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VoC Platforms in B2B: Five principles for success

6 minute read

By Matthew Chatterton, Research Director at Ipsos UK.

Voice of the Customer (VoC) platforms in B2B should be doing the same as their counterparts in B2C - gathering real-time transactional feedback that allows an organisation to democratise that feedback, close the loop with individual customers, provide insights to tackle customer pain points and drive longer term success. 

If you are an organisation that has launched, or is considering launching, a VoC initiative, here are five principles to help you make a success of your platform investment.

A robust CRM system makes all the difference

If you don’t have quality data to feed into your VoC platform, you’ll be disappointed with the end result.

Your customer relationship management (CRM) database is the engine that should power any B2B feedback programme. 

A good one will allow you to identify and target customers for interview, selecting them based on, for example, their revenue, customer segment, stage in the customer journey, history with you, or role as decision-maker, budget holder, influencer or user. This is crucial in enabling organisations to target the right person at the right stages of the sales and customer journey. 

It allows companies to ensure that clients are not over-targeted for feedback, whether because of their seniority and time-poor nature, or because their interactions are so frequent that it would be inappropriate to contact them after every event. 

If this is a challenge - and it is a common one - it is essential to have a strategy and plan for improving the quality of data available.

The CRM needs to be used systematically by sales teams, so that the key interactions from the early stages of the sales cycle are captured. Those organisations who are further on in their customer relationship maturity typically want to push their customer feedback data back into the CRM, so that sales, account management and customer service teams do not have to use two systems.

Doing this can help reinforce the virtuous circles of greater usage leading to better data, in turn leading to greater usage, and so on.

Align feedback activity around the customer journey

Having clarity on the end-to-end journey and what really matters to customers is essential.

B2B journeys are typically longer and more complex than their B2C counterparts, with lots of scope for customisation, especially with key accounts. This complexity can create a risk of gathering feedback that is easy to get – perhaps on the touchpoints where there is greatest volume - rather than the feedback that it is important to hear: those interactions that are critical to future commercial success.

In theory, a sufficient volume of transactional feedback would tell you most of what you need to know about the health of a relationship. For example, you would be able to look at an account with declining sales volumes and identify via the comments what is happening. However, it won’t tell you everything, particularly about some of the broader, more strategic issues that are driving customers’ agendas and needs.

There is still a critical requirement for relationship studies, particularly with senior decision-makers who may engage relatively infrequently with you but are picking up second-hand news about you from frontline colleagues.

Have a strategic engagement and communications plan for customers

The percentage of customers who participate in the VoC is an important measure of its health, especially so when the customer base is relatively small and there is a need to maximise the number of responses. 

Populating the CRM as fully as possible and keeping it up to date is vital. However, there is much that can be done to engage customers through the processes.

As a rule of thumb, a shorter questionnaire is better, especially for time-poor audiences. That said, where the supplier–customer relationship is close and important to the customer, we see considerable willingness to participate in relationship level surveys gathering lots of detailed feedback. 

Questions and surveys need to be well-designed and delivered in an appealing way, but most important is the communications that surrounds the survey. Is the feedback requested by the customer’s relationship manager? Is it clear what the benefit for the customer is? Are these messages reinforced adequately? Just as important, are you telling the customers about the difference their feedback has made, either through following up issues directly, or by communicating the changes made as a result? In short, do you have a contact and communications plan in place?

Ensure there is buy-in to the VoC programme

Democratisation of data is a core part of great CX. Platforms are designed to enable as many people as possible to see customer feedback, helping organisations put the customer at the heart of what they do.

In many B2B organisations, there is still sensitivity about who sees what, missing the potential for customer feedback to break down silos and promote collaboration. In part this is because of the personal nature of many relationships, e.g. individual sales/account managers’ own power and remuneration is often based on the relationships they ‘own’, so adverse feedback can be very threatening. Unfortunately, this means lost opportunities to use feedback to learn from better performing areas and transfer those lessons to weaker ones.

This points to a fundamental issue around the success or otherwise of B2B CX initiatives. Is the organisation ready to embrace the potential of customer feedback to transform how they do business? It needs senior management to be fully committed and create a culture that sees all feedback – good or poor – as valuable and a lever to drive change and improved business performance. Cultural readiness is critical to successful deployment.

Finally, leverage the power of verbatim feedback. This happens on two levels. First, hearing customers in their own words is particularly powerful in B2B  organisations. Second, mining that feedback is especially challenging, as the verbatims are typically more complex and difficult to interpret in B2B. Striking the right balance between generalisation and identifying specific improvements is important. Here is where relationship and transactional programmes can complement each other, helping to identify the importance of specific touchpoints in the journey through the former, while identifying specific features that need to be fixed through the latter.

Measure the value of the programme itself

Don’t forget about the health of the VoC programme itself.

Demonstrating a clear line through to commercial outcomes is critical to ensure ongoing investment, so have the integration of non-survey financial data in your platform roadmap. In addition, there are performance metrics in each of the following areas that can demonstrate the programme is working well:

  • User engagement with the platform – who accesses it, by role, how often?
  • Survey health – what is the participation rate, time to complete, abandonment rates, volumes of verbatim feedback?
  • Sample health – numbers of invites sent out, bounce-backs?

Finally, look to systematically gather impact stories – real-world examples of the changes that have been made as a result of feedback received. That can be at an account level – a customer saved, or a new opportunity opened up – or in aggregate, addressing pain-points or developing new solutions for customers. These stories are a great complement to return on CX investment models, bringing to life the power of the platform to drive commercial success.

If any of these problems sounds familiar, here are four things you could do next:

  • Evaluate the overall maturity of your CX initiative to ensure that the platform is properly embedded in and aligned with the other dimensions of successful CX.
  • Undertake an outside in customer journey map; putting yourself in your clients shoes, understanding moments of truth and creating listening posts to measure experiences end-to-end.
  • Develop a clear Return on CX investment case for gathering feedback from customers.
  • Or, if you don’t know where to start, conduct a VoC audit to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your current programme and platform and establish a roadmap for enhancement.

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