Getting the Voice of the Customer [transcript]

What is the voice of the customer? Today, we’ll list major listening and learning approaches used to gather and sort voice of the customer information, and their advantages and disadvantages. Stay tuned after this brief introduction.

Hello and welcome to Quality during Design, the place to use quality thinking to create products others love for less. My name is Dianna. I’m a senior level quality professional and engineer with over 20 years of experience in manufacturing and design. Listen-in and then join the conversation at

If there’s a gap between the voice of the customer and our internal processes, requirements or specs, that’s where our products fall short in the customers eyes. Information has gotten lost or misinterpreted from one of our development steps to the next. Before we can link customer needs to design, production, and service of our products, we need to listen to and understand the voice of the customer.

The vice president of marketing at Whirlpool is quoted as saying, “The consumer speaks in code.” Whirlpool’s customers were saying they wanted clean refrigerators. Does that mean they want refrigerators that are easy to clean, or one with a filter? Whirlpool dug a little deeper with more questions and determined that the customers we’re really saying that they wanted refrigerators that had clean design lines and a less-fuzzy exterior look, so they started offering the fingerprint-less exteriors. I’ll add a link to this article in the podcast blog and you can read about it.

There are lots of ways to gather customer information. There are six major categories and they each have pros and cons. Let’s go through each of them.

First is comment cards and formal surveys. The pros is that these are easy to use. They can measure customer satisfaction and include open-ended questions to understand what customers perceive as important. The problem is getting customers to complete them. We may have to deal with a non-response bias when we’re evaluating survey data.

Internet and social media marketing is another place that we can look for data. We can look up discussions about our products and our competitor products. The benefit is that the data is easy to obtain, but the information isn’t focused or structured. We may have a hard time pulling relevant and useful data out of this medium.

Field intelligence is that detective work. Anyone in the company can participate in field intelligence. If you hear any information from a customer or observe a customer with your product, we can capture that data as part of the voice of the customer. The benefit is that we can use current resources to help gather this information, and it could identify sources of improvement or highlight a potential problem. The challenge is that businesses need to have a method or systems to gather this data and do something with it. Ensuring the information gets captured, prioritized, and that there’s follow-up is what is key with this method.

Complaints can be a source of voice of the customer data. It helps the company understand that gap between the voice of the customer and the actual quality of the product. The downside is that not everybody that has a problem with our product is going to submit a complaint about it.

Direct customer contact is a source of information when we visit one of our customers using our product in their environment. If we’re designing power tools for homeowners, maybe we will visit them in their shop using their product and ask some questions about it. With direct customer contact, we get that first-hand information. But it could end up being a small subset of a broader customer base.

Our sixth method of capturing voice of the customer data is focus groups. That is a group of people that were interviewed to gather to answer questions about products, about our products and our competitor products. The benefits is that we can get in depth answers and information from customers. It’s the most direct voice of the customer data that we can get. But it is expensive to implement in both money and time.

Businesses usually use a combination of sources to gather the voice of the customer data. In gathering all of this information for design, an affinity diagram process may be a useful quality tool for us to use. It helps take a pool of data and identify relationships. For a new design, we could gather complaints, social media data and field intelligence from similar products, either our own alpha versions or a competitor product. We could take that data and go through an affinity diagram process to get some relationships. We could then use those relationships to help us design a focus group to get the real voice of the customer. I’ll include a link in the podcast blog about an affinity diagram process.

What is today’s insight to action? When looking for the voice of the customer, remember that we can utilize multiple methods to capture data. Taking our group through the process of making an affinity diagram can help us make sense of a mass of data. And remember that customers speak in code; we may need to create specific questions to get to the root of what a customer is really saying.

Please visit this podcast blog and others at Subscribe to the weekly newsletter to keep in touch. If you like this podcast or have a suggestion for an upcoming episode, let me know. You can find me at on Linked-In, or you could leave me a voicemail at 484-341-0238. This has been a production of Denney Enterprises. Thanks for listening!