Imagine that you’ve nearly finished planning your dream wedding.
You put the final touches on your classy eggshell-white invitations and email a list of non-negotiable tunes to your DJ.
There’s just one problem—you haven’t proposed to your significant other yet. *cue record scratch*
Most of us wouldn’t plan a wedding without talking to the other guest of honor. Businesses, on the other hand, often change their offerings and messaging based on hunches and whims without talking to their VIPs: their customers.
Latest posts on Opinions & Expertise
Alex Armstrong | 02.2024
When it comes to offering a product or service people love, listening to the Voice of the Customer (VOC)—and acting on it—is essential. A robust VOC program lets you gather customer feedback and insights over time to build an experience that matches their needs.
Trying to improve your marketing or products without hearing from your customers is a little like telling the wedding caterer you want chicken and steak without putting a ring on it first—in both cases, you’re guaranteed to waste time and money.
Whether you’re just getting started with VOC insights or looking for ways to fine-tune your listening skills, you’re in the right place. Below you’ll find wisdom from the superstars of the marketing world—where to find customer feedback, how to listen, and how to turn insights into action.
Step 1: Finding the VOC
How do you even begin to listen to your customers? It can be intimidating, especially if you’re starting from scratch. You might find rave reviews, or you could encounter dissatisfied customers—and hearing constructive feedback on a product you’re passionate about can be unappealing, to say the least.
While you do need to heed the voice of displeased customers, you don’t necessarily have to start there. In fact, Mariya Delano, Founder of Kalyna Marketing, advises starting with your ride-or-die customers:
If the idea of your brand having superfans seems far-fetched, think again.
These are the customers who gush to their colleagues about how your product makes their lives easier. They’re the ones who post on LinkedIn about their essential tech stack, and your product makes the list. Your superfans are the people who notice when you release updates and add features, and they can’t wait to take your newest functionalities for a test drive.
They might even say they can’t live without your product—and it’s your job to ask them why.
Look out for these customers on social and review sites, and interview them in depth or send them a form to gather their thoughts. Learn how they use your product, what pain it alleviates, and why it changed the game for them. Use those insights to drive your brand messaging, content strategy, and overall UX. You’ll make a good thing even better.
Find your feedback channels
Now that you’ve found your superfans, where will you gather feedback from them all? During 1:1 Zoom calls? In surveys? At live events? Julien Sauvage, Vice President of Brand, Content, and Product Marketing at Clari, says the mark of a strong market intelligence program is a plethora of feedback channels:
What research methods could you use to capture your customers’ authentic sentiments? Where do your customers already interact with you, and where could you go even deeper?
Here’s step one: List your current and potential listening channels, and assess how your existing customer insight efforts shine and where you can shore up weaknesses. Pay attention to where you gather quantitative versus qualitative data—you need channels that collect both types.
Are there any gaps in your customer feedback strategy? Maybe you lack ways to discover how customers respond to your UX. Maybe you don’t know what product messaging caught the attention of that most recent enterprise buyer.
When you identify your areas for improvement, plan to gather relevant information. You might set a regular cadence for sending customers a Net Promoter Score (NPS) or Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) survey to share their latest feedback.
Go where your customers are
Last but not least, let your customers set the time and place to provide insights. You likely initiate plenty of customer conversations on the channels you choose. But you should also keep an ear to the ground for where your customers already hang out—and make a beeline for those places too, says Corrina Owens, Senior Manager of Account-Based Marketing (ABM) at Gong.
From Facebook groups to Slack channels, your customers talk about you outside your primary listening channels. They swap life hacks and talk about why they bought (or didn’t buy) another annual subscription to your product. They might even vent about their least favorite aspect of a new release.
As Corrina points out, your customers have these conversations whether you’re involved in them or not. Wouldn’t you rather be right in the weeds with them?
Go out of your way to find your customers’ hangout spots. You might ask a trusted client for the inside scoop, or connect with customer success and sales to see if they’ve heard rumors about where to find these goldmines. There, you’ll discover the creative ways customers use your product to better inform your product development and marketing efforts.
Step 2: Learning how to listen
Once you’ve identified the right channels to listen to your customers, you need to ensure you approach those channels with the right mindset.
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It’s tempting to listen only for what you want to hear—glowing customer affirmations or feedback that confirms your existing suspicions. But this approach won’t serve your brand, and it definitely won’t serve your customers.
Colin Campbell, Host of the Sales Hacker Podcast, hits the nail on the head:
When you let your assumptions lead when listening to your customers—hellooo, confirmation bias—you’re seeking to be understood rather than to understand their actual experience with your product. But when you aim to help your customers, the game changes.
By speaking to them without an agenda, you’ll be primed to hear how to improve your product and enhance your messaging; you won’t just be listening for compliments on your brand. Focusing on the problems your audience has empowers you to solve them.
According to Belal Batrawy, Founder and Head of Content at Death to Fluff, this is where much of the VOC content sellers receive fails to measure up. It focuses on current customers’ experience of the solution rather than the problems that potential customers have.
