Social Media – The New Voice of the Customer

The past two weeks, I’ve written on some intense social media topics (Social Media ROI and Integrating Owned, Earned, and Paid Media).  So let’s lighten it up just a bit and make sure we are in the right frame of mind to drive social success.

For a number of years when I was a marketing executive, many of us would pride ourselves as being “The Voice of the Customer.”  The rest of the business organization was myopic in their subject matter expertise, but a select few of us were the delivers of the most important information to the company – “The Voice of the Customer.”  (Seems like there should be an amplified professional announcer like Don Pardo standing in every time I mention “The Voice of the Customer.”)  Like it was carried in some golden box that unveiled all magical secrets that guaranteed success.  Well heck, there is even a process for obtaining “The Voice of the Customer.” 

I captured some definition on Voice of the Customer from WikiPedia:

Voice of the customer (VOC) is a term used in business … to describe the in-depth process of capturing a customer’s expectations, preferences and aversions.  Specifically, the Voice of the Customer is a market research technique that produces a detailed set of customer wants and needs, organized into a hierarchical structure, and then prioritized in terms of relative importance and satisfaction with current alternatives. Voice of the Customer studies typically consist of both qualitative and quantitative research steps.

Voice of the Customer Initiatives
– A detailed understanding of the customer’s requirements
– A common language for the team going forward
– Key input for the setting of appropriate design specifications for the new product or service
– A highly useful springboard for product innovation.

Now I’ve been in product management and product marketing for a number of years and I know the importance and relevance of what we used to call MSORs (Marketing Statement of Requirements).  I lived through “Agile software development” and have a strong appreciation for the current mentality of “deliver early and often.”

All these things are important and have varying degrees of applicability in different cultures and environments.  But the one thing I will say that is paramount today and is a significant fundamental change is – we no longer need a voice of the customer.  The customer has their own voice and it can be heard in social media everyday.

So yes, as a marketing executive, my days (and yours) as “The Voice of the Customer” are dead.  So what is next?  I am “The Listener of the Customer.”  It is all there if you want for the taking.  We no longer need to rely on study methods such as focus groups, individual interviews, ethnography, or other techniques.  All the information we want is on the social web to help identify new products or services, refine existing products, improve quality, and create product design specifications.  And what is even better is this new social media environment is completely natural and uncontrived.

All that is required is listening and engagement.  Listening is straightforward.  Maybe not easy, but straightforward.  Engagement is a little more difficult.  Yes, you have an agenda, but you can not go right to it.  You can’t just ask someone what are your needs.  You’ll get better responses that will drive better product/service results by building relationships from people that will pour their heart and soul out.  And relationships go back to the LCR mentality I have preached.
And you can take this capturing of customers needs, wants, desires, etc. one step further.  You can build continuous input from your customer right into your product or service.  In my post “IP 3.0 in the Digital Age,” I stated “Social media needs to be integrated and packaged into the actual product/service offering.”  The premise here is that social media must be baked into the product.  Baked into the product so that the product is shared by users with their network and that their voice is captured from a customer support and product innovation perspective.  Identify those users that are power users or super users.  Engage with them and make them part of your creative process.  They will not look for monetary compensation, but simply be stoked by the thought that they influence your roadmap.

In the old days, I would run customer advisory councils and panels and let me tell you – there was a ton of valuable work that went into these.  Today, it is so much simpler with social media.  Yes, it takes resources, but I look at it as a redirection of resources to a more valuable output.

Today, leading companies have begun using text mining and text analytics to automate the capture and analysis of “voice of the customer” content from the Web and CRM.  I expect to see a number of product releases and enhancements in this area to help capture and correlate relevant customer input.  

It is easier than ever to capture “The Voice of the Customer.”  What are you doing to grab their input and how are you going about it?  Please chime in.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve



Filed under marketing, marketing plan, social media, social media marketing, Social Steve, socialmedia, SocialSteve, Uncategorized

16 responses to “Social Media – The New Voice of the Customer

  1. very good read! Keep up the good work!

  2. Steve,

    Amen. When I worked in corporate, it was damn near a farce to watch meetings start with “We need to understand the VOC,” then spend another 45 minutes arguing because we all had different opinions of that voice. You’re right: No one ever listened. We got powerpoint decks from McKinsey, Cambridge, Forrester, LOADED with stats on the VOC. Garbage. No one ever really just asked.

    You know who knew the VOC? The retail employees, the ones on the floor everyday with them. You know who was never invited into these high-brow meetings? The employees, the ones who were with the customers every day.

    I’m a listener (at least I try to be). Another thing: Somewhere down the line, employees forgot what it was like to be a customer. It’s like they stopped asking themselves, “What would I like?”

    I’m on board with you.

    • Paul,

      I think some companies truly try to capture the voice of the customer, but I think the contrived nature is often an obstacle. Social media now avoids this obstacle.

