If the purpose of a business is to serve the customer, wouldn’t it make sense to, you know, talk to your customers?
Yet picking up the phone and talking to customers can be sooo scary. Not to mention time-consuming. Besides, what should you even talk to customers about if you had a chance?
Talking to customers to capture the voice of the customer (VOC) has become the slogan of Silicon Valley. (VOC is what "Get out of the building" is all about).
But why is it important to capture the voice of the customer?
Let me tell you a little trade secret.
“The top 20% of businesses who use the voice of the customer had 9.8x greater year-over-year revenue over the remaining 80% of businesses (48.2% vs 4.9%) (source).”
Would a 9.8x revenue year-over-year (YoY) increase be worth getting over your fears and making this a priority?
In this article, I’m going to share more details on why talking to customers is important. Then I’ll give you the 10-step process we use at Growth Ramp.
First, let’s define our terms to make sure we’re on the same page.
Voice of the customer (VOC) is the process of getting customer feedback to improve your business.
Startups use VOC to:
And that’s just the start.
When you consider the brand messaging hierarchy, VOC affects every element of your marketing.
Now you can improve those 10 areas of your business without talking to your customers. So why is it worth investing in a VOC program?
Imagine you lived in an apartment with no yard. Would you pay for someone to mow your lawn?
It’s extremely unlikely because you don’t have that problem (an overgrown lawn). So why would you pay for something you don’t need?
Yet I see this mistake happen all the time when you sell products online without talking to your customers and capturing the voice of the customer.
To discover the core problem you need to solve, you need to talk to your customers.
Will adopting a VOC program magically transform your startup into the next internet sensation? Of course not. There’s more to running a successful business than a perfect VOC program.
What kind of performance improvements might you find applying VOC best practices?
In 2015, Aberdeen Group ran a survey on 207 businesses that collected VOC data. They compared the top 20% of businesses (“Best-in-Class”) with the bottom 80% (“All Others”) (source). Here’s what they found:
Using VOC allowed the Best-in-Class to retain 55% more customers too (87% vs 56%). Further, the Best-in-Class had 9.8x greater year-over-year revenue over the remaining 80% of businesses (48.2% vs 4.9%).
What led the Best-in-Class to increase their revenue so much? Consider these statistics:
It would be ideal if this data also compared businesses that did not capture VOC. But the findings may not be that different. Businesses that collect VOC and do not apply the information are not going to be much better or worse than a business that doesn’t collect it at all.
Let’s look at how to collect VOC data and use it to improve your business and marketing strategy.
Here is the 9-step process we use to capture the VOC.
If you take away one thing from this article, I would recommend you focus on this...
VOC data is useless if it’s not tied to a specific business goal.
You can talk to customers until you are blue-in-the-face. But if you aren’t connecting your customer conversations to your business goals, customer interviews will be of little value.
What’s important is focusing on asking open-ended questions about someone’s past, unless you are asking for specific facts.
Asking for someone’s age, job title, or hobbies is a fact you can use to shape your customer persona.
However, asking a subject question about the future will give you very little information. Let me show you why:
A common question used to measure net promoter score is, “On a scale of 1-10, how likely will you refer us to a friend?”
The NPS question by itself gives limited help for two reasons:
Instead, you want to use a past-focused question. For NPS, you might ask the question Netflix asked their early customers, “In the last six weeks, have you referred us to a friend or colleague?”
From that question, you can then ask your customers why they behaved as they did. This will give you insight into what you need to do to improve your product.
BTW, I’m not the only one noticing gaping holes using the future-focused NPS question.
There’s a lot of research showing that NPS is flawed (source). Jared Spool, Co-founder and Co-CEO at Center Centre pointed out that NPS is easy to game and hide the truth (source). And Patrick Campbell, CEO at ProfitWell ran a study showing that NPS does not accurately predict retention (source).
All said you want to ask questions about past behavior. And open-ended questions will allow you to get at the heart-and-soul of your customers’ needs.
Now that you know your business goals, you’ll want to create a list of questions that will help you arrive at your answers.
Put your questions into a Google Doc and save it as a template. This way you will save yourself time copying, pasting, and deleting the questions for every interview.
How many questions should you have beforehand?
My recommendation is 15-20 questions.
The goal of the total questions is to aim for a 45-minute interview. Some interviews will take around 30 minutes. Others may last 60 minutes.
