicited feedback from channels like surveys and unsolicited feedback from other areas such as social media and contact center conversations. This often requires building skills for handling unstructured data like calls and chats with a customer service department.
Moreover, businesses can capture more feedback by tuning in to what customers say at every touchpoint in their journey – whether that’s in-person feedback, a phone call, or comments on social media or review sites.
Staikos: Many companies traditionally focus on quantitative surveys for direct feedback. However, with today’s capabilities, there are many more signals to capture.
Specifically, session recordings of a customer’s digital behavior – whether in-app or online – are an excellent way to identify friction in digital journeys.
Additional sources include the digitization of contact center calls and social commentary, mined for sentiment and thematics around customer pain points.
Moreover, qualitative surveys and usability labs are excellent ways to garner feedback from customers in a deeper way.
Finally, leveraging the workforce for feedback about what the company can do to improve the customer experience is another excellent source.
Whether frontline employees or back-office operations, customer service teams play an outsized role in understanding customers more effectively.
Blair: The pandemic demonstrated just how quickly disruption could impede customer journeys. It ushered in the paramount importance of gaining customer insights via VoC programs to listen, interpret, act on, and monitor customer journey experiences – in near real-time.
Surveys remain the foundation for capturing customer feedback as most brands today rely exclusively on surveys for customer feedback, much of which is initiated via email.
However, breaking out of the survey mentality can help organizations capture more valuable customer insights.
To get the most from VoC programs, organizations need a balanced approach to gathering customer input from direct, indirect, and inferred data sources. Such a holistic combination of sources and inputs can help organizations keep up with the rapidly evolving customer landscape.
Gaskell: It’s important to understand the full end-to-end customer journey.” While 81 percent of executives agree with this statement, only 28 percent are measuring this successfully, according to the Harvard Business Review.
The customer journey varies for each person. For example, one may go straight into the store, another may browse online and research against competitors, and some go into the store and then purchase online.
As such, it’s essential to have open and flexible communication channels that reach the customer where they are and provide accessible opportunities to capture all forms of feedback.
Ultimately, feedback is a form of currency. Setting up all possible beacons across the digital landscape is critical. They serve as customer experience (CX) listening posts, giving companies feedback they would not receive relying solely on review websites and surveys.
Ensuring the brand has established a presence on Google My Business listings is crucial to driving visibility. Regularly updated business profiles see a 500 percent increase in views across searches and maps.
Also, companies can unlock business insights from customer interaction data via public touchpoints – like social media and review sites – and private channels, which include CX metrics.
Finally, social listening data helps further understand sentiment outside of regular surveys and turns online conversations into actionable data that drives business strategies and improves CX.
How Can They Turn All That Feedback Into Actionable Insight?
Temkin: There is no value in gathering data if the business does nothing with it, so turning feedback into actionable insights is critical.
As such, Qualtrics talk about applying insights to drive four action loops:
- Immediate response
- Continuous improvement
- Process integration
- Strategic decision-making
Following such a strategy starts with a point of view on where and how the business makes insights actionable. Often, the most valuable insights come from a combination of customer feedback (experience data) and operational data, such as a customer’s purchase history or segment.
Software solutions that tap into NLP and speech analytics are ideal. They take all the structured, and unstructured data companies have and extract insights on customer sentiment, effort, and intent.
Furthermore, bringing together customer data across all touchpoints onto a single platform allows organizations to identify the actions that will have the most significant impact, empower employees to take action, and start to prove the ROI of CX strategies.
Staikos: VoC vendors have made significant advances in machine learning to analyze customer feedback, whether captured directly from a survey or indirectly from observed behavior. These advances are helping teams identify opportunities more efficiently, aggregating customer signals.
Nevertheless, disseminating insights into the business is an approach fewer companies employ. Instead, companies leverage role-based insights, with delivery rules embedded in their customer experience tech stack, to personalize insights at scale.
