A good understanding and description of the voice of the customer is necessary but this doesn’t mean doing exactly as the customer says.
There are many difficulties connected to properly understanding what the customer actually wants. For example, many customers express their needs by suggesting technical solutions. This doesn’t mean that just that particular solution is the best one or even that it is the one that will satisfy the customer at the end of the day. Customers also express only a portion of their needs, leaving much unsaid. Only doing what the customer says or merely following to the letter the contents of the specification is therefore no guarantee that the customer will be satisfied with the new product.
Nowadays lowering costs is not a strategy but a minimum requirement. It’s not something that even needs discussing because it always has to be done. The interesting issue instead is how to increase customer benefits. What will make the customer think that your new product is superior to your competitors’ product? What will make the customer want to pay 20% more for your product compared to your competitors’ product? What will make the customer become a loyal customer to your organisation? The answer to these questions is never only about low price.
The gathering and documentation of the true voice of the customer must be done within a systematic and reliable process if a credible final result is to be achieved. We recommend doing this by using a process made up of several subsequent interactions with the customer. The first loop in this process include visiting selected customers in the targeted segment and carrying out in-depth interviews. These interviews are based on open-ended questions where the customer is encouraged to share his/her experiences and thoughts about the present situation and future needs. The aim is to give the product team a deeper insight into both the context in which the new product is to be used and also the customer’s needs and way of thinking. It is therefore absolutely essential that these visits also include members of the product development team. In many cases these visits and interviews will unmask information that was previously unknown, even to the most experienced development engineer.
The two best means of assistance during these visits are a voice recorder and digital camera, if the customer permits their usage. If used in a methodical manner these aids can help create a priceless bank of information.
No matter which need is analysed there will be customers who believe that a particular need is the most important of all and other customers who believe the same need to be of little or no importance. The second loop of interaction with the customer is therefore focused on having him/her prioritise between different needs and benchmark how well existing offerings on the market fulfill these needs. Pinning down the needs of the customer is therefore about locating the centre of gravity, finding those needs that unite customers rather than those that divide them. It is about finding the needs around which you can create a differentiated product that will be perceived as having unrivaled customer value.
As well as spoken needs, the customer also has hidden or unspoken needs which should also be pinpointed and taken into consideration. Unspoken needs can be of two types: needs that the customer takes for granted and needs that the customer does not believe, know or understand the product can satisfy. The final conclusion is therefore that the customer must be involved in the development process but that this alone is not sufficient to guarantee that results achieved will provide a complete and proper picture of customer needs.
With a good understanding of the customer’s situation, way of thinking, history, business, spoken and unspoken need as well as how well the existing offers on the market fulfill these needs, a strategy for continued development work can be produced. This provides a clear focus in strategies or projects and gives recommendations on which areas require a concentration of resources in order to make headway. The information will form the foundation for a new offering with unrivaled customer value and you will often need to refer back to it in order to make the right decision. It will hopefully help keep the true and complete voice of the customer alive throughout your organisation or in the development projects and guide the way to a successful business.
To learn more about Voice of the customer, Ulf Bengtzelius and ValueModel will give a speech at The Value Driven Product Management conference in November, check it out!