As both a consumer and customer experience (CX) consultant, I see far too many voice of the customer (VOC) programs that don’t understand the difference between market research and capturing customer feedback. The truth is, they are different. One isn’t better than the other – and both are needed to inform your company’s strategic decision-making. However, they differ in purpose, design, analysis and outcomes.
The purpose of market research vs. voice of the customer programs
While market research and VOC share similar techniques, they are different in intent, orientation and usage.
Primary market research uses a myriad of quantitative and qualitative methods to understand customer needs, as well as to test new products, services and communications. It can also be used to let brands learn how many people might buy a new product, at what price point adoption might be optimized and other questions in that vein. Meanwhile, secondary market research is used to size markets, understand trends and unveil market dynamics.
Decisions made or strategies formed with market research studies may include:
- Produce design decisions.
- Customer segmentation.
- New product or services launches.
- Brand tracking.
- Message testing.
- Pricing decisions.
- Target market identification and definition.
- Market adjacencies or expansion opportunities.
Meanwhile, voice of the customer programs are designed to understand customer needs, wants and expectations, as well as how well a company is fulfilling those. These programs are designed to drive operations, marketing efforts and continuous improvement through both short-term and one-to-one actions. They also inform medium- and long-range changes across the customer base.
One key difference with voice of customer programs is that not all of the information gathered is solicited in the form of surveys, focus groups or interviews. There is a wealth of unsolicited feedback in call center recordings, social media feedback and website comments. A company can also infer a lot of information about customers by tracking their behaviors or purchasing habits.
Sample design and respondent anonymity
Sample design and respondent anonymity are probably the two areas where market research and voice of the customer differ most. In market research, a company defines the population it wants to target with a survey and carefully designs samples to ensure a match. And, because of the need to reduce response bias, these surveys are often blind or double blind, meaning the company sponsoring the research does not know who the individual respondents are. Likewise, the survey population doesn’t know who’s sponsoring the research.
It’s the exact opposite for voice of the customer. In this instance, all customers should have a chance to provide feedback (assuming some sample management and respondent fatigue rules) and all voices matter. It’s also critical to personalize the survey and let the brand know who is providing the feedback so that it can take action as needed.
In market research, brands try to test a hypothesis or answer a business question. They ask as many questions as they need to get the data they need. However, internal stakeholders often ask to add their own questions to the survey, which is a very inside-out approach. But, organizations can often get away with that because their surveys are anonymous, and there’s not usually blowback over their length. Plus, incentives can also help with lengthy surveys as respondents see taking a longer survey as earning their keep.
In VOC, brands are trying to learn what they can from a customer’s behavior (both observed and inferred) and their voice. When soliciting actual feedback, you should engage a customer in a conversation instead of peppering them with questions. Surveys should be short and allow the customer to tell you what is important to them. It’s like running into a friend outside a coffee shop; just ask how it’s going and let them talk. Customers, like friends, will tell you what they want to share.
The difference applies to employee surveys too. Sometimes, you may need a whole battery of questions to understand employee views on management, communication, benefits and other topics. And sometimes you just what to know how it’s going.
Data analysis and reporting