As such, department leaders can see insights relevant to the business. These insights travel in real-time so that frontline staff can act in the moment and in a context suitable for the customer.
Blair: VoC programs are only as good as the data companies capture. Yet, the key is to present that data in a meaningful way, instantly providing teams with the insights they need to make improvements, measure efficiency, develop forecasts, and more.
Several technologies can help achieve this goal, including:
- Engagement data management solutions capture volumes of dissimilar data from many sources. They enable a uniform and cohesive view of interaction data across data silos.
- APIs to move data seamlessly around and join various data sources in the CX environment.
- Automation that allows the hybrid human and bot workforce to get more done.
- Text analytics solutions to uncover themes, recurring topics, and emotion and sentiment from open-ended written customer input.
- Speech analytics to organize and uncover insights through call recordings from contact center interactions.
- Predictive outcome technology that identifies potential trends and challenges.
- Machine learning technologies that learn quickly from more extensive data sets. As digital expands, data grows ‒ sometimes exponentially ‒ and the teams managing the data either stay static or shrink.
Gaskell: For many businesses, particularly those with siloed data, analysis can be a time-consuming, logistical nightmare. Fortunately, today’s digital management tools are adept at aggregating data from multiple channels and converting it into targetable insights.
With a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) also helping to unify private and public data – plus CRM, employee engagement, commercial data, and so on – businesses can drive business decisions based on what is best for the customer.
Again, market-leading CX platforms can help, analyzing the entire wealth of feedback data and extracting actionable insights – using AI – to tailor for specific industries, taxonomies, or user profiles.
What Mistakes Must They Avoid When Reinventing Their Customer Feedback Strategy?
Temkin: Accelerating digital transformation has remained a mission-critical goal for many CX leaders. And while that may have had a positive impact, the rush to adopt new software solutions means many companies have left the human element of CX behind.
Now, they’re paying the price as customers demand more profound and empathetic connections with the businesses they engage with.
Qualtrics data shows human connection trumps operational metrics for driving satisfaction, which can lead to increased spending and loyalty.
In the contact center, empathetic agents are around twice as likely to make customers happy than short wait times. This suggests that the individuals dealing with customers on the frontline have an opportunity to foster a human connection that they shouldn’t waste.
But it’s not just about throwing out the tech and going back to doing everything in person. Instead, companies must respond to customers individually, demonstrating that they understand each customer’s history, intent, channel preference, and needs.
At the same time, amidst economic uncertainty, customer needs are constantly changing, and companies need to keep their fingers on the pulse to adapt their strategies to keep up.
Staikos: The biggest pitfall to avoid is “single-threading” customer feedback strategy solely around surveys. While surveys can be an excellent source of insight, they only provide a view of what questions survey respondents answered.
Integrating other sources of insight, such as observation, uncovers emerging customer trends.
Another mistake to avoid is buying the technology and then building out the strategy. Technology should always be the question, not the solution.
Not including people in this strategy is yet another pitfall. People are often an excellent source of insight into improving customer experiences, and ensuring the business has the talent to execute any go-forward plan is a significant consideration.
Indeed, sometimes the existing team doesn’t have the know-how to implement the strategy; finding talent that can is imperative.
Blair: Organizations not leveraging voice analytics as part of their customer feedback strategy are missing an opportunity.
Voice analytics is one of the most underrepresented categories in VoC, but also the one predicted to experience substantial growth near term. Indeed, as many as two-thirds of VoC programs will leverage calls by 2025, but some challenges still lie ahead.
For instance, many VoC programs have little experience with voice analytics, with today’s cloud providers making only pieces of voice analytics accessible.
Also, it has become a privacy and security challenge for program operators, including third-party biometrics and storage providers.
Connecting voice analytics to platforms that are already in place is another challenge.
The good news is that voice analytics solutions are getting cheaper, driving more adoption. Real-time AI-powered voice analysis – alongside real-time actioning and decisioning – is becoming a critical theme as voice analytics solutions become more prevalent in the VoC environment.
