Emily Ryan has over 15 years of experience coordinating teams across Sales, Post-sales, and Product/Delivery to ensure successful customer interactions.
Being the senior client executive at a customer lifecycle consultancy obsessed with helping companies drive best-in-class Net Dollar Retention, Emily has a unique perspective into what it takes to establish, analyze, and scale incredible customer-centric teams and processes. And one of her core philosophies is that for a SaaS company to thrive, leaders must build out an advanced Voice of Customer program.
In this piece, which was featured in the recent edition of the 2.0 magazine, Emily digs into her top four recommendations to do so:
#1 Kill off big surveys or NPS and move towards periodic pulse checks
#2 Always close the loop on feedback
#3 Treat VoC as a lagging indicator (until you’re taking pulses)
#4 Combine what customers say with what they actually do to get the most value out of VoC
At the heart of every customer-centric organization is a powerful Voice of the Customer (VoC) program. Through this program, many enterprises collect baseline customer feedback and metrics, such as NPS. But no VoC initiative magically appears as an impactful and fully actionable program; many leaders are starting to realize that their VoC data isn’t telling them the whole story. In order to derive meaningful and actionable insights that lead to strategic improvements, you need a carefully curated and thoughtfully implemented VoC program.
To help you make the most of your customer insights, here are my top recommendations for creating a cutting-edge Voice of the Customer program that is data-driven and actionable.
1. Shift From NPS To Regular Pulse Checks
It can be challenging to measure something as complex as a customer’s relationship with your business. When attempting to do this, many organizations make the mistake of distilling this relationship down into a single measure; Net Promoter Score (NPS). Due to its simplicity, NPS has been touted as the all-encompassing metric to determine customer satisfaction. But when used in isolation, NPS has some significant shortcomings.
One of the biggest challenges with using NPS as your singular source of truth is that it doesn’t tell you what’s really going on with your customers in granular detail. NPS is an oversimplification of a multi-faceted relationship; without the granularity required to accurately capture value and drive real change for your customers, it is meaningless. To make matters worse, the NPS score merely sits on a dashboard and capturing the score often becomes the focus rather than how to drive meaningful change and improvements.
To combat these challenges, organizations must shift their mindset from Business-To-Business (B2B), thinking of your customers as one entity, to Business-to-User (B2U), thinking of your customer as an entity full of users. This is where the real Voice of the Customer is—a collection of insights that live across all of your users and their unique experiences and perspectives about your product.
To accurately capture and understand this collective perception of value, move away from NPS and towards conducting periodic pulse checks. This is often done best as quick bursts of questions directed at different users within the different personas your company engages with. These short, easy-to-answer pulse checks should have minimal questions (1 or 2 at most) to encourage greater engagement and feedback from people who wouldn’t normally respond, such as Senior Leadership. Ultimately what you want to measure is how much value you’ve delivered to each user along their journey.
2. Close the Loop With Cross-Functional Impact From Your VoC Program
In many businesses, Voice of the Customer programs live and die within a single team or organization. Usually, Customer Success or Marketing is tasked with the VoC program, and the insights they gather are confined to their team alone. With this approach, it’s nearly impossible to take meaningful action on your VoC insights. Instead, you must ensure that there’s 360 connectivity across your entire organizational ecosystem so that your customer-facing teams are accountable to take action and implement the changes that your customers are requesting.
To ensure this organizational alignment, leverage your VoC program to produce quarterly action items for every department based on customer insights from every team. Your customers are your North Star—often, businesses make product decisions to generate net-new customers but won’t give the same credence to product decisions for existing customers. To maximize customer retention and expansion, you need to prioritize capturing and actioning product feedback from your current customers.
Another crucial component of closing the loop on your VoC program is taking action on the insights you gather. In the article “Survey fatigue? Blame the leader, not the question” McKinsey & Company said, “We found that the number one driver of survey fatigue was the perception that the organization wouldn’t act on the results.” This proves that if you want customers to provide feedback, you have to let them know 1) that you received their feedback and 2) how you intend to take action.
