How to Get Stellar Customer Feedback through a Voice of Customer Process

One of the cornerstones of key account management is Voice of the Customer — insightful feedback directly from the customer that reveals their experiences and expectations, helps predict their loyalty, and even informs how products and services can be improved. But how do you deal with people who are unenthusiastic about surveys, and what if you can’t always reach the right people?

 

At KAMCon 2018, Waypoint Group principal Steve Bernstein outlined a detailed framework to effectively capture the voice of the customer using methods that target the most relevant and viable participants, help to eliminate blind spots, and ensure more trustworthy information.

 

What gets in the way?

At some point, everyone in key account management has encountered the difficulties with getting good customer feedback. You know these well:

  • Lack of engagement: customers are often less than attentive, excited, and responsive
  • Lack of alignment: everyone is rowing in different directions — in your organization and the customer’s
  • Reactivity: instead of being able to proactively ask for feedback, you can only ask for it in reactive mode when something is wrong or there’s a crisis
  • Organizational friction: changing up how you get feedback doesn’t work when there’s a mentality of “We’ve always done it this way”
  • The wrong audience: it’s easy to get stuck talking to people at a tactical level when you really need to talk to the buyers and decision-makers
  • Accountability problems: it’s hard to know who really owns customer outcomes and results
  • Lack of visibility: not being able to see across teams or even fully within the account makes it difficult to know what to ask and how to follow up
  • Loss of an executive sponsor: reorganization means you have to start over with someone else, losing the rapport you’ve built up and momentum

 

These difficulties matter because they impact efficiency, effectiveness, and most of all the truth. Without honest, concrete information from the right people, everything gets based upon opinion. The assumption then is, “No one’s opinion is better than my own,” which creates conflict and leads to tunnel vision.

 

A framework for better customer feedback

To increase engagement and get better answers to surveys and questionnaires, you need to utilize a better Voice of Customer plan:   

 

  1. Start with the who

Notice how we didn’t say customer? That’s because it’s really hard to define customer. When you ask who the customer is, you get a bunch of different answers. Instead, talk about contacts, accounts, personas, and roles.

 

Then ask: who have I been getting feedback from up until now? And if people aren’t giving feedback, what does it mean? Maybe they don’t know what’s in it for them and they see no reason to participate.

 

Action item: Vet your contact list. Get to the people who influence product retention and expansion. That way you’re not blasting a survey to every contact when it may be totally irrelevant to many of them.

 

  1. Develop the right questions

Asking for the moon may be tempting while you’ve got someone’s attention, but what really matters in the end is whatever gives you the insight you need to provide value and drive toward the customer’s desired outcomes. If things are going well, it’s an opportunity for expansion. If things aren’t going well, then it’s because something probably needs to get fixed.

 

Action item: Ask what’s working and not working, along with what the customer expected, why they expected it, and what they actually experienced. When you focus together on the things that actually impact the business, you can offer appropriate solutions and incentives.

 

  1. Enlist the right help

A day-to-day contact or customer champion knows their own organization. They know who the power users are and how to reach them to get the depth and breadth of feedback you need.

 

Action item: Delegate recruiting to the champion. Have them forward an email to other users asking them to participate. These users are more likely to respond to a request from someone they know and trust within their organization than to a vendor.

 

  1. Worry less about convenience

Asking for feedback over the phone may seem easier, but it results in two things: 1) It puts people on the spot, making it less likely they’ll give real and honest answers, and 2) It limits who you can share feedback with in your organization.

 

Action item: Set up your survey or questionnaire for written responses. The quality of answers will be higher and more informative. And you can share the feedback more easily with other teams and stakeholders in your organization.

 

  1. Follow up

Sending out a survey isn’t a one-and-done process. Not only do you need to make sure all the people who agreed to participate actually do so, you also need to be prepared for any answer you get. Amazing feedback? Great, now what? Or what if the feedback is negative? What will you offer and how will you help?

 

Action item: Form a coalition. Get a member of each team — product, customer success, support — and share with them the representative customer feedback. Then ask what they’d like to do with it. With their input, develop a plan that incorporates the feedback into something valid and tangible for your key accounts that actually satisfies and follows up on the “What’s in it for me?” question.

