03/06/2013 20:04 BST | Updated 02/08/2013 06:12 BST

VOC: Voice of the Customer or Voice of Change?

Recently Everton FC hit the news for non-sporting reasons. Upon releasing a newly designed badge, an instant backlash was brewing, centred on the absence of the club's Latin motto. Within several days a petition with 22,000 signatures and a Twitter account (NoToNewEFCBadge) with 4,000 followers had been formed. Resultantly, Everton have promised a replacement badge at the end of next season with a 'transparent consultation process' during implementation.

When we look at the bigger picture, this episode is not just about football and badges. It in fact acts as a case study into the dynamics of VOC in the 21st century with wide reaching effects for marketers across many sectors:

Consumers Want To Be Involved

Consumer Perspective: In an age of brand advocates and heightened brand conversations, consumers are expecting to have their comments, tweets and blogs listened too. After all, what is the point in engaging with a brand if your voice is not heard?

Marketer Actions: Regard consumer thoughts as a voice (to be listened to and acted on), not noise (background jargon which can be ignored). As the amount of content in the consumer-sphere increases in quantity and complexity, it is easy to disregard the consumer's voice in favour of listening to internal 'expert' opinions. Always remember, the consumer is at the heart of your brand, listen to 'their beat'.

Case in Point: In 2011, Netflix's failure to absorb VOC information when raising prices and changing their DVD mail out service into a spin-off business caused a barrage of criticism and saw their share price decline heavily. Netflix had to issue a public apology and retract their pricing changes.

Use Research for Protection

Consumer Perspective: Consumers often actively enjoy partaking in market research. It gives them a sense that brands are interested in their thoughts and that they are actively seeking to hear the consumer's voice. Furthermore, and most importantly, it gives consumers the sense they are helping shape a brand's future.

Marketer Actions: Research is often used to pre-empt consumer reaction. It is important to use research to anticipate reaction to brand decisions and make amendments accordingly. Yes, research takes time and costs money, but it can save credibility in the long term and prevent costly mistakes.

Case in Point: One of the classic product failings - the Ford Edsel - is widely accepted to have failed to have adequately listened to whether or not consumers wanted the product, instead investigating the model name at length. Had Ford conducted the correct conversation with consumers, they may have changed their direction. Instead, they were left with a $350 million loss.

Social Media Can Be Your Enemy

Consumer Perspective: The easiest and most efficient way for consumers to communicate their message is through social media. As such, the social sphere is awash with VOC data. This is great for insight, but when the VOC is negative it can spiral into a PR disaster with a brand name being awash with negative sentiment. Additionally, the up-to-the-minute nature of social media means that negative VOC is fast moving - meaning that negativity can spread rapidly.

Marketer Actions: Monitoring social media has never been more important. It offers a wealth of VOC data. Use this data not only for rapid fire insights but to try and move quickly to solve - and if possible, prevent - PR disasters.

Case in Point: In an attempt to generate positive VOC sentiment, McDonalds released the hash tag #McDstories in the hope of gaining favourable sentiment from their suppliers through sharing working stories. Instead, customers used this as a portal to bombard McDonalds with negative customer experiences. McDonalds, unfortunately, had little retort apart from admitting the campaign turned into a VOC nightmare.

Consumers Expect Their Voice to Be Heard

Consumer Perspective: Consumers know that through social media and petition forums such as Change, brands can hear their thoughts and feelings. Resultantly, when they are not acted upon, or go unacknowledged, consumer sentiment will likely become more aggravated and negative.

Marketer Actions: Action VOC data to limit your loses. Admitting fault based on customer feedback and acting on consumer's thoughts can turn a negative to a positive and show that you are a communicative brand with consumer's best interests at heart. Ignore VOC and situations of negativity can spiral out of control.

Case in Point: Spurred by the findings of a 16 year old girl, a 200,000 strong petition was delivered to PepsiCo complaining about the use of brominated vegetable oil in US bottles of Gatorade. Despite the fact BVO had been deemed safe for consumption and is used in many of products, Gatorade removed the ingredient, in part due to customer feedback.

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