While many leaders launch surveys or start Customer Advisory Boards with the best of intentions, they lack a comprehensive plan to follow through on the results of the program. The most successful leaders proactively incorporate VoC insights into the product roadmap and enable direct input from customers that thoughtfully flows into product enhancements.
To ensure this is done successfully and consistently, conduct a monthly cross-departmental customer feedback session where leaders from Sales, Marketing, Customer Success, Support, and Product teams share their biggest wins, opportunities, and areas for improvement. This will ensure that all teams have insight into the customer across the customer journey and that they can collectively and collaboratively take action on improvements.
3. Treat VoC As A Lagging Indicator
While VoC is an important part of understanding your customers’ perception of value, it should not be used as your “be-all and end-all” metric. VoC gives you a snapshot in time—your customers are responding to their experiences so far. But, your customer's relationship with your business isn’t static—the next time you ask that customer that same question, you may get an entirely different response.
Given the dynamic and complex aspects of this ongoing relationship, VoC is too one-dimensional and, therefore, a lagging indicator. As such, it should be incorporated as an input into your overall customer health score, but never act as the only indicator of customer health. By combining VoC with other measures and indicators of health like usage of differentiated features and overall utilization, you’ll gather the insights you need to be truly proactive and predictive.
Once you introduce a pulse check program (mentioned in section 1 above), you can use customer responses as a leading indicator because you’re asking the right question, of the right person, at the right moment in their journey.
4. Combine VoC With Customer Data
Responses from your VoC program should be taken with a grain of salt—people don’t always express, or know how to say, what they really think, need, or want. As Steve Jobs said; “People don't know what they want until you show it to them.”
A perfect illustration of this is through the market research conducted by the psychophysicist Howard Moskowitz, who famously produced market-leading changes for Campbell’s Soup, PepsiCo, and Kraft. He asked respondents what qualities they like in their coffee. While nearly everyone responded with qualities such as dark, rich, and hearty, the taste test revealed that what nearly 75% of people actually liked most was milky, weak coffee.
To truly understand what your customers want and need, you must contextualize your VoC insights by looking at what your customers are actually doing, not just what they are saying. By combining VoC responses with customer data and feeding those insights into a system of action where it can make an impact, you can ensure maximum value delivery and product alignment.
Generate data-driven insights by answering the following questions:
- How are customers using our product?
- What use cases and features are our customers acting on?
- What campaigns, content, and product features are our customers engaging with?
To derive the most value from your Voice of the Customer program, focus on strategies that help maximize the impact of customer insights. By conducting regular pulse checks, ensuring cross-functional impact from your VoC program, and combining your VoC responses with other metrics and data-driven insights, you can drive measurable and meaningful change across your organization to strengthen engagement and optimize customer value.
The best resources for Customer Success teams this week
Why Are SaaS Companies Unprofitable?
“The bottom line: The largest SaaS companies in the world are generating operating incomes equivalent to low-margin retailers.” Here’s Thomas Lah of TSIA with a smart, research-backed piece that dives into why most SaaS companies don’t make money. He also argues as to why cutting costs in Customer Success doesn’t make sense on the road to profitability—“CSMs are there to drive adoption which leads to the expansion and renewal of contracts. The highest margin revenue for any SaaS provider comes from existing customers. Putting that revenue in jeopardy is risky.”
Giant List of Remote Customer Success Jobs
Here’s a great resource for anyone you know who’s on the Customer Success job hunt. Enterprise CSM at Superside, Fouad Adel, has compiled a list of remote CS jobs that contains more than 400 open remote roles and is updated weekly.
6 Practical Ways To Increase Customer Centricity
Shane Ketterman shares some quick tactics to show customers that you value their business. One that I highly recommend every company experiments with: “Invite a customer to share their story at your next all-hands meeting.”
Questions for a New Leader
If you’re starting a new role leading people, here are some great questions to ask to help you 1) gain the trust of your new teammembers, and 2) prioritize your work moving forward. Some of my favorites:
- What are the things you are hoping I don't change?
- If you were me, what would you do first?
- What are your biggest frustrations about how the organization is currently run?