Getting the Voice of the Customer (VOC) tells you if you’re on the right track in your product or process improvement project.
If you want to know that you’re on the right track when you’re leading a process or product improvement project, how can you be sure you’re addressing the right concerns?
Your team knows there are opportunities to improve, but you don’t want to waste time on the wrong things.
How can you know that you won’t get to the end of your project and find that you’ve missed the mark?
One way to do this is to find out from your users.
“But how can I do that?” you ask.
Simple. By asking them.
This is called getting the Voice of the Customer (VOC).
And there are various ways to do it.
What is Voice of the Customer
Voice of the Customer is information that represents the wants and needs of your users or customers.
Gathering this information directly from them, and then translating it into requirements can guide how you develop or deliver your product or service.
Your customers can be both internal and external to your organization. For example, if you develop software that your peers use, then your customer is internal.
If you develop a product that is distributed to the public, then your customer is likely external.
You can gather this information proactively or reactively.
- Proactive data gathering involves you going to your customers to gather data.
- Reactive data gathering happens when your customer sends you data. This can be when they call to complain your product isn’t working as desired, or a user submits a help ticket.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”One of the best sources to find out what’s important to your customer is directly from your customer. Voice of the Customer is a powerful tool for getting that information – for more successful projects and less rework.” quote=”One of the best sources to find out what’s important to your customer is directly from your customer. Voice of the Customer is a powerful tool for getting that information – for more successful projects and less rework.”]
Why Get the Voice of the Customer (VOC)?
There are several reasons why getting the voice of the customer can be so valuable:
1. To find out find out what your customers want.
To meet customer needs, you first must know what’s important to them.
And to best do that, find out from them directly.
This is important even if your customers are internal to your organization.
When your customer tells you what she expects from the product, you’re not just guessing. This allows you to better satisfy that need and have happy customers and users.
2. Avoid potential rework and sunk time.
If you’re product or service doesn’t deliver the quality or performance needed and expected, you’ll have rework and sunk time.
This not only costs the team in time to do the rework. Doing rework prevents the team from working on other valuable products or services.
3. The customer wants to feel like they’ve been heard.
Depending on the culture of your workplace, if your customers are internal, they can get frustrated if the processes and tools are modified with little or no consideration for the user.
4. Getting buy-in.
Carrying out Voice of the Customer activities has the added value of getting engagement and buy-in from users when they participate in these activities.
5. Change management.
When you’re rolling out a change in the way your users operate, having input from them can go a long way. When you can honestly say to the customer that you got input from them and have made changes with that feedback in mind, it can go a long way toward goodwill and trust.
Now that you know why it’s important, let’s talk about how to do it.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”There are multiple ways to get the Voice of the Customer. Pick the one that works best for your situation. Or use more than one!” quote=”There are multiple ways to get the Voice of the Customer. Pick the one that works best for your situation. Or use more than one!”]
How to Get the Voice of the Customer
There are various ways to gather information to represent the Voice of the Customer. It’s important to understand the pros and cons of each to choose the method that works best for your situation.
And you can use more than one Voice of the Customer data gathering method to ensure you’re getting the best customer input.
The following proactive information gathering sessions can provide you with valuable information to reflect the Voice of the Customer for your project.
A survey is a set of questions sent to a target set of customers. The survey should be designed to ask questions that allow customers to provide information about their use of or perception of the process, service, or product.
You can ask survey questions about any part of a product or process. However, it’s best to keep surveys as short as possible. Otherwise, potential participants might be put off by lengthy surveys.
· Make sure you know what information you intend to gather from the survey
· Craft questions targeted to that information.
· Don’t include questions that don’t relate to what you want to know.
· Don’t make the survey too long or difficult to complete.
· Provide the survey soon after the experience of using the service or product.
- Easy to distribute
- Don’t always provide the most reliable data if you need great detail.
- Many people ignore them.
- Not able to ask follow-up questions to get more specific information.
Focus groups are a type of meeting in which you bring a target group of individuals together for the purpose of gathering data. The aim is to get customer input on your process, product, or service.
You can get information on their perception, opinion and how they use the product. You can ask questions and have a more free-flow exchange than is possible with a survey.
The focus group usually lasts no more than two hours.
- The ideal size of your group is between 6-10 participants. A larger group makes it difficult to have the discussions needed to gather the desired information.
- Identify the correct group of customer representatives. For in-house users (users who are internal to the company) identify which users can give you the best feedback. For external customers, use a list of customer contacts.
- Have a clear idea of the type of information you need.