 

Care about the truth, not response rates

While getting a wide range of responses is certainly ideal, what’s even more important is the truth. That’s why it’s detrimental to an organization if the type of feedback received is tied to performance management or compensation.

 

Being serious about helping customers succeed means that positive and negative feedback has to be welcome and actionable, and that achieving desired outcomes is the ultimate goal.

 

Asking the Right Questions of Your Customers

Getting Your Voice of Customer (VOC) Right

Key Account customers don’t want to fill out periodic VOC or NPS surveys full of the same generic questions. They also don’t want to waste time doing Net Promoter Surveys (NPS). In general, your Key Accounts are probably not motivated or incentivized to give you great information through impersonal surveys that you distribute every few months. So, if you want to get your Voice of Customer (VOC) right, how do you do it?

You need a game plan before you approach Key Accounts to see how they feel about your company. You need to understand your own goals, how you think your customers consider your business currently, what you’re going to ask them to get good information, and what you’ll do to interpret the information they provide. All of these steps are important to getting accurate VOC data to use in improving your business.

 

What Results Do You Want to See?

Ultimately, your goal is to make your customer look like the hero. If you can accomplish this by working together, you can encourage that customer to stick with you for the long-run. To get to this ideal result, you need to make sure your product or service is getting the outcomes your customers want. Keep in mind that outcomes are not the same thing as solutions to problems because those solutions do not always lead your customers to improve their business.

Your job is not to solve your customers’ problems, but to help them achieve their desired goals and outcomes as a business. You can only do this if you truly understand your customers and what makes them tick. If you don’t know what their real goals and motivations are, you won’t be able to work together with those customers to get the best results for both of you. This is the purpose behind the VOC and why it’s so important to get it right!

 

How to Choose the Right Questions

You should absolutely have a pre-prepared list of questions you want to ask your Key Account customers. While I wouldn’t recommend you send it to them in survey form, it’s a good idea to come knowing what you’re going to be asking so you can make sure you’re covering all the important information without leaving anything out.

Here are some of the things to consider to help you choose the right questions:

  1. Don’t Ask Leading Questions

Leading questions are those that point the customer towards a specific answer instead of letting them choose their own words. They may also contain some form of the answer within the question, which leads the customer to an answer they would not have said otherwise. These types of questions usually lead to false or slanted information being gathered, which will ultimately harm both you and the customer.

  1. Uncover Your Customer’s Goals

Be sure to focus heavily on discovering what your customer’s goals are when you’re formulating questions. You can directly ask them what their goals are, ask how your products or services help them reach their business goals, ask about methods for attaining goals, etc. It is vital that you make sure you accurately record Key Account customer goals to ensure you’re providing the right service to help them reach those goals.

  1. Understand What You Need to Know

Your specific industry or business may require you to get some different information than others would need. Look first at your own business to see how customer input would be able to affect how you do business. Once you know how your customers can affect you specifically, you have a better base to develop more individualized questions and follow-ups.

  1. Make it Personal

I already mentioned VOC and NPS surveys. These may be the best option if you have a lot of clients, but they’re a bad idea for Key Account customers. The problem is that Key Accounts are already working closely with so many different contacts and people in your company, and they are expecting a higher level of service.

With this kind of close work and reliance, impersonal questions may not get the thorough and accurate responses you need. If something is even a little bit wrong, you want to know ahead of time. Asking customers to check boxes may not give you the feedback to help you make necessary changes in time for adjusting customer opinions of your company.

  1. Keep Questions Direct

Open-ended and close-ended questions are both fine, as long as they’re all getting straight to the point and not beating around the bush. Direct questions help you get actionable information instead of giving you a mess of unspecific data that you have to try to interpret correctly.

  1. Ask How Your Product or Service is Helping Customers Meet Goals

Remember that helping your customers reach their goals is the purpose of your strategic partnership. So, you need to know if you’re accomplishing that, what you’re doing that’s increasing their success, and how you could do better for your customers.

  1. Confirm or Transform Current Information

You should already have a VOC profile for each Key Account. Compare the answers and results from the new interview to your current VOC to see if you hit the nail right on the head or if you need to update your information to reflect new changes in your relationship with the customer.

