Tactical Methods for Collecting Voice of the Customer Data
What is Voice of the Customer?
Voice of the Customer (VOC) is the identification of true customer needs and requirements. Organizations that align offerings directly to these needs are able to achieve best-in-class products and services. Six Sigma deployment aligned to VOC enables companies to constantly improve overall competitive value proposition, increase market share and improve profitability.
Where to Collect Voice of the Customer Data?
Within each organization’s product and service lifecycle, there are a number of touch points where the company interacts with its customers. Each touch point is an opportunity to collect data from customers and to influence customer behavior. Several touch point examples within an organization may include customer product/service inquiry, customer visits to sales channels, the actual sales transaction, customer service contact, and warranty services.
Voice of the Customer Data Types
There are two basic types of VOC data. The first is called reactive data and can be found as customer complaints, compliments, feedback, hotline data, product returns and/or warranty claims. Perhaps to no surprise, this data is usually negative and however difficult to hear, it typically represents significant improvement opportunities. For example, it is likely that a customer complaint occurs after the person experiences a product or service dissatisfier multiple times. Other dissatisfied customers may not announce a complaint and just immediately switch to a competitor.
The second data type is called proactive data and can be collected from customer interviews, surveys, focus groups, observations and/or test customers. This data type can also identify important improvement opportunities.
As noted above, VOC data is usually collected either through frequency and expense data from reports (e.g., warranty claims, number of complaints, etc.) or from actual customer interactions (e.g., customer interviews, focus groups, etc.).
It’s important when designing the customer data collection method that the organization asks customers the right questions, in the appropriate way, and in a form that the organization will be able to understand and take positive action from the answers. It’s helpful for the organization to clearly identify what it wants to know, what specific types of customers it wants the data from, and lastly, how the information will be used.
Though these steps may seem obvious, many attempts at gathering useful VOC data within various organizations have failed by not following these steps during the data collection design phase. Data collection failure can be measured as lost time, lost expense and ultimately as lost customers.
How to Collect Proactive Voice of the Customer Data
A very traditional VOC data collection method is the customer interview. This technique is used to provide a specific customer point-of-view regarding product or service issues, attributes and performance measures. It can be performed by the organization directly to one customer or to a group of customers, such as within a single customer segment. The method can be executed in person, on the phone or through the mail.
Interviews performed in-person can have the highest cost of the three interview forms; however, they also have the best completion rate and are the most likely deployment vehicle capable of building trusting customer relationships, since customers perceive this type of interaction as more personable.
A second traditional VOC data collection method is the customer survey. This data collection technique is used to measure the performance of a product, service or attribute across an entire customer segment or group of segments. Surveys are typically completed by customers via an online form, a phone call, or as a hard copy and mailed to the company.
It is recommended to have a minimum of 100 answered questions per data subgroup to minimize the margin of error. For example, if two different customer segment subgroups are planned to be analyzed within the data, say from age 18 to 25 and the other from age 35 to 45, then each subgroup will need 100 answered questions.
When developing the survey, it’s important to determine the measurement scale for answers, test the individual questions against the survey objectives, and validate the questions through a pilot before launching it. These steps will significantly improve the data collection success.
A third traditional VOC data collection method commonly used is focus groups. This is where a group of 8 to 12 potential customers within the demographic groups that the company wants to target meet in a room together and are asked to share their perceptions, beliefs and opinions about a product or service. Typically the group participants are free to openly talk with one another.
This data collection method is used to gain insights into the customers’ prioritization of needs and/or to test concepts and get feedback. Focus groups are sometimes used in addition to interviews and surveys as the last step to further investigate and understand the Voice of the Customer for each of the company’s touch points.
Some advanced forms of VOC data collection include benchmarking industry market leaders; investigating large competitors’ offerings; visiting customers in their homes and businesses to listen to their issues and concerns; and employing a team of mystery shoppers to covertly identify and record any issues they may experience within each touch point. Using a Kano Analysis will also help identify customer dissatisfiers, satisfiers and delighters.
Another powerful advanced VOC data collection method is using a Key Buying Factor Analysis. This is a graphical display in the form of a hybrid Pareto and line chart that helps identify the Voice of the Customer needs, the priority of these needs and how the company and its top competitors rate against one another within each need from the perspective of high-value customers.
Six Sigma deployment aligned to Voice of the Customer enables companies to constantly improve overall competitive value proposition, increase market share and improve profitability. To ensure that the Voice of the Customer is aligned within an organization’s Six Sigma deployment, it’s important to have top-down strategic support and a VOC company culture. Please see the Strategic Importance of Aligning Six Sigma Deployment with Voice of the Customer article for more details regarding strategic VOC deployment. Additionally, it’s important to use traditional and advanced VOC data collection methods within each of the organization’s touch points to maximize customer value.