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Free Your Mind: Voice of Customer

A guest blog post by Bill Bruno, CEO of Stratigent, a market leader in multi-channel analytics.

When people hear the phrase “Voice of Customer” (VOC) they instantly think of surveys and comment cards deployed on their website. The problem is: if you think VOC as merely a provider of customer opinions, you are missing the real value of the technology. There is no better metric for improving your customer experience than actual customer feedback.

For years, organizations have tried to use attitudinal data to enhance the analysis of the behavioral data within their analytics solution. But if your approach is to merely review what people are saying on your site, you’ll most likely fall into one of the following mindsets:

  • We don’t get enough feedback on the site to be representative of our customer base.
  • It would be a full-time job to sift through all the feedback to find the valuable insights.
  • I don’t know what a satisfaction score means or how I can affect that positively.
  • We build alerts based off of keywords or specific pages to try and catch critical path issues and comments.

Based upon the work we do for our clients on a daily basis, my goal is to get you to think differently about the power of VOC. Since roughly 2006, Stratigent has worked with VOC vendors, such as OpinionLab, to help clients transcend the mindsets outlined above. Gone are the days where having a fancy, scientific “satisfaction score” matters; the reality is that your customers leave feedback for one of two reasons:

  1. They are brand loyal and are thrilled about something you’ve done, a product you have, or just generally want to gush and let you know they love you (less likely).
  2. They are upset, can’t figure out how to do something, have run into an error/issue, or just generally think you deserve to be yelled at for some reason(more likely).

The true power of VOC is action.

Since option #2 is more likely, you have the ability in that moment to take action on the feedback and turn those frowns upside down. For the remainder of this newsletter, I’m going to outline some of the more innovative and impactful applications of VOC data:

  • Personas
  • Immediate Action
  • Personalization
  • A/B or Multi-Variate testing (MVT) segmentation
  • Customer Experience Management
  • On-Premises Feedback (Geolocation)


Many people seem to forget that comment cards provide a unique opportunity to try and gain real value from the feedback (instead of just getting yelled at). You need to capitalize off the opportunity that has presented itself: a customer has decided to take time out of his/her day to tell you something. So when you set up those comment cards on your site, how do you decide what questions to ask? In that moment, you should make sure you’re asking a few (but not too many) questions that will help give you more information about that person. Furthermore, you should make sure you’re asking guided questions tailored to the different areas of your digital presence instead of simply using a generic comment card across your site.

As an example, one of our clients knew that they could place their customers into one of 3 personas the marketing department had identified based upon that person’s answers to a few key questions. So, we built those questions right into the comment cards and stored the persona for later use based upon the answers. I’ll take this a step further in a few of the upcoming sections, but keep in mind that this persona could be persisted for the duration of that visit and all subsequent visits with the right level of implementation finesse.

Immediate Action

As I mentioned earlier, you have a unique opportunity to respond right away to the feedback someone is leaving you on your digital channel. For example, if a customer says that they can’t find a manual for a specific product, wouldn’t it be great if you could quickly provide them the link for the manual before they leave your site?

Many VOC solutions give you the ability to customize the “Thank You” page that a user will be prompted with upon clicking submit. So, as you start to analyze the common feedback you receive from customers, you may detect patterns or common asks. With some simple coding logic embedded within the “Thank You” page you can tailor the content within the “Thank You” page as it renders to solve for the specific issue to which the customer is calling your attention. Boom. Problem solved and that customer leaves happy and fulfilled.


It is important to remember that your VOC comment card is merely an extension of your digital channel. For those of you collecting feedback on your website, as an example, the comment cards are simply pages on your site provided you implement it correctly. Going back to the persona example, think of the power at your fingertips if you are able to learn about your customers based upon the feedback they have provided and take action based off that knowledge.

Perhaps you’ve asked them to provide their income level or the purpose of their visit; maybe you are interested in identifying their persona or status level in your loyalty program. With the help of a strategic data layer you can persist that information and make use of it during that visit or all subsequent visits (within reason depending upon how you implement).  From there, you can start to personalize content and re-market these individuals based upon what you already know about them and the behaviors they exhibit from that point forward.

As an example, perhaps you prioritize the order of articles or brochures on a page automatically based upon the identified purpose of someone’s visit as a result of their feedback. The best part? All of this can be done in an automated way without manual intervention.

