Gathering and using voice of the customer data.

Last week I spent a brilliant day at the ProCopywriters Copywriting Conference, learning from some very clever and talented people. One of those people was Joanna Wiebe (@CopyHackers), who gave me more than one practical, actionable idea to do with understanding and designing for your audience.

Joanna spoke about using voice of the customer (VOC) data for conversion copywriting – but it’s relevant to us in L&D too! If you take one thing away from reading this, let it be this:

What our audiences are thinking about is not the same as what we think they are thinking about.

Joanna illustrated this beautifully and memorably with a reference to Mister Rogers, a North American kids’ TV personality. Instead of writing songs about animals or colours or numbers – as many of us might if challenged to write a song for pre-schoolers – he wrote songs like this one:

What do you do with the mad that you feel, when you feel so mad you could bite? That’s a question that comes from a real child, not from an adult imagining what a child thinks about, worries about and needs support with. Mister Rogers didn’t diminish that question or bend it into something that fit his own agenda and preconceived notion of what children want to hear or sing about.

(I didn’t grow up watching Mister Rogers, but my daughters know and love Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood, which is based on it. I can vouch for the fact these songs do stick in little minds and can be drawn on in emotionally-charged situations!)

This is relevant for L&D practitioners. We might not be writing marketing copy designed to ‘get the yes’ or focused on conversions. But we are trying to persuade, influence and change behaviours. Understanding and using the voice of the customer is integral to doing this successfully.

So how can we take a leaf out of Mister Rogers’ book?

First, we need to recognise that audience and client are not (usually) the same. Understand and consider how to address the business needs presented by your client, yes. But also establish who the audience is: who are the learners, the people who’ll be using your content?

Next, we need to get access to those people, or at least to what they’re saying. Here are some ways you could gather VOC data:

  • Interviews. This can be done face-to-face or over the phone; just make sure you record it if possible (or have an extra person there focused on taking detailed notes).
  • Focus groups. These can allow for richer discussions if run well, and you can incorporate information-gathering activities or exercises as well as more straightforward question-and-answer discussions.
  • Surveys and polls. This can work really well if you’re considering re-designing an existing website, resource or course – a few thoughtful questions before someone closes or clicks away can give you real insight into whether and how the existing content met their needs.
  • Support tickets or helpdesk calls. This came from Joanna, who often mines sales calls recordings. There could be a wealth of useful data in helpdesk records about what is tripping people up, frustrating them or just simply not working.
  • Scouring online reviews. Another absolute gem of an idea from Joanna is to see what people are saying about the topic elsewhere. See what’s in the Amazon reviews for related books on leadership development, or Google what people are saying about a company before designing an induction. This is an idea I’ll definitely be using in future.

In all cases, record or transcribe the data and then go back and review it, highlighting words and phrases that either are repeated time after time, or are really interesting and make you consider an angle you hadn’t before.

This is the voice of the customer. Use it!

The questions that keep coming up could be the titles of your pages or courses or resources. The complaints and frustrations that people have are the things your content needs to answer. The stories people tell form the basis of the scenarios you create.

However you gather it and whatever you do with it, VOC data will make sure your content resonates with the audience (especially if you use their actual words, talking to them in their voice) and is useful to them, articulating their concerns and solving their problems.

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