The “voice of the customer” (sometimes abbreviated as VoC) is a vital measurement for any marketing, sales or customer service activity. Without it you really have no idea if you are driving the business in the right direction. Qualitative data from customer conversations is a goldmine of insight waiting to be mined, and the only way to truly capturing the voice of the customer. While quantitative data obtained from online surveys helps you understand how a customer interacts with a brand. Qualitative textual data helps you understand the behaviour and motivation which defines a customer’s journey. We are surrounded by customer conversations and by using both unstructured and structured textual analysis we can finally hear what customers are saying about an organisations, brand, product or service.
Text-based qualitative responses found in social media can help a brand identify the customer chatter that surrounds a product or service. But structured qualitative feedback can help you understand the ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘when’ behind these conversations. Without this information, a disconnect could easily exist between how a business thinks customers perceive its products and services and what they actually think. Providing customers with the ability to provide structured qualitative feedback, can give a business a depth of insights not available through quantitative statistics alone. Only through qualitative data analysis can a brand understand the true depth of reactions, emotions and discourse that a product or service evokes.
Why VoC is crucial
It wasn’t that long ago that the term “voice of the customer” was first used. It originated in a 1993 paper by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor John R. Hauser and University of Utah Business Professor Abbie Griffin. They defined the concept as “a complete set of customer wants and needs; expressed in the customer’s own language; organized the way the customer thinks about, uses and interacts with the product and service; and prioritized by the customer in terms of both importance and performance.”
Key terms in this definition include that the customer uses their “own language,” the conversation is “organized the way the customer thinks” and how the eventual qualities or reactions are “prioritized.” This is where qualitative data can yield the extent of these elements using the authentic words and phrasing that the everyday customer will use. Businesses get a rare opportunity to “get inside” a customer’s head and find out how to communicate with them using their language and thought processes.
Customer narratives using qualitative data
Once you have captured a large amount of qualitative data, such as responses to an online feedback discussion, a good marketing analyst will first set about defining the framework with which to interpret the customer’s voice. In a planned and structured online customer feedback discussion this is usually framed by the reasons for capturing the qualitative data. However, if it is unstructured qualitative data, captured from social media websites, you would set about finding meaning in the data by asking a question and you would analyse the text to see if it could reveal a coherent answer. For example, lets say you mined the data from a brands social media page. You may then ask the simple “Do they know where to buy the product?” Instead of a looking for a simple Yes or No answer, we might be looking for customer language that indicates purchase intention. Listening to the customers voice means going further than the quantitative numbers. Rather than merely finding out if a customer knows where to buy a product, we learn why and how they came to that decision.
A brand can also find out how someone feels about the entire customer journey. Qualitative text analysis that has this objective in mind can result in rich textual narratives. Instead of struggling to create a story out of spreadsheets and graphs, someone can simply repeat — in the customers’ own words — how the brand narrative factors into a purchase decision.
Using the customer’s voice to answer questions
Some may point out that since the majority of qualitative data is abstract, and not as useful as a simple tally of numbers you might get from an online quantitative survey. There is no doubt that ill-considered approaches to unstructured qualitative data collection can sometimes yield intangible or unclear results. However, it is not uncommon during the process of customer text analyses for a marketing analyst to return to the drawing board to reexamine the information available at different points in the customer journey.
When this analysis indicates a ‘hot topic’, but does not reveal why, the marketing analyst will use this information to initiate a more thorough and structured investigation. This can be addressed quickly by adding conversations from a combination of customer touch points. But where these moments in the customer journey don’t provide the depth of textual information needed to answer the question, a planned customer discussion can be quickly initiated. New technologies such as instant community discussions are used to fill in the gaps. The ‘hot topic’ identified in the initial part of qualitative textual analysis provides the context under which a private online discussion is created.
Using the ‘hot topic’ as the focus of the discussion plan, a online instant community, with sourced participants of a particular demographic profile, can be quickly created and activated. The descriptors which surround the ‘hot topic’, positive and negative words used in customer conversation, are the focal point for a private discussion.
For example, a ‘hot topic’ could be around the way customers describe a brand as ‘old fashioned’ or ‘nostalgic’. We know customers keep using this language, but we have no idea if this is a positive or negative attribute, or if it is actually driving customer behavior. We need to know ‘why’ its being described this way and ‘how’ it might effect the bottom line. It could be that old fashioned is exactly what the customer is looking for “old fashioned service”, or it could be a polite way of saying “tired and outdated”. The only way to verify this is to have a conversation with real customers using the language which is consistent with the descriptors identified.
Activities like these can get to the root of customer thought processes, giving businesses and organisations a leading edge when trying to cater to their market’s needs and wants. Savvy qualitative analysis can result in customer journey narratives that inform training material, product development and new market opportunities.
By analysing text-based responses from a number of touch points along the customer journey, a business or organisation can identify the topic of the moment. With the help of new technology they can quickly investigate using new online market research technologies to find out the “Why and ‘What’ effect it is having on the brand.
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This article first appeared @ groupquality.com/blog