A/B or MVT Segmentation

This is merely an extension of personalization, as these two concepts go hand-in-hand. At Stratigent, we look at optimization from two perspectives:

  • Proactive Testing
  • Passive Personalization

Passive personalization would be the content targeting and personalization I’ve outlined previously. Proactive testing would be the A/B and MVT approach. With testing, you can run a test for all of your website traffic or a segmented sample of your traffic. The real value is in segmenting your tests for specific scenarios as that will slowly graduate to passive personalization and building a learning engine.

By storing an individual’s answers to the questions within your comment cards, you now have the ability to use all of those answers as “segments” for future A/B or MVT you may run on your site.

Customer Experience Management

At Stratigent, we have an entire practice dedicated to Customer Experience. A common technology we help customers use in this realm is IBM Tealeaf – a platform that helps companies overcome the online visibility gap by capturing the qualitative details of each visitor interaction to provide the insight and answers required to ensure websites are consistently delivering a positive, successful experience. A main complaint about Tealeaf, however, is the abundance of data within the system and the amount of effort required to uncover insights within a dataset of that size.

One of the coolest integrations we’ve built for customers is the integration of OpinionLab with Tealeaf. With the OpinionLab integration, you can:

  • Use VOC data to identify segments within Tealeaf based upon common feedback topics or complaints
  • “Replay” sessions for users based upon specific feedback they have left in order to diagnose the root issues your customers are facing

Being able to look at Tealeaf data via this lens has resulted in some unbelievable ROI and insights for our customers.

On-Premises Feedback (Geolocation)

We live in a multi-channel world. Your customers are potentially not just unhappy on your websites, mobile apps, etc.They are also potentially experiencing issues within your retail locations, banks, on your airplanes, in your hotels, etc. The more touch points for your business there are, the increased chance that there will be issues your customers will run into. There are a few ways we’ve worked with clients to approach a multi-channel solution:

  • Adjust your comment cards on your website to let customers leave feedback about the website or a physical location
  • A great example of this is Home Depot

screenshot-www_homedepot_com 2015-02-25 12-52-00

  •  Embed feedback into your mobile app and take one of the following approaches:
  •  Simply allow your customers to leave feedback about their experience and input their location
  • With geolocation turned on, automatically determine the location when customers leave feedback for the store they are in or near
  • Empower your store managers, hotel managers, etc. with the ability to monitor feedback about their specific locations in real-time to give them a chance to take action right away

When it comes to solving issues in real-time by location, OpinionLab offers the ability to create a “comment mosaic” for businesses to filter feedback based upon location, specific terms, store numbers, etc. The mosaic can provide a filtered view to the appropriate people for each location in a timely manner so they can make decisions and rectify problems before their impact reaches detrimental levels.


Final Thoughts

If you’re not currently deploying a VOC technology, you should consider putting that on your roadmap for 2015. There is an incredible opportunity for you to enhance your brand experience and increase conversions by simply giving your customers the ability to provide you with feedback. That’s not to say that all feedback will be valuable or worth taking action on, but you’re missing out on the low-hanging fruit by not listening to your customers.

Originally published in the Stratigent WebSight Newsletter. Subscribe to the Stratigent WebSight newsletter here.


Why are CX diagnostics important?

As a client-side marketer, before joining OpinionLab, I was already very attuned to the importance of customer experience, or CX, as a key market differentiator for brands. According to a recent Gartner study, 89% of marketing leaders said they expected to compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience by 2016.

That’s an intimidating timetable. Even more intimidating is the concept of competing on an amorphous concept, an amalgamation of customer perceptions accumulated across long and diverse customer journeys.

Some brands, like Apple, make it look effortless. Most brands struggle to take an exceptionally complex idea that spans traditionally disconnected customer touch points and translate it into business action.

Adding additional complexity is accelerating technology evolution. Mobile is pervasive. Screens are now connected. Maybe I’m dating myself, but I still remember when you could count the number of web browsers and mobile operating systems on one hand.

Quickly following this technology evolution are rapidly changing consumer expectations. Changing expectations that are driving seismic change in CX, even in traditionally slow moving industries. Have you noticed how Buy online, Pick up in store (BOPUS) is starting to show up everywhere in Retail? Do you now deposit checks into your bank account by sending a picture from your smartphone? Who still prints out an airline ticket? Anybody?

Through all this accelerating change, the basic tenets of business generally hold true: business success is attributable to prioritizing action in a timely manner to best achieve business goals.