      Thanks for your input!


  3. Hello. Couldn’t agree more. However, there is another layer to this… control. Voice of the Customer and such devices really shielded many companies from having to listen, which they dread. You know the scene, command and control internally and externally. It could be argued this worked when broadcast was king, and the web was even 1.0. I would argue that many companies (and their lawyers) are terrified of all this. Listening is in itself disruptive, and like you say, necessary. No I take it back, it is a reality of business today. Watching the gyrations of companies dealing with this will be revealing, and hopefully rewarding for individuals that can help guide these organizations to the necessary new end state.

  4. Was too busy to look at this post last night, glad I had time this morning. Steve, I recall talking to someone over 18 months ago about focus groups not being so important in this day and gae. Must say it was taken as an odd thing to say but I stuck by the fact I could find out more by listening online than giving someone a £5 voucher to subconsciously or conscioulsy tell me what they thought I wanted to hear. I know this happens because I used to do focus group surveys quite regular around 20 years ago when asked on the street to come inside for a while and help. I even did free on street ones for fun giving again answers that fitted either their needs or my game for the day.

    That leads onto Pauls comments about forgetting what its like to be a customer. Last year when Ning dropped their free community building service, I was in charge of a free 13,000 page network. Everyone said what will you do, I said watch what those in the network are doing most and relocate with them. Needless to say ning hounded me to pay them all through 2010. I have to say Ning did me a favour as my network is far more active on Facebook than ever on the isolated Ning network [I am not saying all Ning Nteworks are worthless far from it], my network is creative and as an artist I had to ask ‘would I pay’ answer ‘no’ and neither should my network.

    I am seeing similar happening with people setting up online business network websites, why bother as I saw the people knew Facebook and people know and understand Linked In so before you can run walk with something your network already knows how to use.

    Sorry seem to have gone off at a tangent there but so valuable to locate, listen and engage with your connected community or the people you want in that community. To enable you to deliver something relevant to their needs not what you think they need.

  5. Steve,
    As always a great post! But, I respectfully don’t fully agree with all of your statements. The advisory council and the focus group is not dead in b2b marketing and it is most definitely not dead when trying to tap the thoughts and minds of executive customers.
    Some B2B businesses still need strong strategies to develop listening forums for their customers – this is shifting, but our experience is that creating forums (in-person or in communities) is helpful to get enough input to make the listening worthwhile.
    For executive customers an advisory council or teleconference is still a must. Executives will engage online, but it is challenging and requires some in-person connection before it will happen. With our advisory councils – for example – we’ve had success moving them into very focused online forums, but the best advice and the best listening from executives still takes place by phone or in meetings.
    I do agree that it is where we are all headed and it is a great movement indeed!

    • Jane-

      Thanks for sharing your perspective and experience. OK – agreed. To say that the advisory council and focus groups are dead is a bit much and a bit too strong. You need a balance. Appreciate you joining the conversation!


  6. SocialSteve, I know your post is about a month old, but the voice of the customer never sleeps…I just wrote a piece that highlights a top-class example of listening to the customer–Tom’s of Maine does a great job. They totally redesigned their packaging based on customer feedback. Here’s their story:

  7. Great post. Listening will become increasingly more important in the next few years, which I think few of us in research and marketing doubt. However, I do think it’s a bit of a balancing act between true social media listening and using “structured” listening environments like online communities. Both are necessary, and complement each other quite nicely.

    Personally, I find myself feeling like I’m the type of consumer that many marketers would love to target, but I’m almost never participating in social media from the consumer perspective (only for business purposes). I have to believe there are many more people like me. A pure listening effort that isn’t balanced with a bit of “asking” leaves a number of us on the sidelines, but we’re every bit as influential – perhaps only offline or through pure purchasing power.

    I also look to various case studies like the Motrin Moms from a while back as being the case where a vocal minority takes to Twitter while the rest of the population could give a hoot and just goes on with their lives. The social media “gurus” on Twitter love to point to the same four or five examples as the power of the medium, but I have my doubts. I hate to see companies purely in a reactive mode like this since it’s bad enough already at large organizations without them having to change up their strategy with every tweet.

    Still, I have to agree that social media monitoring will represent a large part of the marketing insight function of the future. I just hope it’s balanced a bit. Saying we no longer need the voice of the customer might be taking it a bit far…

  8. It’s nice to talk about voice-of-the-customer and social media listening. Certainly, that is where the voice-of-the-customer resides. But unless you have the tools to access the large sums of text data and find meaning to it, your listening is likely to be limited and biased. We have recently developed a breakthrough approach for scoring social media conversations.

    • Michael,

      There are numerous tools for listening – some free and some not. Large companies may be required to monitor large sums of data, but smaller companies – not. A matter of scale. One size does not fit all.


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