Today's marketers have access to more data on their prospective customers than at any time in history. Marketers can discern their average customer's physical appearance by the size and type of clothing they buy. They can theorize about the customer's personality by their entertainment choices. They can learn if, when, and where their customers like to travel. The customer's purchasing choices for makeup, hair dye, and grooming products can just about allow a marketer to paint a picture of the prospect with their eyes closed.
Big Data has allowed the marketer to see the customer in their mind’s eye. The question then changes from whether or not the marketer “sees” the customers, but whether or not they “hear” them. The best way for marketers to hear their prospects is to listen to “The Voice of the Customer”.
The voice of the customer (VOC) is exactly what it sounds like — it’s the opinions, feedback, concerns, and praise your customers have for your brand. What you do to collect, contemplate, and any actions taken to provide feedback, is your VOC campaign.
According to the business efficiency consulting firm iSixSigma, a voice of the customer campaign is “a process used to capture the requirements [or] feedback from the customer [with the aim of] providing the customer with the best in class service [or] product quality.”
A great VOC campaign should capture both the customer's spoken and unspoken requirements. When brands capture these requirements, their approach can change from one that responds to customer needs to one that anticipates those needs.
While the processes of collecting customer data have never been easier or more prevalent — despite the ongoing mistakes brands make with their VOC campaigns — the process of translating all of that “noise” into a recognizable voice is often a difficult one. And now, with the emergence of IoT devices like smart voice assistants and wearable technology, there’s more noise than ever before.
Even in the age of Big Data, many companies still get their customer data the old-fashioned way, i.e.: surveys, focus groups, online polls, and methods alike. These methods assume that the best way to learn about the customers' preferences is to ask them directly. While these are tried and tested VOC channels, they aren’t free from issues. For example, when a customer is asked a direct question, they may not always give a direct answer. Customer responses may not reflect their true preferences, as their most recent interaction with your brand, or even their mood at the time of being surveyed, could lead to a bias or inaccurate answer.
But when customers use IoT devices over any prolonged period of time, those biases disappear, and the truth comes out. The locations they visit, the items they purchase, and the frequency of their interactions with a brand, all comes together to reveal more about their preferences than any survey or poll question ever could.
Ben Rossi, editorial director for Information Age magazine, wrote that companies that use a combination of traditional surveys and IoT data “can build a far more insightful understanding of their customers’ perceptions, expectations and needs to optimize the customer experience."
A key component to the success of any relationship, whether business or personal, comes from each party's ability to listen to the other's needs and respond to those needs. The development of IoT technology allows marketers and customers to both listen to each other and respond to the messages they're hearing.
Since IoT devices can deliver clear, unbiased data on customer preferences, the next step lies in applying that data towards creating the best possible customer experience based on those preferences.
A literal example of listening to the voice of the customer comes from developers for the Alexa Skills platform. The voice-activated digital assistant has 25 pre-programmed phrases for users to speak in order for the software to interpret their diction and accent. Developers are also working on ways for Alexa to recognize specific words that frustrated users often say (or shout) at the device, and creating ways to minimize their frustration.
One of the biggest companies in the world is also taking an active stance in listening to the customer. In a 2016 shareholders' meeting, Starbucks CTO Gerri Martin-Flickenger shared her vision as to how the coffee chain could anticipate a customer's order, even if that customer is thousands of miles from their usual shop.
“Imagine you’re on a road trip, driving across the country, and you pull into a Starbucks drive-through that you’ve never been to before,” she said. “We detect you’re a loyal customer and you buy about the same thing every day, at about the same time. So as you pull up to the order screen, we show you your order, and the barista welcomes you by name.”
Marketers should also note that the IoT applications related to the voice of the customer extend beyond the B2C arena. These applications are already being employed in the B2B market, in industries ranging from transportation to manufacturing to healthcare. Analysts with McKinsey & Company predict that 70 percent of the value of IoT applications will be in the B2B market.
The use of IoT devices can also help marketers break out of their customer experience bubble — a problem compounded from solely deriving VOC data from ‘traditional’ VOC channels, and then failing to circulate that data throughout your organization.
With data from IoT devices complementing that data, you can burst that bubble a little easier, firstly because you’re collecting more accurate data, and secondly because the data surge you’ll likely experience will force your department to share the load, and therefore, share the data.
Even with VOC data acquired from polls, surveys, and interviews, marketers need to stop assuming that they know the voice of their customers — because actions speak louder than words.
With IoT devices collecting data about customer movements, actions, and inclinations, brands can finally start piecing together what their customers truly feel about their brand, products, and services.
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