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10 Ways to Listen to Customers Without Surveys

Author: Jeremy Watkin

Surveys are a great way to listen to the voice of the customer, so don’t misconstrue the title of this article as being “anti-survey.” Problems occur, however, when surveys become the only way we listen to customers — especially when you consider that a good survey response rate is in the realm of 20-30%. That means you never hear from 70-80% of customers.

During the Customer Experience Question of the Day (#CXQOTD), a daily CX question we pose to the CX community, we asked, “What are your favorite ways to listen to the voice of customer without surveys?” The response was so good that it begged to be a blog post. Check out this list of ten ideas, sure to spark some creativity for your voice of customer (VOC) program.

1. Interview customers

There are a variety of ways to conduct customer interviews. These could be strategic calls to key customers to ask them about their experience. Murphy Fraser, Client Success Manager at Skillshare, also recommends investigating customer activity on your website as a means of “interviewing” them. She said, “It might not be their ‘voice,’ but I’ll spend any free time I have analyzing their clicks, navigation, search history, and more.”

2. Listen to customer service call recordings

In contact centers, where calls are traditionally recorded, there’s a ton of voice of customer insight readily available — one only needs to take the time to listen. Of the opportunity, here’s what Vijaya Vardhan, Enterprise Customer Support and Success Manager at Atlassian had to say:

“I always got a bunch of insights listening to recorded calls. The tone of the customer conveyed their sentiment about the issues. Second, talking to the frontline folks about their experience with their customers. I found this to be a gold mine.”

Make no mistake. Listening to call recordings is time-consuming work. That’s why the ability to transcribe them and search keywords, phrases, and sentiment with speech analytics can be so powerful.

3. Pick up the phone and call a customer

Especially in roles where we’re not speaking with customers day in and day out, it becomes difficult to feel their pain. Sure, we know what some of the issues and challenges are, but when you hear and feel the customer’s emotion as they describe the impact an issue had on their life and business, it can be a powerful catalyst for action. That’s why Schulbert Koleka, Business Manager at Standard Bank Malawi, recommends, “Initiate the conversation. Make a phone call to see how they (customers) are doing. They are human beings first before they are customers.”

Here’s a good format for these calls from Sue Duris, Director of Marketing and Customer Experience at M4 Communications, Inc:

“My #1 way to listen to the voice of customer (VOC) is by phoning a customer and chatting for 15 minutes. You learn a lot by asking first, ‘how are you doing today?’ And then ‘what one thing can we be doing to help you be more successful?’ Customers should be contacted daily.”

4. Listen to the voice of employee

There were multiple mentions of the importance of asking your frontline staff, those interacting with customers each day to share their VOC insight. Danny Rehbein, Customer Experience Coach and Founder at Dovetailed Interactions, says, “There’s lots of value in listening to the customer through the employee by bridging the gap between VOC and VOE.” He goes on to highlight two key benefits of this practice:

  1. Identify current customer trends as they are happening.

  2. Engage team members, showing them the critical role they play in helping to improve the customer experience.

When frontline employees navigate difficult customer issues, their engagement will increase when they see leadership addressing some of the problems they share.

5. Walk in the customer’s shoes

Nicholas Zeisler, Principal at Zeisler Consulting, challenges us to experience our product or service in the exact same way as customers do. Some of the best ways to do so include:

  • Call your contact center and speak with an agent

  • Use your product

  • Interact with the chatbot on your website

  • Surf the website

  • Navigate your IVR

In his response, Zeisler says, “Walking in the customer’s shoes is the greatest way to experience what your customers are experiencing themselves and the greatest way to personally experience what the gap is between what you want that experience to be and what it actually is.”

6. Conduct ethnographic testing

This video response from Ben Motteram, Principal at CXpert, provides a couple of unique ideas for listening to the voice of the customer. The first is ethnographic testing. As he points out, “The customer isn’t actually using their voice to provide feedback.” He goes on to say:

“Watch the customer use the product in their environment to understand better how the product fits into their lives, the jobs the customer is trying to get done, and how you can improve the product’s functionality and the user interface of it.”

7. Create a customer advisory board

Motteram also suggests setting up a customer advisory board where you “Invite a representative cross-section of your customers into a room on a periodic basis to provide feedback on things like company people, processes, and product.”

There are some added benefits to these meetings:

  • Gain insight about industry trends.

  • Learn about your competitors.

  • Present your product roadmap and get valuable customer input.

  • Build stronger relationships with key customers.

“Hearing directly from customers helps you empathize and internalize their experience,” adds Jeannie Walters, Chief Customer Experience Investigator at 360Connext.

8. Listen to customer complaints

When customers complain, it’s easy to get annoyed and offended. But as Shane Goldberg, Principal at CustCore Consulting, reminds us, “Complaints are only raised about something customers are passionate about,” and this is important insight.

Michael Brandt, CCXP, says that paying attention to customer complaints “gave me great insights into what wasn’t working and how we were going about resolving these issues.”

9. Monitor reasons for churning

While the goal of listening to customer complaints is to prevent customers from cancelling, they still do from time to time. Pay attention to why customers are cancelling. Is it due to poor service, lack of features or functionality, or something different? For companies that allow customers to cancel online, be sure to regularly read the responses when customers are asked to answer the question, “Why are you cancelling your service?”.

10. Pay attention to social media

And finally, Chiedza astutely reminds us that we can learn a lot from customers by “going over their comments on our social media posts.” Many companies do a lot of talking on social media but not enough listening. How many times have you commented on a social media post from a brand only to never receive a response? It’s important to both respond and take their feedback to heart.

Furthermore, some tools allow you to deeper listen on social media. They can help you pay attention to any mention of your brand, even if it doesn’t directly mention your social media handles.

That’s ten ways you can better hear the voice of your customers without sending out a single survey. But for the record, it’s not a bad idea for surveys to also be a part of your VOC program. Give some of these a try and see if they don’t deepen and broaden your understanding of customer needs and wants, adding valuable insight to help improve your product and service.

Finally, be sure to keep an eye out each day for the #CXQOTD on Twitter or in the CX Accelerator community. It’s a great way to meet and learn from other like-minded CX professionals and share your unique voice and perspective.


Jeremy Watkin is a CX leader, contact center veteran, and Product Marketing Manager at 8X8. He is an avid learner, and is constantly giving back to the CX and Customer Service community through his writings.  You can see his work featured on Customer Think, Customer Service Life, and now CX Accelerator!

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1 Comment

Sanjeev Kumar
Sanjeev Kumar
Jan 11, 2021

Nice Post, Thank you for sharing.

I have also the same blog for call center service -

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