Voice Of The Customer: Find Out What They Want, What They Really, Really Want

The lyrics may sound familiar, “Tell me what you want, what you really, really want…” Not the best song, perhaps, but aren’t there  times when you would love to know what people — particularly those elusive target customers — are really thinking about your products or product category? Don’t you want to know what they really, really want? That insight is called Voice of the Customer (VOC).


The idea is simple.  VOC describes any kind of research that helps you understand your customers’ needs better. It’s a pretty broad term, but generally speaking it’s about conducting surveys, in depth interviews or using other means in order to discover and measure customer needs.  It is a term that has been in use for over ten years, and seems to come and go in terms of usage.

VOC or EFM?

 As you start to learn about VOC, you will run into a bit of alphabet soup, so let’s define our terms:

  • Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM) refers to the specific software platforms used by larger organizations to coordinate all their VOC systems.  An EFM platform might be coordinating and centralizing feedback from multiple channels such as transaction-based, and other online surveys, as well as social media feedback. Think of it as a dashboard approach to customer feedback.  EFM platforms are typically fairly complex, have more automated reporting, and frequently have a team within the organization to manage them.
  • Voice of the Consumer (VOC) an approach for gathering customer input (often through surveys) to discover needs and attitudes in relation to a company and its products. Many organizations conduct VOC research though online surveys, but it can also be done using interviews, focus groups or other methods.

When do we need VOC research?

 In general, there are two reasons to initiate a VOC program:

  1. When we are too removed from our target market — if everyone in the company was talking directly to customers all the time, a formal Voice of the Customer exercise wouldn’t be needed.  Most organizations, though, need help. Executives in most companies rarely get to spend enough time with customers and prospects, so they become too removed from hearing their needs, desires and sources of pain. VOC research serves as a proxy for more direct customer contact.
  2. When we want early warning on needed course corrections — Sometimes VOC research is simply about confirming the company’s current path, or correcting deviations from the best course. A quarterly check-in may indicate that we need to refine our customer service offerings, adjust our product packaging or the bundling of a certain set of products. VOC is often about making sure we stay on the right course by staying focused on customer needs.

VOC research provides a disciplined approach and can be used any time an organization needs to incorporate the customer’s point of view.

Bottom Line

We know it’s critical to be customer-centric these days.  To be competitive, marketers must make sure that products, messages, and packaging are going to fulfill customer needs, and meet or exceed their expectations. Learning what they “…really, really want” through a VOC program is an important part of doing that.  Further, by referring to your customer research efforts as “VOC”, you will convey to your colleagues what is important—that your organization is making a concerted effort to understand customer needs. And that can be a lot more compelling than simply announcing that you are about to do “a survey.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kathryn Korostoff
Kathryn Korostoff taught market research best practices at Ask Your Target Market, and is the president of Research Rockstar, delivering market research training and support services. She can be reached at KKorostoff AT ResearchRockstar DOT com.