Editor’s note: Eric Smuda is principal, CX strategy and enablement, at InMoment, a South Jordan, Utah-based computer software firm.  

As both a consumer and customer experience (CX) consultant, I see far too many voice of the customer (VOC) programs that don’t understand the difference between market research and capturing customer feedback. The truth is, they are different. One isn’t better than the other – and both are needed to inform your company’s strategic decision-making. However, they differ in purpose, design, analysis and outcomes.

While market research and VOC share similar techniques, they are different in intent, orientation and usage. 

Primary market research uses a myriad of quantitative and qualitative methods to understand customer needs, as well as to test new products, services and communications. It can also be used to let brands learn how many people might buy a new product, at what price point adoption might be optimized and other questions in that vein. Meanwhile, secondary market research is used to size markets, understand trends and unveil market dynamics.

Decisions made or strategies formed with market research studies may include:

Meanwhile, voice of the customer programs are designed to understand customer needs, wants and expectations, as well as how well a company is fulfilling those. These programs are designed to drive operations, marketing efforts and continuous improvement through both short-term and one-to-one actions. They also inform medium- and long-range changes across the customer base.

One key difference with voice of customer programs is that not all of the information gathered is solicited in the form of surveys, focus groups or interviews. There is a wealth of unsolicited feedback in call center recordings, social media feedback and website comments. A company can also infer a lot of information about customers by tracking their behavior...