Voice of the customer – when to engage in a self-service world

voice-customer-672x372

For the most part, customers are content to be left to their own devices as they shop online. More than content, actually. One of the great attractions of e-commerce is that it allows customers a huge degree of autonomy. They are free to browse, load shopping carts and, if they choose, go elsewhere without any pressure from sales staff.

But as more and more commercial activity migrates online there is a danger than something will be lost in the transition to digital self-service; namely a sense of what the customer is really thinking.  All online merchants have access to a deep well of statistics and every marketer worth his or her salt can reel off up-to-the-minute data on bounce, conversion, shopping cart abandonment and average order rates. These are the metrics that define performance.  

But what’s missing is the voice of the customer. The common metrics provide an essential snapshot of a site’s performance but what they don’t tell you is why customers are behaving in the way that they do. Or to put it another way, a falling conversion rate will tell you there is a problem but it won’t tell you what the problem is. Equally a dip in visitor numbers provides evidence that a site is becoming less competitive but you won’t necessarily know why.

Not unless you are attuned to the “voice of the customer.” Only then can you know what problems they are encountering and when to engage.

Why hearing the customer’s voice is vital  

And it isn’t always easy to hear the voice of a customer in a self-service environment. When a visitor to a website encounters a problem (for instance, when a certain product is difficult to find because of poorly designed navigation) he or she might ring a helpline to ask for advice. But here’s the thing – the vast majority of customers won’t reach for the phone. Instead, they will go to another site where things are easier to find. And before you’re even aware of it, visitor numbers are falling because a significant percentage of those who do go elsewhere will never come back. 

So it’s vital then to build in the mechanisms that allow you to see your site as others see it. And that’s why so many online businesses are adopting “voice of the customer” strategies.

Setting up your feedback loops 

Proactively listening to the voice of the customer is often seen in terms of feedback loops that enable site managers to harvest the true opinions of those who use their sites.

There are various ways to do this, including customer satisfaction (CSAT) and net promoter score surveys that provide a broad brushstroke picture of whether a site is performing well or badly. New solutions are emerging such as comment boards, where customers can be specific about certain problems or online chat, which provides direct feedback via text messaging. 

Beyond self-selection

These are useful tools, but not a complete answer. Put bluntly they require a certain amount of co-operation. Not everyone will take the time to answer an online survey and those that do are arguably part of a self-selecting group. They may be people who are particularly thrilled with the brand or (conversely) those who are very annoyed. 

So it’s also important to be able to take a broader and more evidence-based look at the customer experience.

One excellent way to do this is to track, record and replay customer journeys as a means to see at first hand the problems that customers are encountering in terms of navigation (and other usability issues), technical performance and software usability.

Time to engage

UserReplay provides this technology, along with analytics software that works on a 24/7 basis to identify signs of customer frustration in real time. Once frustration is detected, by playing back selected journeys the site managers can see exactly what is causing the problem. 

And once you know that you also know when it is time to engage – either with the problem itself (say, by fixing a software fault) or with the customer. That might mean mailing someone who has abandoned a shopping cart or speaking directly through chat or a similar technology.

It has never been more important to listen to the voice of the customer.  And nor has it ever been more important to act on what that voice is telling you.

Photo: Michael Coghlan/flickr cc