In our latest episode of Talk of the Trade, Michael McNary talks with Jeanne Hopkins about the importance of centring the “voice of the customer” in sales, marketing, and product planning. Jeanne is the Chief Revenue Officer at HappyNest, co-author of Go Mobile: Location Based Marketing, Apps, Mobile Optimized Ad Campaigns, 2D Codes, and Other Mobile Strategies to Grow Your Business, and an award-winning podcaster in former roles at Lola.com and Progress Software. Drawing on her experience across multiple organisations, she shared how the voice of the customer helps companies grow and pivot strategically, plus Jeanne broke down exactly what a “voice of the customer” meeting looks like.
What Voice of the Customer Is and Why It Matters
The term “voice of the customer” refers to remembering the customer experience or customer feedback in business planning – almost as if imagining your customer sitting at the table alongside all the organisation leaders.
Jeanne points to the Working Backwards model as an example: before even going into development, the team begins by writing the press release to announce it to customers. This keeps the focus on what will be exciting to the market, so that any new releases actually solve problems or innovate in areas that customers want.
How the Voice of the Customer Helps Your Company Grow
Jeanne advocates for formalising the voice of the customer in your company’s business planning. That includes monthly meetings, documented goals, and publishing progress so that anyone in the company can refer back to how the company is addressing the voice of the customer.
Here’s why: as businesses grow or pivot into new spaces, there are limited resources (time, people, budget, and technology) for product updates, which means your team will have to pick and choose. When product, marketing, sales, and customers are separated, everyone will see the problems through their own lenses without good communication, which means your product may not stay aligned to what the market wants or needs. Alternatively, if your teams are all aligned around the voice of the customer, then your prioritisation will be centred around market demand.
What the Voice of the Customer Meeting Looks Like
In Jeanne’s experience, the most effective way to centre the voice of the customer is to use monthly, 90-minute meetings that are documented and published to the entire organisation. This brings each department together, keeps momentum going, and encourages everyone in the company to think about the voice of the customer.
Who Should Own the Meeting
As with any initiative, you should make sure one person has ownership over scheduling and hosting the meeting. Jeanne recommends a product marketing lead, who can liaise between all interested parties.
Who Should Be There
Jeanne recommends gathering the departmental heads of marketing, sales, customer success, and product, in addition to any other departments that regularly interact with customers.
How Often You Should Meet
Ultimately, this will depend on your organisation, but Jeanne’s preference is for a monthly, 90-minute meeting. She recommends committing to that duration and enforcing it, so that no one dreads an endless meeting.
What The Agenda Looks Like
Jeanne keeps the structure pretty simple: each department head gets 15 minutes to discuss where you won and where you lost most commonly in the past month. The idea is to see what repeats each month so that you know these are actual issues and not just anomalies. Then, she leaves time for the product team to discuss which issues they have addressed and which ones they have not.
What You Should Document
Jeanne recommends documenting and publishing the slides and conversation from your meeting so everyone in the organisation can refer back to them. For one thing, this helps hold the meeting participants accountable to prepare properly for the meeting and follow up on action items afterwards. For another, it encourages everyone – from executive leadership downwards – to think about how the customer fits into the company vision.
For more resources on building a Voice of the Customer meeting, Jeanne recommends loopvoc.com.
How to Start Your Voice of the Customer Meeting
For anyone looking to start up a regular voice of the customer meeting at their organisation, Jeanne has some advice from doing it herself at multiple businesses.
First, it is important to introduce the idea of the meeting (and why it is important) long before the first meeting. Take the time to explain its strategy to the key personalities involved. Make it clear what the agenda will be, what you need everyone to prepare, and how you expect the meeting to go. Give as many examples, templates, and tools as possible, so that everyone can come to that first meeting feeling comfortable that they know what to expect.
Second, remember that change takes a while. At one organisation, Jeanne had a business partner who attended the first meeting without even preparing a single slide. While this frustrated Jeanne (and everyone else who had planned ahead), she didn’t let it stop her from hosting the meeting the next month, and the month after that, until everyone involved saw the value in the regular voice of the customer meetings.
Finally, make sure that the product team see the value in these meetings. If necessary, meet with product leads offline and make sure they know these meetings are for their benefit as much as anyone else’s. Without their commitment, the voice of the customer meeting will be an exercise in communication with no outcomes.
At the end of the day, your business is only as successful as your customers allow it to be. That’s why the voice of the customer is so crucial. Listen to the full podcast episode to get more insight and tips from Jeanne Hopkins on centring the voice of the customer in your organisation!