While solution-focused case studies or testimonials have their place in the sales cycle, sellers need to lead with problem awareness—especially in those early-deal stages. But you can’t just guess what those problems are. You have to hear your customers to understand them inside and out.
Ashley Guttoso, Senior Product Marketer at Prompt Therapy Solutions, offers some guidance for how to gain this kind of inside customer knowledge: set aside 30-60 minutes per day for “roleplay.” Imagine what it’s like to be your customers—the knowledge you gain will help you build a product that resonates with them and leads to more authentic relationships.
Here are some tactics Ashley recommends:
Roleplaying lets you step into your customers’ shoes and learn what makes them tick. Staying current on the news that affects them gives you an inside track on the topics they care about. In-depth interviews and shadowing let you see a day in the life of your customer first-hand—so you can offer empathy in your branded content and sales conversations.
Know when best practices aren’t your best bet
Imagining yourself in your customer’s shoes doesn’t just bring next-level customer understanding. The exercise offers another major win for your marketing: You learn when to throw out the rule book. Jess Cook, Head of Content at LASSO, shares her experience doing just that.
Marketing best practices are helpful frameworks, but they aren’t universal. How can you tell when to stray from a well-worn marketing path? By paying attention to how your customers talk, think, and behave in their feedback forms, on social, and in conversations with sales and customer success. Try combing through customer reviews on sites like G2, and surface the common themes you find there—then use them to rewrite your rule book.
No marketing maxim in existence is a replacement for the wisdom you glean from your real-life customers.
Step 3: Putting customer feedback to good use
Once you’ve made a plan to learn from your customers and have the right mindset to understand them, it’s time for the good stuff: applying those insights to strengthen your brand, sales, product, and UX.
Make your marketing better
Customer feedback is a marketer’s secret weapon. Their insights help you build more detailed audience personas, qualify leads, and assess product awareness.
Need to build an attribution strategy from the ground up? Start with a self-attribution approach by asking your incoming customers how they found you, says Ryan Gunn, Director of Demand Gen & Marketing Ops at Aptitude 8.
When you’re starting out with attribution, gathering qualitative insights is a terrific way to build customer understanding and track the effectiveness of your marketing.
Knowing your customers deeply is also essential for customer-led growth, an important strategy for driving revenue during leaner times. Take it from Deanna Sotolongo, Senior Implementation Manager at Catalyst:
From upsell and cross-sell initiatives, to warm referrals, your existing customers—especially your superfans!—are a goldmine for revenue generation within reach.
But for customer-led growth to take hold, customer feedback and insights must play a key role in marketing and product strategies at the highest levels. Don’t simply send out a survey, share a slide deck with the results in a meeting, and condemn the information to the depths of your cloud drive.
Act on what you’ve learned—invest more in the channels that help your customers find you, and create content based on what your customers care about. Again, hang out where they hang out and speak their language.
Improve your product
Because sales and marketing interact with customers daily, these teams understand how to advocate for customers with their leaders and product teams.
Bringing customer feedback to the table internally—and building a story around it—is the best way to sell a product suggestion and drive positive changes, as Bravado’s CEO Sahil Mansuri explains:
For any team that wants to drive product improvements, the best way to confirm the effectiveness of the changes and sell others on the idea is by looking to the customer. They can confirm which direction is the right one and even generate new ideas.
Customer feedback helps you ensure that new features and functionality changes will enhance your users’ love for your product—and actually get their most pressing needs on the roadmap.
Your audience’s input should be central to the product development process. Kate Slonaker Hammitt, Chief Marketing Officer at Splash, says this:
In the same post, she shares a usability example from Bill Staikos, Senior Vice President at Medallia, who points out that effective customer testing might not take as long as you think—and yields major benefits for your product.
Listening to your customers—through testing and feedback forms—reveals areas for improvement your team couldn’t uncover internally.
Finding and resolving usability and platform issues lets you build an all-around better product for your audience—which, of course, drives revenue as well. Happy customers are far more likely to keep buying your product and tell others to do the same.
The high stakes of hearing from your customers
Hearing from customers has always mattered. But as their expectations continue to grow, their insights and requests are often catalysts for revenue and better business outcomes.
According to research from McKinsey, 78% of customers say that personalized communication makes them more likely to repurchase a product—and companies that use personalization to drive value grow faster than those that don’t.
But here’s the bottom line: Personalization is impossible without addressing your customers’ wants, needs, feedback, and frustrations. You can’t customize anything—from an email to a UX—without knowing what your audience wants. This information can only come from listening to them.
Make a plan to reach out to your customers. Listen to them through forms, surveys, and other tools designed to capture how they feel—not to capture how you think or want them to feel. From there, apply those insights to product changes, website copy, and customer success, and watch them transform your business.
Or, you know, don’t talk to your customers. But you’ll probably feel like a would-be newlywed who never proposed—lighter in the wallet, and a lot more alone.
Ready to add user-friendly forms to your VOC toolbelt? Dive in with Typeform today and tap into the magic of customer insights.