  1. Reference Other Sources of Customer Comments

Don’t count solely on the VOC interview for answers if you have other ways of getting more information. Data analytics on previous comments made by customers can help you be sure you’re on the same page as them and that the answers given during the interview were not slanted one way or another.

 

Examples of Great VOC Questions

Some VOC questions are easily adaptable to most industries and companies. Here are a few great example questions that can easily be molded to your specific needs:

  • How does our product (or service) help you meet your business goals? (Ask about specific goals if you know them)
  • What kind of situation would make our product (or service) obsolete to your business?
  • How is your company adapting to [industry change]? Will that change affect your goals or strategies?

Questions like these are direct and useful. They help to keep the customer’s goals and needs at the center of the VOC interview, leading you to better information at the end.

 

It’s vital that you get VOC right as a Key Account Manager. Because your job revolves around creating strong partnerships with your company’s most important customers, you can use the information you get to craft better retention strategies and to become irreplaceable to those Key Account customers. But, you can only do this if you’re asking the right questions in the first place.

3 Key Questions for Voice of Customer Surveys in Key Account Management

As you might have seen from my previous posts, I’m a fervent believer in the power of Voice of Customer surveys, particularly for Key Account Management.

When I talk with customers and prospects about the power of Voice of Customer analysis, I always mention three critical questions that VOC tries to answer:

  1. Risks: What risks are out there that might disrupt our business relationship? Competitors that are also pitching our client? New team players with whom we don’t have a relationship? New ideas in the market that could compress our margins?
  2. Opportunities: What can we learn that will allow us to identify new business opportunities within the client? For example, are they expanding or buying another company? Can we sell our product/service to a new division or team? Can we sell a new product to our existing sponsor/user?
  3. Alignment:How well aligned are we with our customer? Does our vision match their needs (both today and tomorrow)? Is there good strategic fit between our companies?

Remember, VOC is all about listening and deeply understanding your customer. So make sure to ask great questions. VOC is a fantastic tool for Account Managers who want to stop being “just another vendor” and start being a true strategic partner for their customers.

Ready to get started with VOC? My advice is to jump straight in!

What else? How do you use VOC in your company?

How VOC Differs from Customer Satisfaction Surveys

Some people confuse Voice of Customer (VOC) with customer satisfaction surveys. These are actually two very different aspects of customer opinion. VOC is a more forward-thinking approach to gathering data, assessing the customer expectations which will in turn impact customer satisfaction down the line. Both are important and provide valuable data. Here, we will examine VOC vs. customer satisfaction at greater length.

Customer data collection can be placed into two categories: proactive and reactive.

Proactive

This is about discovering expectations before the product or service is delivered. Understanding the customer’s needs before delivery can avoid customer satisfaction problems in the future. Common methods for proactively gathering VOC include sending out surveys to your potential customer base and directly interviewing customers and associates to personally ascertain their views.

Reactive

Although the proactive approach is a highly effective means of gathering information, this doesn’t mean there is no value in pursuing reactive sources. Collecting reactive data may be quite simple. Your organization likely already has a vast amount of it, from online feedback to social media opinions and review sites. Many businesses, brands, and service providers are leveraging their Yelp reviews or utilizing Angie’s List to gain exposure and positive feedback. And, of course, you always have the option of sending a survey right after making a sale or performing a service.

Is Voice of Customer really that important?

Yes!

Most business owners understand the concept of customer satisfaction. Simply put, this is a matter of gauging how satisfied your customers are with your product or service. This is important data to collect and especially crucial for predicting future sales and customer loyalty. However, VOC may be even more critical because its proactive approach aims to identify and avoid risk, rather than always strategizing in hindsight.

Perhaps you have spent a lot of time and effort creating a product or service, only to find it is not what the customer needed. This kind of waste is not only disconcerting, but it can also be devastating to a business.

Many businesses believe they understand what their customers need; very few take the time to inquire and verify. Soliciting Voice of Customer is significant because without your customers, you’ve got no business. The best way to achieve higher customer satisfaction is to ensure you’re giving the clients what they need from the outset. To really comprehend and clarify what it is they want, you need to ask. You must reach out to providers, clients, associates, and customers to make certain you are hearing what is vital to them. In turn, happy customers are more likely to give you repeat business and may even help market your services and products.

