Most businesses know that creating a remarkable customer experience is important to their brand and critical to success. But to compete on customer experience, you need to understand the experience you’re currently delivering.
And that’s where voice of the customer comes in.
However, capturing the voice of the customer can be tricky, especially if you’re a B2B marketer. To find out more about the ins and outs of conducting this highly specific form of market research, we consulted with an expert: Julien Beresford, President of Beresford Research. Here’s what we learned.
What is “voice of the customer”?
According to Beresford, voice of the customer quite literally represents the actual words customers (or potential customers) use when they talk about your business product or service. How do your customers express their needs? What are their attitudes and perceptions?
It’s a critical but often overlooked component to inbound marketing. After all, if you don’t understand what people are saying about you – and how they’re saying it – how can you create content that truly resonates with your audience and meets their needs?
Hearing the voice of the customer
The best way to capture the voice of the customer is to simply ask.
The key, though, is understanding what to ask. There’s a difference between quantitative research (such as surveys that produce structured answers, like true/false or numerical data) and qualitative research (such as interviews that produce unstructured, long-form answers, including opinions and insights).
“Quantifiable research is projectable, while qualitative research is richer in that you can capture nuances you can’t get from a quantifiable survey,” Beresford says. “Sometimes it’s better to start with qualitative research, so you can make sure you’re using the right language with quantitative survey questions. Or you may to start with quantitative research and then conduct qualitative interviews on the back end. This would be helpful if you want to generate survey results and then find out how executives feel about those results.”
Which approach is best? Beresford says that depends on your business objectives. Different types of decisions will require different types of information from your customers.
Before jumping into any customer interviews, first ask yourself:
- How will you use the voice of the customer?
- What type of insights are you looking for?
- What information do you already have?
- How easy will it be to connect with these customers?
- Will you need to talk with non-customers, too?
- How many interviews will you need to conduct?
- How quickly do you need this completed?
- How will you measure the success of this project?
Once you have clarity around what you’re trying to achieve, you can start building your interview strategy.
If you’re conducting a quantitative survey, map out your questions and answer options. If you’re conducting qualitative research, Beresford suggests creating a discussion guide for the interviews you’ll hold.
A discussion guide provides a bit more structure to your conversation by helping you frame your questions into sets of related topics or objectives. You could even create different branches of questions – where, for example, if the interviewee responds to a question in a certain way, you ask a related set of sub-questions for deeper probing.
Above all, Beresford says, focus on open-ended questions that require more than a yes/no answer. “You’re trying to evoke sentences and feelings,” he explains, “not one-word responses.”
Overcoming common obstacles
Although conducting voice of the customer research doesn’t need to be complicated, you should be mindful of a few challenges you might encounter.
How many interviews to conduct?
The right number of interviews will depend on your objectives, your budget, and the amount of time you have available. But on average, Beresford suggests 10 to 15 interviews are plenty. “After that,” he says, “it’s going to be the same information, just expressed in slightly different ways.”
If you feel you need more interviews than that, Beresford recommends a quantitative survey instead of qualitative interviews, since a survey will be more efficient to manage and easier to evaluate. Alternatively, conduct the initial 10 to 15 interviews and then run a survey of a broader audience to test whether the answers and insights you received in the interviews are truly representative.
How to schedule time with busy executives?
Beresford admits the most challenging aspect of capturing the voice of the customer for B2B marketers is usually simply lining up the right people to speak with and securing the appointment. In fact, it’s such a challenge that he outsources this to a partner that specializes in knocking on doors and getting past gatekeepers.
For marketers trying to do this all themselves, Beresford suggests providing an incentive that will be meaningful for the executive – for example, a $200 to $500 Amazon gift card, or a contribution in a similar amount to the charity of the executive’s choice. This last option can be particularly helpful if the customer’s company prevents accepting money from vendors.
Also, once you do have the executive on the phone, be sensitive to their time. Keep the call to 30 minutes or less and have a plan for getting the information you need. This is where your discussion guide will be helpful!
How to probe deeper?
Some customers won’t quite understand your purpose for the interview. They may think you’re simply trying to get a testimonial, and so they may want to make some simple statements about how much they love your product or service and then be done with it.
While testimonials certainly have their place in marketing, they’re typically not as insightful and therefore not as helpful for decision making.
“To get deeper insights in these cases,” Beresford says, “ask whether there have been times the customer had a challenge with your product or service, or times where the product or service didn’t quite meet their expectations.” This flips the testimonial on its head and gets the customer to start thinking critically. “You can also bring the customer back to when they made the initial purchase decision, and what went into that decision,” he adds. “This often elucidates things the marketer hasn’t thought of yet.”
How to get account managers on board?
In some companies, account managers control the customer relationship – and it’s not unusual for these AMs to be protective of those relationships. They may demand to be involved with any customer research, or in extreme cases, they may even try to prevent their company’s marketers from contacting their customers.
It’s an understandable reaction, but quite frustrating.
When this happens, Beresford suggests turning the entire process over to the AM. Where possible, he puts the onus on the AM to schedule and even conduct the interviews, using the discussion guide he’s created. The simple act of putting the AM in control may be enough to alleviate their concerns over how their customer will be handled. It all boils down to communication, Beresford says.
Using voice of the customer research
You’ve created your discussion guide, conducted a bunch of interviews and gleaned a bunch of new insights. Now, how do you use this information in your business? Beresford identifies three important ways.
1. Develop buyer personas
Voice of the customer research will provide a whole new perspective into your customers – especially the psychographic information that drives your buyer personas. This will help you tell an even better story about your ideal customer, with deeper storylines into who they are, the challenges they face, how they move through the buyer’s journey, and what motivates them to make a purchasing decision.
2. Refocus your content strategy
This research might reveal that your marketing doesn’t match the way your customers talk. Or you might learn that the content you’re creating doesn’t address the challenges your customers struggle with, or that it doesn’t answer their questions when deciding whether to buy from your company.
Use your voice of the customer insights to create more accurate content, even if it means shifting your focus to new topics or strategies.
Related Content: The 9-Step Guide to a Complete B2B Content Strategy
3. Create a better customer experience
When you conduct your interviews, really listen to what customers say about you – especially the bad stuff. Find the gaps. Figure out what you can do differently moving forward. Use what you’ve learned to engage with your customers in a more human, authentic way.
Hearing the voice of your customers isn’t always an easy, straightforward process. Planning and conducting interviews takes time. And translating insights into decisions can be daunting. But it’s a powerful tool for your marketing toolbox – and with the process we’ve outlined here, you’ll be able to harness this power to help the people who matter most: your customers.
Now that you have all this awesome voice of the customer research at your fingertips, you’re ready to either create or update your buyer personas. Download our free sample buyer persona template for real-world examples you can use to spark some creative ideas.