If your interview goes beyond an hour, the customer may lose attention. This leads to shorter responses and increased irritation.
Keep in mind you may choose to skip questions that are not relevant. You’ll likely ask follow-up questions after your initial questions too.
What business goals can VOC help inform?
I’ve yet to find a business goal it cannot give you insights. Here are a few examples we use at Growth Ramp.
Here’s how to use VOC for creating a new product (or, product validation).
Ask questions that relate to your customers’ pain points.
Consider questions like:
Note: $PROBLEM and $SOLUTION come from the response given in questions one and three.
Main article: Customer discovery interviews.
Here’s how to use VOC to determine your price point and pricing strategy.
First, ask these four questions to find someone’s willingness to pay for your product.
Afterward, you’ll want to continue asking follow-up questions on why they answered as they did.
You’ll also want to research what competing solutions your customers mentioned to you. This will give you another indication of what someone paid and the pricing model used.
Main articles: Customer validation, pricing strategy, and competitive intelligence.
Here’s how to use VOC to improve your brand messaging and positioning.
You will want to talk to your customers about how they feel about your brand. Then you’ll want to learn how they feel about other competing brands.
At Growth Ramp, we ask customers these questions:
Main articles: Brand positioning, brand messaging, and competitive intelligence.
Here’s how to use VOC to create a customer persona which will decrease acquisition costs.
Some of the questions we like to ask customers to get persona data at Growth Ramp includes:
At the end of the interview, I also ask, “Is there any other feedback you would like to give to us?”
This allows your customers to emphasize something they said earlier or make a new point.
Here’s my VOC tool list for video interviews:
(And if you’re wondering, there are no affiliate links on this website).
There’s a lot to consider when setting up your email outreach campaign. In fact, I wrote a series of articles on email outreach.
Here’s the TL;DR (too long, didn’t read) version:
Your reply rate will change based on:
You will want to use an email outreach tool like Mailshake. This will automate your email follow-ups and allow you to easily track your reply rates.
For your customer list, all you need are the first names and emails.
The two most common and easy sources I use are customer databases and email newsletters. If that’s not enough, here’s how to find almost any email address.
How big should your email list be?
That depends on how many customers you want to interview.
I recommend an email list of 100 people. Assuming a 20-40% reply rate means you’ll get 20-40 VOC interviews.
Got a lot of emails to choose from?
If so, focus your email list on customers who are more likely to give you the best data towards your goals.
Now for the real fun begins!
Start your interview with a brief 3-5 minutes getting to know the other person. This will allow them to feel comfortable and share important details to improve your business.
Once you get to know the other person, you’ll want to ask for permission if you record the interview via video or audio.
As you ask questions from your Google Doc you prepared in step 2, keep these items in mind:
You’ve got a ton of information. Now you’ll want to synthesize your notes to make it easier to use to improve your business.
Once the interviews are complete, you’ll want to put the information into a Google Sheet and Google Doc for easy access.
First, review your notes. Make sure everything looks accurate from what the person told you. Fill in any holes in your information.
Second, in the first row of the Google Sheet, create a header for each question you asked. Copy and paste every answer into the Sheet.
I like to freeze the first row and column to make it easy to see the answers (View -> Freeze -> 1 row + 1 column). I also change the row color for each person so I don’t mix up the information. Your sheet will look something like this:
Finally, you will want to create a Google Document. In this document, you will list out every open-ended question. Then you will list some of the sentences that summarize their thoughts and feelings. It might look like this:
The goal of the Google Doc is to take all of the emotional phrases and make it easier to find them.
I like to summarize this by using the following categories:
Again, you can color-code the answers to make it easier to know who answered and in what way.
After synthesizing and summarizing everything you’ve learned, you need to talk to your team about what you’ve discovered.
This allows them to get on-board because they feel part of the process. Further, they will often give you insight on items you may have overlooked. Then after talking to your team, plan out what your next steps are.
As the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu once said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.” If you want to win faster by getting more customers, then you need to put into action what you’ve decided.
For every project, do your best to set a reasonable deadline and a timeline to finish it. If you want an accurate deadline, I recommend doubling whatever your deadline guess is because hiccups will happen.
Getting 9.8X more year-over-year revenue from talking to customers won't happen overnight. But once you take the time to master capturing the VOC, it starts to become second nature.
Here's a quick summary of how to capture your VOC data: