Knowing what your customers want, when they want it, and how they’d like it served up to them is at the core of developing winning test hypotheses.
It’s the why behind the quantitative data that shapes your copy and gives your visitors an easily navigable path to becoming a customer.
When you understand the motivations that drive your prospects (through buyer intelligence) and customers (via customer research), you can reflect their feelings back to them—in their words. That way, you’re way more likely to convince them that buying from you is the right call.
So, how do you figure out that all important why? And what’s the best way to capitalize on it when you do? That’s where voice-of-customer research comes in.
I’ll walk you through the step-by-step process. You’ll learn how to extract key messages from your prospects and customers and use them to boost conversions.
Table of contents
- What is voice-of-customer research?
- 3 steps to turn what customers say into copy that converts
- Case study: How voice-of-customer research lifted conversions on Learn Visual Studio
What is voice-of-customer research?
Voice-of-customer (VOC) research is the process of discovering the wants and needs of customers through qualitative and quantitative research. Initially created as a way to link customer needs to performance measures in Japanese product development, VOC has jumped into the mainstream of market research.
In a landmark paper by Griffin and Hauser, the authors defined four aspects of voice of customer research:
- Customer needs described in the customer’s own words;
- Hierarchical grouping of needs;
- Prioritization of needs;
- Segmentation of needs and perceived benefits by audience.
(Refer to John Hauser’s Note on the Voice of the Customer to get details on each aspect.)
For the purposes of this post, I’ll discuss voice of customer research in terms of using customer (and prospect) feedback about a product or service to develop more persuasive copy.
The wants, needs, pain points, and hesitations of your target audience will help you identify critical messages to:
- Help your customers reach their goals faster and more easily (i.e. improve the customer journey).
- Increase conversions.
- Drive more leads, sales, and revenue.
There are loads of methods for gathering voice-of-customer data. From interviews to surveys and forums to on-site reviews, you can pick out the recurring messages and verbiage that most resonates with your prospects and customers, then identify their order of importance.
One of the most reliable ways of getting usable bits of customer insight (and what I’ll cover in this post) is through surveys. Whether you use on-site pop-up surveys or ones you email to your subscriber list, the key is to ask questions to get the answers you need to optimize your site copy.
3 steps to turn what customers say into copy that converts
Developing test-worthy copy follows three basic steps:
- Ask the right questions.
- Mine the answers.
- Analyze to find the gaps in your copy.
Sound simple? Yes and no. While it’s not rocket science, the process takes some time, thought, and organization. Your first step is compiling the research (and since qualitative research sample size doesn’t need to be crazy, it’s accessible to companies of all sizes).
Step 1: Ask the right questions.
As Avinash Kaushik writes, “for the fastest way to understanding customer problems there is nothing like asking the customer herself/himself.” The challenge is knowing the best questions to ask when and where.
There are countless questions you could ask your prospects and customers. However, the best way to narrow your options is to know your end goal. On which pages are you looking to optimize your copy? What do you need to learn to do that effectively?
For instance, if your analytics shows that you’re losing a high percentage of people on your checkout page, you may want to ask visitors who complete a purchase a single question before leaving your site:
Or, you may be tasked with reworking an entire homepage and corresponding sales funnel. In that case, sending out an email survey to prospects and recent customers gives you the best chance of understanding the benefits of your solution and their biggest pain points.
To understand what your target buyers think and want, use buyer intelligence.
4 great questions to help you write voice-of-customer
- When did you realize you needed a product/service like ours? This question helps you find out which trigger events in a person’s life motivate them to seek out your solution.
- What problem does our product/service lessen/fix for you? Find out what your customers consider to be the problem. You may find that you solve problems you didn’t know about.
- Did you consider any alternatives to buying/working with us? It’s always a good idea to know who your customers see as your competition. This will help you build a case as to why they should buy from you.
- What concerns or hesitations did you have before you decided to buy/work with us? Addressing sources of friction in your copy is incredibly important. You can reflect your customers’ concerns back to them, showing how you’ll alleviate them.
Step 2: Mine the answers.
Now that you’ve asked your questions and gotten your answers, it’s time to pull out phrases and sentences written by respondents that will give you the best insights for your copy.
Go through your survey responses one by one. Don’t skip—you never know when you might come across a golden nugget that you can drop into your copy verbatim.
You’re looking for the following:
- Phrases that tap into the respondent’s needs/wants;
- Phrases that reference the respondent’s biggest pain points;
- Phrases that key into their hesitations or concerns about purchasing.
Download my message-mining template or simply open up your own Google Doc and start copy-pasting responses that fit into each category. Place an asterisk next to anything you pull out that seems particularly well said.
The power of inserting verbatims into your copy
Joanna Wiebe of CopyHackers, who trained me in conversion copywriting, famously used message mining to great success with a headline for a rehab center. She swiped the copy directly from a book review on addiction.
While not taken from a survey response, the premise was the same: Find out what your ideal target audience needs to hear and the language in which they think about it to trigger a response.
Joanna tested the control headline, “Your addiction ends here,” with the headline “If you think you need rehab, you do.” The new headline generated >400% more clicks on the main call to action button and >20% more form submissions on the next page.
Step 3: Analyze to find the gaps in your copy.
Start analyzing all the voice-of-customer data you pulled from your survey responses. Go back through each column and note recurring themes. Chances are, you’ll start to find a pattern.
Let’s say you find over and over again under your “Hesitations/Anxieties” column that respondents almost didn’t purchase your product because they couldn’t see how it would positively impact their business.
Since that concern loomed large in recent customers’ minds, you can bet it’s a concern for visitors who left without buying. Make sure you address it on your site. (There’s an example in the case study below.)
Keep a tally going for your columns. Then, grab the top three or four messages from each and either drop them into a new document or copy this Google Doc I created.
To find gaps in your existing copy, compare what’s on the page with what your visitors are saying.
Run a mini copy audit on the pages you plan to rework. Pull out the key messages that answer these questions:
- How is your product/solution solving your customers’ problems?
- What are the benefits of your product/solution?
- How is your copy alleviating potential sources of friction? Are you giving visitors reasons to believe your product or solution will do what you say it will (e.g., testimonials, data, social proof)?
Compare your copy to what you’ve mined. If most prospects or customers tell you that they can’t live without your app because of its great interface and easy integration—but all you talk about is price—you have a communication gap.
And gaps lead to big holes in conversion.
Case study: How voice-of-customer research lifted conversions on Learn Visual Studio
Let’s look at how my colleague, Dustin Drees, and I used voice-of-customer research to optimize the Learn Visual Studio (LVS) homepage.
Getting a quick win (and learning) from the low-hanging fruit
Dustin conducted two surveys before bringing me onto the project:
- On-site Qualaroo survey to determine how visitors identified themselves (beginner, intermediate, or experienced programmer) and their primary goal when joining.
- Email survey to recent customers to find out why they decided to join, their hesitations prior to joining, any questions not answered before joining, and their biggest challenge finding the right solution.
From the 200 responses on the Qualaroo survey, respondents segmented themselves as:
- Beginner: 59.0%;
- Intermediate: 25.5%;
- Experienced: 15.5%.
In addition, 69.7% of those who responded to the second question (119 responses) said they were most interested in finding their first developer job.
He took that information to run a simple copy test to determine if there was a disconnect between the value proposition presented on the homepage and LVS’s target audience. The goal was to increase site engagement—moving more of the right people further into the site.
Here’s the control:
As you can see, the headline and sub-headline don’t speak directly to beginners or match what they want to achieve. Now, take a look at the variation:
Simply telling visitors who these lessons are designed for and the end result of taking them increased course conversions by 9.2%. Plans and pricing views rose by 24%, and curriculum views went up by 23.9% (after three weeks and reaching statistical significance).
What happened when we dug deeper into the surveys
I was tasked with going through the second survey to see where the copy might be missing the mark.
Before coming to any conclusions, I went about the same process outlined in the three-step process above. I copied and pasted relevant pieces of survey responses under each category, ranked them, and created a hierarchy of needs, wants, and friction points.
In the case of LVS, here’s what the open-ended questions told us in order of importance:
We realized two things:
- Visitors had a difficult time understanding how much value the courses could provide.
- Visitors encountered friction because their primary concerns were not addressed.
How we translated our findings to the screen
Given the data, we hypothesized that better priming visitors with enough information to make an informed decision before they landed on the offer would improve sign-ups.
Here’s what we did with the copy:
1. Amped up the value proposition
By tweaking the headline to include C# and .NET, we highlighted the uniqueness of the courses. The sub-headline uses words that we saw over and over again from customers (e.g., “practical exercises,” “step-by-step roadmap”).
2. Keyed into benefits while simultaneously addressing anxieties
We did this in two ways with the copy below the fold. First, we used their anxieties to differentiate our courses from competitor offerings:
Then, we reiterated the top three benefits uncovered in the survey responses, rounding them out with additional copy that included some of the most heavily used words by customers.
3. Changed the CTA to send visitors to a more logical place in the funnel
Instead of sending visitors straight to the Plans and Pricing page, we directed them to the Curriculum page, where they could get a better idea of what was included in the courses.
A big source of friction for visitors was uncertainty about whether joining LVS would fit their needs.
4. Wrapped it all up with a video
One of the biggest selling points is the founder of LVS and teacher of all the video courses, Bob Tabor. A recent customer survey showed that people were drawn to Bob’s style and personality. So, our aim was for visitors to see him as soon as people landed on the homepage.
Since video can be highly persuasive, we had Bob talk about what potential students would get from the courses while addressing the biggest concerns found in our research.
Results, questions, and (eventually) more tests
Our variation outperformed the original on the main above-the-fold CTA button by 66.3%. Significantly more people chose to check out the Curriculum page over the Plans and Pricing page.
In fact, we saw an overall rise in visits to the Curriculum page without the CTA traffic factored in—even if visitors chose not to click on the main button, they were still more likely to visit that page.
No surprise, visits to the Plans and Pricing Page were down by 14.6% on the variation. But something interesting happened.
While fewer people made it to the Plans and Pricing page, more people—though not a statistically significant number—signed up for the yearly membership plan. (The lifetime plan remained flat.)
What does all this mean?
Our changes based on voice-of-customer research proved that visitors wanted more information before becoming a paying customer. By increasing engagement with more motivated visitors and getting them on the right path, we saw positive movement where it counted (even without optimizing the rest of the sales funnel).
By diligently going through our voice-of-customer research—in tandem with the data—we developed and tested a hypothesis about what buyers needed to make a buying decision. Now we have a better idea about how to optimize the rest of that journey.
Start communicating with your customers and gathering your own voice of customer research. Sure, it takes some work, but the potential payoff is big.
You might just find that once you know what your customers want, when they want it, and the form they want it in, the copy will write itself.