- Have a skilled facilitator who can effectively lead the session.
- Make sure the participants know in advance what’s expected of them during the session and they’re well prepared for the session.
- Have a way to record the information that’s shared during the session.
- You can gather detailed information than possible with a survey since you can ask follow-up questions for clarification
- More efficient than only one-on-one interviews since you can gather information from multiple people in the same session.
- Labor intensive
The interview is usually a one-on-one interaction between the improvement or development team and the customer. It’s an opportunity to ask direct questions about the process, product, or service and get very detailed information from the customer.
This can be either one-on-one or more but is smaller than a focus group.
You can have a set list of questions or come in with an idea of what you want to ask, but less structured than a list of pre-written questions.
You can ask both open-ended and closed-ended questions, but the goal is to gather information specific to the situation you want to impact.
Ask questions targeted to get detailed information from the customer/user. The following questions can elicit valuable answers:
· Tell me about the challenges you have with…
· Tell me about what you find helpful…
· What changes would you find helpful with…
· If you could change anything about XX, what would it be?
At any point during the interview process, if the answers are vague, you can say to the participant “tell me more about that” to elicit more detail. (Parent tip: this works great with your kids, too.)
- You can gather detailed information and ask follow-up questions for clarification and elaboration.
- You can develop a relationship with the interviewee and leverage that for future discussions or further collaboration.
- Labor intensive
By observing your customer use your product, you may observe something the customer doesn’t think to tell you.
The study “Benefits to Observational Research” points out that you can use observation “to capture what our customers are really doing, rather than just claiming to do, and as a tool to validate our existing research findings.”
Also, it may seem obvious to her that she uses the product in a way that wasn’t intended but didn’t occur to the development team.
If you choose this technique, consider if you want your customer to know you’re observing.
If not, you’ll need to structure the observation to do so covertly. You can go to or set up an environment where they don’t know you’re watching. If you can’t do this, you could give participants a decoy task they’ll think is the primary task to be observed.
If obvious observation isn’t an issue, watching how a user interacts with your software, for example, can give you great insight.
Don’t influence the interaction.
Document the details of what you see.
Sometimes this can be done with tools designed for this very task. If you’re observing how customers move about a physical or digital location, you can track this with various methods, such as heat maps or geo trackers.
Record what you see in the context of larger behaviors or situations. Context can be important.
- Avoids discrepancy between what a customer says she does and what she actually does.
- You can get information in situations where surveys may not be possible.
- People will change their behavior when they think they’re being observed (Hawthorne Effect).
- You can see what people are doing, but not the reasons for the actions.
Important considerations in Conducting Voice of the Customer Activities
- Be sure you’re targeting the correct audience. Take time to identify the right participants to get the most from the experience. The SIPOC can help you identify customers you might otherwise overlook. This article explains how to create a SIPOC Model)
- Don’t omit important customers.
Include representation from key customers when completing your Voice of the Customer sessions. If you have a broad user base, and you only target one segment, you may be missing important information that has a big impact on how well your product can be used. The SIPOC can help you identify outputs and customers for your product so you can ensure you’re covering everything/everyone.
- Don’t limit yourself to only one type of customer if it’s valuable or appropriate to gather data from various perspectives. You may have more than one customer group that can give you valuable information.
- Take time to carefully craft the questions or approach. You want to be sure you ask the right questions to gather the date that’s helpful and valuable. Be clear on what value you want to get from the experience so you’ll ask the right questions.
- Choose the Voice of the Customer approach that can give the best information for your situation. If you need to gather more detailed information, a survey may not be the best approach.
- Plan for how you’ll process and use the information after the exercise. All the information you gather does no good if you don’t use it. That takes time also, so plan for how you’ll do this.
- Show that you’re actually doing something with the data you’ve gathered. Participants will become frustrated if you carry out VOC exercises but do nothing with the data.
- Cover details of the process/product and not just the end-state.
If not, you may get to the end and find you’ve omitted an important component.
- Make sure you clearly understand the Quality Characteristics
You may need to dig deeper when gathering information from your customers. If they say they want reliable reports, you need to know what they mean by “reliable.” This can mean different things to different people. Does this mean that the data needs to contain certain data fields, or that the data needs to be refreshed at a certain frequency?
If a customer uses unclear phrases, ask for clarification. “What does that mean to you?”
Getting the Voice of the Customer isn’t a simple task. Plan your approach for it to be most valuable.
But the time spent has multiple benefits and is worth the effort.
Work with your team to determine the best approach to take.
And once you have that valuable data, leverage it to get the best value from it.