Gaskell: Surveys and interactions should ask questions that deliver actionable answers, such as: what can be done better, what is important, what was memorable, and what didn’t go so well?
Feedback is a two-way conversation, so it’s vital not to undervalue these efforts.
Often, companies do the hard work but fail to capitalize, neglecting the last and easiest step: communicating actions that stemmed from the feedback. This shows customers they are valued.
Moreover, the feedback process should never become time-consuming or longer than the experience itself. Having a streamlined feedback process can fail if approaching customers at the wrong time since it’s counterproductive to obtaining meaningful insight.
Finally, businesses must think about what outcomes they want to achieve. By using maturity assessments, they can see where they are and what gaps require action.
Which Customer Feedback Trends Most Excite You?
Temkin: There are three areas companies must focus on as they look to keep consumers happy and loyal, set out in Qualtrics’ 2022 Global Consumer Trends report:
- Rediscover the human connection
- Get closer to customers to differentiate and win
- Understand how people feel through more genuine listening
These strategies are especially critical in 2023, with inflation, rising costs of living, and geo-political turmoil putting a squeeze on customer spending.
Companies that can continuously listen, propagate insights, and rapidly adapt will likely win a share in this shifting environment, so customer feedback comes further to the fore.
In addition, the growth of automated analytics, especially in the contact center, is exciting, transforming conversations into immediate sources of actionable insights. Think about how quickly organizations may spot changes when they gather quick insights into every customer conversation.
Finally, the rise of video feedback may catch fire, providing a holistic understanding of what customers need, and providing a solid platform for organizations to act with empathy and build more human customer connections.
Staikos: NLP has significantly impacted customer experience, taking text and transforming it into insight. NLU takes this further.
For example, companies can create more user-friendly bots or voice assistants through NLU-enabled capability or identify the most critical aspects of a customer conversation. It may even categorize social media comments by emotion categories.
Another exciting customer feedback trend is real-time coaching based on direct observation. Indeed, AI and machine learning take real-time feedback, and surface coaching prompts to agents.
As a result, the technology automates coaching and “next-best conversation” prompts based on direct observation of the customer experience. It also provides tips to contact center agents to build rapport better – i.e. “Reduce the rate of your speech.”
Blair: Incorporating social listening into the VoC strategy is an emerging customer feedback trend that will significantly improve customer experience.
Social listening presents an opportunity to capture unsolicited feedback and commentary on a brand or topic. It acts as a “canary in the coal mine”, offering an early indicator of issues.
Modern listening practices can pick up on these trends, and mature VoC initiatives will enable an effective distribution framework to deliver these insights to the right stakeholder groups.
Also, there is more interest in leveraging feedback to capture and understand the voice of the employee (VoE). Many solutions can listen to and visualize the employee experience, but businesses often struggle to act on that data.
Luckily, by blending VoC with VoE, companies can get to grips with what drives positive customer and employee experiences, maximize these opportunities and complete the feedback loop.
Gaskell: First, consider the advent of customer data platforms (CDPs). These transactional tools understand the customer’s lifestyle, interests, and preferences.
Yet, this only tells part of the story. Incorporating sentiment data introduces insight into what customers think of the company and looks outwards at competitors.
Companies gain a complete picture of CX effectiveness by collecting sentiment data from various sources and bringing this into the CDP.
In line with this, expect more businesses to unify CX data across the organization into one repository to provide a comprehensive picture of their customer.
Consolidating traditional CX data from surveys, feedback, and social listening opens up new possibilities for the listen-learn-act paradigm.
Indeed, it’s an opportunity to bring departments together, break down siloes, and get cross-functional customer-focused projects moving forward where the customer is at the heart of all business decisions.
Miss out on the previous CX Today roundtable? Then, check out our article: Conversational Analytics: Trends, Use Cases, and Predictions