Find your special sauce with voice of customer research
by Charlene Gervais 05.29.20
Voice of Customer research serves up insights you’ll find nowhere else—giving you invaluable info to help clarify your customer needs, hone your offering and strategy, and find your special sauce.
A B2B component-manufacturing company once came to us for help because sales were down; sales reps blamed a lack of quality tools and marketing, while the CMO cited shifting market trends and growing competition. With the top-performing products in the category, the company stood for high quality (at a high cost). They prided themselves on the innovation and science behind their offerings, and used technical language to describe material superiority.
As we dove into research—with a focus on interviewing current and prospective customers—we found their audience didn’t much care about the science, but rather what that science yielded: a durable product that looked great longer. Since cost savings were also of primary concern to the audience, we used our findings to craft a value story (long lasting = significant savings over time) that was actually supported by the company’s focus on quality. This helped shape a comprehensive rebrand that flipped the story and ultimately transformed their identity, product suite, marketing and sales training.
That wasn’t the only time we found gold in voice of customer research.
For a sign company, interviews and surveys revealed that customers valued our client’s creative problem-solving approach as much as their manufacturing prowess—a story that got buried under work samples and product specs. We leveraged that insight to reposition them from a maker of signage to a designer of branded spaces, and helped us hone in on the ideal target market: companies that need creative and design services in addition to fabrication, rather than those seeking the lowest bid on a commodity offering.
Four reasons you should conduct voice of customer research:
When you fully understand your audience’s true needs and opinions, you can craft your services and offering accordingly… and gain a competitive advantage
This research will help you see what customers like best about working with your company, often yielding surprising insights you’ll want to leverage for your brand strategy
The insights will guide your unique positioning, which in turn attracts more of the right customers—those who most value what you do and are willing to pay for it
You’ll learn the best ways to market to your audience
The best VOC research methods when rebranding: interviews, surveys and focus groups.
For rebranding initiatives, research generally takes place as a big push to gather insights to develop a comprehensive strategy. This is particularly true for B2B engagements, where clients tend to have a more complex offering and audience ecosystem. For this type of push, we like interviews, surveys and focus groups best.
Time consuming but hugely rewarding, this qualitative method remains our favorite. A skilled interviewer will find pure gold here. For best results:
Identify a diverse list of interviewees including prospects, lost prospects, current “best” customers, current “typical” customers, referral partners and employees
Start the scheduling process at least two weeks in advance. Make it clear when recruiting that this is a research activity, not a selling endeavor
To gather objective insights, consider using an independent third party, who can promise anonymity to ensure candid responses
Develop an interview guide and have a crystal clear research goals, but be prepared to stray from the guide to delve further into areas of interest
Send a gift or token of appreciation to respondents after the interview
Without a back-and-forth conversation, an online survey doesn’t get as in-depth as interviews. But it's a speedy and efficient way to get a lot of data. For best results:
Keep the survey short and focused. The more questions you have, the less likely people are to complete it
Consider a mix of multiple choice, Likert scale and open-ended questions. The first two are easier to quantify and analyze, the latter provides more qualitative insights (and occasionally great sound bites)
To boost your response rate, offer an incentive for completion, such as a gift card
3. Focus groups
Gather 8–10 people in your audience in a room or Zoom and moderate the discussion. When facilitated well, this creates great organic conversation. For best results:
Focus groups can be good for brand perception discussions, and are even better suited later in the process for concept, messaging and marketing testing
Recruiting is key. Choose participants who don’t know one another (vs a large group from one company), represent the audience you are targeting, and are all roughly in the same level professionally to help build rapport within the group
A third party resource that specializes in focus groups is highly recommended (If you don’t want to spend the money, this methodology is probably not for you)
A strong moderator is essential, otherwise it’s common for one vocal member to monopolize the conversation, or have others shut down if they feel their opinion is an outlier
After the push, consider ongoing listening tactics.
After a rebrand or product launch, ongoing listening activities ensure you’re meeting your customers needs, and will help you hone you offer and messaging accordingly over time. It’s typically not feasible to do full-scale interviews or focus groups on a regular basis, but tools like gathering NPS scores and conducting satisfaction surveys can be quick and easy ways to spot problems early and adjust on the fly.
Businesses today need to be customer-centric to survive and thrive: the more you know about them and what they want, the better you can deliver on that with your offerings and communications. So if you truly want to understand your customer and what makes them tick, voice of customer research can help you uncover the insights that change the game.