From a CX perspective, prioritizing business action has typically been solely based on evaluative measurement derived from trailing feedback. Customers are asked for their feedback at some point after they have a brand interaction, that input is compared to historic feedback ratings, and if a trend is identified, resources are prioritized to affect change. Evaluative measurement is good, but it misses an opportunity to engage with an individual consumer in the moment of brand experience and take immediate action. CX diagnostics deliver that capability, and in turn, can deliver a higher quality and more consistent customer experience.

Suddenly, the concept of competing on the basis of customer experience seems less intimidating.  Leading brands are already leveraging diagnostic and evaluative Voice of Customer feedback solutions to extend their CX lead.

Want to learn more about the value of CX diagnostics to your business? Check out our white paper on the subject.


here it’s called the Voice of Customer Action Pledge


I’ve had Forrester on my mind for the last few days. Over that time period, the venerable research agency has had several extremely interesting things to say about the Voice of Customer industry. In a series of presentations at the Forrester Customer Experience Forum in New York and in a published report on the “State of Voice of the Customer Programs,” Forrester made some statements about our industry that certainly made me sit up and take notice.

According to Forrester, Voice of the Customer programs are at an inflection point. Though vital to improving the customer experience, most Voice of the Customer programs fail to reach their full potential. In particular, they struggle to drive actions from the insights they generate, struggle to be fully embedded in the broader companies they serve, and (as a natural result of the previous two statements) they struggle to show financial impact.

Forrester ended its latest published report with two bold statements:

1) VoC programs must expand beyond their narrow reputation as passive listening and measurement stations, to become active parts of broader Customer Experience Management efforts;

2) even in businesses that can put a precise value on customer experience improvement (not always a guarantee), VoC programs that cannot demonstrate tangible return on investment will wither and die–victims of a business climate where every manager is looking to wipe out inefficient spend.

Forrester is right: Voice of the Customer programs cannot be passive. Listening, measuring, collecting, surveying–those activities, though important, aren’t enough anymore. It’s time for a new paradigm to take hold: an action paradigm.  A Voice of the Customer program should be wed to the following process:

1) VoC program identifies actionable items emerging from real-time, contextual feedback from engaged customers.

2) These actionable items pave the way for concrete fixes aimed at improving the customer experience.

3) These concrete fixes yield tangible business results (such as increased sales, lower churn, or lower support costs).

4) The VoC program proves its worth to the organization and becomes relied upon by multiple teams as a critical decision support tool.

Step 1 requires three critical elements: 1) the data has to be real-time; 2) the feedback has to emerge from engaged customers, opting-in to the process rather than being intercepted; 3) the data has to be married to rich contextual information–on which set of pages did the experience occur? What device was the user on? Which manager was on shift at the time of the experience?

But it’s at the end of Step 1 that the rubber meets the road. That’s where the Action Pledge comes in. Will the company take action and make the concrete fixes necessary to improve the experience and generate tangible results? Do they trust the data, do they believe in the findings enough to drive change? Are they confident enough to go from saying “Oh my, that feedback is interesting; let me file it away” to “Holy crap, I better do something about this now, otherwise we might be in serious trouble?”

The Action Pledge is a firm commitment to acting on the Voice of the Customer and not letting it fall on deaf ears. The Action Pledge is something OpinionLab clients commit to right upfront: it’s a sacred promise aimed at driving constant improvement to the customer experience. Sometimes these improvements are about closing the loop with customers: fixing support issues, website errors, poor customer service. Sometimes these improvements are much more fundamental: they might affect pricing strategy, brand positioning, even HR policies. Either way, the Action Pledge turn a VoC program from a passive feedback station into an active platform for transforming the company and re-orienting it around the customer.

When a company takes the Action Pledge, it’s impossible to turn around and say that the VoC program had no impact. From Day One, actionable insights are catalyzing meaningful improvements to the customer experience. That’s when Step 3 kicks in: our clients are keen to measure the impact of their fixes, capitalizing on those that produce recurring results and fine-tuning those that don’t always work the first time around. That’s how programs build momentum, changing the way stakeholders engage with customers and putting the Voice of the Customer firmly at the heart of the company’s decision-making procedures.


timing is everything

Tick tock. Tick tock.