Your customers’ needs and desires are constantly changing. When you gather VOC, you are collecting the expectations of the customers as stated by them in their own words, so you can stay ahead of the curve.

Why both?

You need to look forward (to see where you are going) and look back (for feedback).

Both VOC and customer satisfaction data are crucial to a business. These metrics provide immensely valuable information to assist marketers and business owners. “Know your customer” means more than simply having a feel for your target demographic. To truly know your customers, you must understand their specific needs and desires. You can save your business significant time and money by learning what your clients expect before you go about developing and providing your product or service. And this should be an ongoing process; it is important to continuously seek up-to-date information about your customers’ evolving needs.

When it comes to data collection, it is optimal to gather both VOC and customer satisfaction information. Gathering relevant VOC data can significantly increase your customer satisfaction rates, and evaluating customer satisfaction can help ensure that you hit the target you were aiming for. This will create the most comprehensive and useful data strategy for your business.

4 VOC Questions Every Key Account Manager Should Ask

As a key account manager, how do you survey your clients to see how you are doing and what your company can do better for them in the future? Do you give your clients surveys? Do you conduct Voice of Customer (VOC) interviews? Are you asking them at all?

Many experts agree that the survey method is too impersonal and that questions asked directly to clients are more likely to yield informative, heartfelt responses and actionable data. But what are the best questions to ask during VOC interviews? How do you best phrase those questions and ask follow-up questions based on the answers? Below is a list of the questions you should be asking your clients when conducting that all-important VOC interview.

  1. What Are Your Biggest Problems?

It is important to familiarize yourself with what challenges your clients the most, so you can offer targeted solutions. As the Aim Institute tells us, “In his landmark book on selling, SPIN Selling, Neil Rackham described how 35,000 sales visits were monitored to find the most successful sales method. Here’s the punch line: Great salespeople engage customers in discussions about customers’ problems.”

Once you learn what the basic problems facing your clients are, you can then ask follow-up questions to break down those problems and learn the details. This is not the time to try to solve those problems, however, but rather to learn about them in as much depth as possible. Here, the important question to ask is “What else can you tell us?”

  1. What Job Do You Want to Accomplish?

This is how you familiarize yourself with your clients’ goals and objectives. It is best to understand what your clients are hoping to achieve and what the expected outcome is, before you can begin to answer their questions regarding how to get there. This puts the clients’ needs first. The Aim Institute reminds us that instead of beginning the meeting with a pre-determined plan that may or may not meet your clients’ needs, you will want to listen to and hear the details of those needs first.

  1. What Quantitative and Qualitative Data Can You Share?

Both kinds of data are useful for understanding what your clients’ target markets look like. Your clients’ charts and graphs can help you better understand their customers, including buying trends and demographics. This will allow you to later skew your ideas and energy toward the most critical portions of your clients’ consumers.

Meanwhile, the qualitative data will let you know customers’ preferences when interacting with the product. Do they prefer your product over other similar products? When do they use the product? Where do they most often use the product? What makes them think the product is right for them? All of these questions come in handy when attempting to qualify consumers’ habits and preferences.

  1. What Is Going Well Already?

You don’t want to spend time, money, and effort trying to fix something that isn’t broken. Therefore, let your clients tell you what is going well and what aspects of your product or service work best for them.

Understand the strength of your brand, and the best way to begin to do this is to know exactly what aspects of your marketing strategy are functioning well. This way, you celebrate your successes, instead of trying to solve problems that aren’t there.

As a key account manager, VOC interviews can give you invaluable insight into not only the specific needs or challenges of your clients, but also into some of the broader strengths and/or weaknesses of your business. As you conduct a VOC survey with your clients, be sure to ask these four questions (and lots of little follow-up questions) to get to the heart of what matters most to them and to uncover opportunities for growth and improvement.

 

 

 

Curious to see how you can take your Key Account Management skills to the next level? Download this helpful ebook on how to create powerful engagement plans for your key accounts or sign up for a demo of Kapta.