Voice of the Customer, or VOC, is a process for systematically listening to the perceptions, needs, wishes, expectations, and fears of your customer or end-user. We do it to ensure that the new products, processes or services we are developing will truly reflect what they want and need.
This means we’ll be able to expect people will want what we produce, and so buy and use it.
When you listen to the Voice of the Customer, you learn what the market demands are, and can develop new products to meet them.
Why Listen to the Voice of the Customer?
The alternative to listening to the Voice of the Customer is ignoring it. And that means creating what you ‘think’ they want and need.
What if it doesn’t meet their needs, or they don’t want it? All of your development time and costs will be wasted.
It takes a brave soul (Steve Jobs was a good example) to do this and create new products that no one is yet asking for. Indeed, even Jobs’ arguably biggest innovations, the iPod and iPhone, were evolutions of existing products that customers found unsatisfactory.
What is the Voice of the Customer?
Voice of the Customer is the starting point of both the New Product Development (NPD) process, and the product upgrade cycle. It’s the combination of everything your customers have to say. They communicate with you directly, but you can also eavesdrop on their social media conversations too.
Voice of the Customer comments on both their:
- gripes, frustrations, and problems with your and your competitors’ products, and
- wants, needs, and hopes for new products or functionality
Definition of Voice of the Customer
Perhaps a formal definition of Voice of the Customer would be:
‘Actual customer descriptions, in their own words, for the functions and features they desire for the goods and services they need.’
Channels for Listening to the Voices of your Customers
We can cluster the ways of hearing your customers into four categories. These are created by considering whether:
- You are proactive or reactive in gathering the information.
Do you commission conversations with your customers (active VOC) or do you listen in on existing information they put out there (Passive VOC)?
- The information is quantitative or qualitative
Is it made of facts and data, or opinion and anecdote?
This gives us a 2 x 2 grid, as we illustrate below.
How to Listen to the Voices of Your Customers
The basic approach has five steps
- Establish Your Programme
Define the information you need and the channels that you will use. Think about the customers that matter most – they may not all be your customers at the moment. For active listening, determine when would be best to seek out their insights.
- Plan Your Programme
What infrastructure do you need to build? Who will be part of your program? What are the time scales? Put together a detailed plan to follow, which you can integrate into your NPD programme.
- Implement Your Plan
Listen hard through all of the channels you have selected. Actively involve customer-facing staff, such as salespeople, customer service and complaints teams, and maintenance and support staff.
- Analyse what You Learn
Build a picture of the different messages you are getting from your customers. Look for
- Common themes that suggest big demand and pressing concerns
- Interesting insights that could lead to radical ideas
- Feed Your New Knowledge into Your NPD Programme
There’s no point in listening if you ignore what you hear. Use the insights to craft your New Product Development programme and product upgrade pathways.
What if You Implement a Successful Voice of the Customer Programme
Offer your customers or users something they want, and they will buy and use it.
Offer them what you think they want, and you run the risk of expensive product development leading to a white elephant.
What is Your experience of Voice of the Customer?
We’d love to hear your experiences, ideas, and questions. Please leave them in the comments below.