There never seems to be enough time in the day. We’re always rushing from one place to another, wishing those hours ticking by would delay just once. This is especially true when it comes to our businesses and websites. If only we had the time to explore every single user path, click and ask every single customer how and where they are getting to our website. If you are actually doing this, I commend you and want to know how you find the time. If you’re like the rest of us, you’re working with the time you’ve got.

When exploring ways to move the customer satisfaction needle on your website, I urge you to forget about time. Embrace the fact that you’ll never finish searching for the big web payoff, and look for tools and tricks of the trade that can help you save time.

Make Changes. See Changes

It’s a classic frustration with customer satisfaction metrics: despite changes and updates to a website, ratings don’t move. Most customer satisfaction tools are clunky and slow moving by nature, lacking the ability to pinpoint specific problem areas or track the impact of changes made to individual pages. This desired speed and agility is applicable to both small and large websites. The more complex a website is, the less successful a site-wide tracking measure becomes as an indicator of how a website is actually performing. If you’ve got two pages and few links, this might reveal the depth of tactical information you’re seeking. My guess is those sites are few and far between. To uncover issues, replicate problems, and construct solutions on the fly, businesses must combine granular, page-specific data with contextual diagnostics and the ability to structure unstructured  data.

The point being, feedback collection methodologies were made for speed and agility; allowing instant customization of comment card questions for individual pages without affecting the integrity of data and those techniques allow site managers to take action on key areas according to the data–as it comes in. Detailed VoC data and real-time reporting that tracks in the moment interaction uncovers a wealth of information that traditional reporting techniques just can’t.

Timing really is the name of the game.



the “r” word

The very word strikes fear into the heart of any average joe marketer. It’s public enemy no. 1 and in some remote areas of the world the mere mention causes children to cry; spoken out loud it’s even been known to crash websites in one fell swoop.  While a redesign is viewed with the same fuzzy association as the black plague, to us, it’s as simple as dispelling common folk lore surrounding the “r” word.

With more than twenty-five million ratings, comments from thousands of websites and a decade of experience, we’ve tracked quantitative and qualitative  user feedback from around the world. Which means, we’re well qualified to bust any redesign myth by tracking well-trafficked, public websites through their own redesign process. We’ve even identified some interesting patterns in users’ responses that can be extrapolated to any business’ website.

Don’t jump the gun. Before we even jump into what our data indicates, remember that sustainable effects from any web enhancements do not emerge immediately; take your time in collecting feedback and data since user responses typically do not stabilize until discovery and explorations phases are complete. It can sometimes take months for these patterns to emerge. For this reason, tracking metrics are imperative to measuring the sustainable effects of a website redesign. If you do decide to use a pre-post design rather than a tracking measure, assess your frequency of repeat visits and allow ample time before conducting a post-mortem on the results.

Monitor User response

Any website doctor must monitor measures of user reaction to assess comparative satisfaction from the new vs. old. We suggest several aggregate measures for this purpose:

  • Volume of ratings
  • Mean page rating across all rated pages
  • % of negative comments
  • an OpinionLab proprietary metric called the Site Opinion Index (SOI), a measurement that translates a website’s ratings on content, design, usability, and overall satisfaction into an index that ranges from one to one thousand. SOI is designed to be a more discriminating measure than an average page rating for a website.

Know the stages

When examining the shape of data throughout a redesign, there are several stages that formulate a redesign.

  • Pre-launch is the ground zero phase; it’s how your website is performing across all your aggregated measures before you begin your redesign. Don’t be tempted to skip this benchmark.
  • In the two to eight week discovery period, it’s how visitors initially experience your website design efforts. The mix of qualitative and quantitative data at this stage usually reveals “the know” on behalf of the user, where the initial recognition of efforts to improve the website begin to register.
  • Next users explore the redesign, usually through repeat visits to the site, where a stream of open-ended user comments are received. Users sign off on the new and improved design by addressing overlooked opportunities, functionality and expectations.
  • Finally, it’s important to remember your site is a living, breathing organism. Never stop measuring Voice of Customer, listening to what customers need and want and translating that feedback into tactical and strategic plans of action.

Regardless of the chosen metric, measures need to be tracked through each stage of the redesign cycle. Look for long term redesign insights to emerge, taking care to give enough time to collect data from users.  While it may seem like you need a medical degree to tackle a redesign, and lots of coffee for sleepless nights, with careful analysis and time, you’ll find that redesign efforts (and a little knowledge in SOI voodoo) aren’t really that scary after all.

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