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Quality Improvement â€" Voice of the Customer (VoC)

VoC Defined

Let’s face it, in today’s overly competitive business climate customers that turn into clients are the holy grail of your company’s long term success. One way to achieve long term success and gain greater market share is to capture and effectively utilize voice of the customer (VoC) data.  And that is simply knowing the tools and techniques to find out how your customers view your products and services and what is most important to themâ€"their expectations.  What separate “superior” performing business from “mediocre” competitors are ongoing activities that define and drive business planning. Mannix Associates believes that companies must markedly perfect how they seek out customer needs, translate these needs into action and design, and communicate these needs throughout the company.

Uncovering Customer Expectations

Fortunately customers are vocal about what they want and don’t want. There are several reasons why you might want to develop or enhance your VoC activities, and it makes most sense to start with specific goals in mind that can be measured. In some companies customer satisfaction might be a problem, whereas in others they might be looking to innovate and evolve.  Defining VoC to improve customer satisfaction is a matter of determining and analyzing information that your customers are telling you and changing your products, services, or activities accordingly.

Customer satisfaction depends on how well you and your employees understand and meet customer need.  Generally, customer need is broken down into two types; output needs and service needs. Output needs are linked to the “usability” or “effectiveness” of the final product or service as experienced by the customer. Service needs on the other hand are tougher to define and tend to be more subjective and situation-sensitive. These needs are linked to how the customer should be treated and served during the buying process.

Another dimension to determining customer need is to categorize and prioritize your company’s performance and its impact on customer satisfaction. This activity will help you anticipate how customer expectations change over timeâ€"giving you the opportunity to meet customer need and remain competitive. Customer needs are grouped into three categories:

1.    “Essentials”â€"Customer needs that your company must “get right” in order to make the sale or keep them coming back are factors, features, or performance standards that customers absolutely expected to be met.

2.    “Satisfiers”â€"Cost is the most prevalent satisfier; in most cases, the lower the cost the happier the customer.

3.    “Delighter”â€"These are features or factors that go beyond what customers expect, or target needs competitors don’t address.

Leveraging VoC

There are a number of touch points within your company where you interact with customers; each touch point is an opportunity to collect valued information about your customer. Examples within your company may include actual sales transaction, customer service contact and warranty services.  There are two types of VoC valued information; reactive data and proactive data. Reactive data can be found as customer complaints, feedback, product returns or hotline data. This data is usually negative and difficult to hear but can be an important source of improvement opportunities. The other typeâ€"proactive data can be collected from traditional sources such as focus groups, market research, social media. This data can also identify important improvement opportunities. The key is to balance customer behavior versus what they say. Ultimately, your method of collection will depend on your customers, market, resources, and the type data you need.

 Best Practices of a Closed Loop VoC Program

To stay ahead of the pack, your company should have a feedback program that promotes learning, improves business operation, and drive customer satisfaction. Best practices should not be considered cookie cutter but a starting point detailing activities that have been proven successful:

#1: Listen to Customer Feedback

Your VoC programs are only as good as customer information that drives them. Your customers will provide feedback even when you haven’t asked for it. Interactions such as emails, service calls and web chats can offer richer insight into customer experience with your product or service.

#2: Interpreting Customer Feedback

With deep understanding of customer needs you are positioned to identify root problems and gain valuable insight toward potential improvement opportunities. Using customer comments to illustrate trends and infusing them throughout your company can help employees understand customers in compelling ways. 

#3: Reacting to Customer Insights

In order to realize business value, information gleaned from VoC programs need to guide business from insight to action. VoC insight can be used to design training intervention addressing issues most cited by customers and helps improve relationship with individual customer. Along with training implication VoC should also influence your strategic planning process. A strategic decision like outsource plans have implications for customers, their needs must be taken into consideration.

#4: Reviewing Data Over Time

To keep your VoC programs relevant and on track, your company needs to review and monitor internal operations and external results of business activities. Monitoring ongoing activities and outcomes is essential for closed-loop VoC programs. In addition, the company’s performance should be based on features that matter most for each customer segment. This provides a realistic image of your company’s performance and helps prioritized requirements for the highest-value customer.

#5: Building Culture and Support Around Customer Insight.

Like other large scale initiatives management’s visible support of VoC programs is essential to lessening employee resistance and reinforces the value of customer experience as strategy for improving business operations. Along with strong support from the top, tying customer loyalty and retention to individual performance measures underscores the need for change in culture and nudges employees in the right direction.

Your VoC programs must become a constant priority and focus. Companies that fail to understand customer need will prematurely force themselves out of the marketplace.




This Business article was written by Ursula Mannix on 2/15/2011

Ursula Mannix is a Quality Improvement Learning and Performance consultant.To learn how we can assist your organization reach its strategic goals. Please visit or website,.