Do you hear voices? We do.

Although Voice of the Customer (VoC) is a concept that’s been around for nearly 30 years, it amazes me how few companies do a decent job of it. For those unfamiliar, Voice of the Customer (VoC) is a rigorous process for capturing customer’s expectations, preferences, and aversions. There are a number of good books on VoC so we will focus more on what we do at Revolution to keep our finger on the pulse of our customers and the market place.

In the most general sense, VoC is nothing more than research. And there are two main types of research – primary and secondary. Primary research is defined as a methodology used by researchers to collect data directly, rather than depending on data collected from previously done research. Where secondary research involves the summary, collation and/or synthesis of existing research. I suggest you start by evaluating the available secondary research to educate yourself and your team. Google is your best friend here. Then decide what type of primary research you want to conduct.

Before we jump into the VoC process, I would like to discuss three major missteps companies make that you should avoid. First, many companies fully develop new services and then look for the market. I call this the “build it and they will come” approach. This is like trying to add quality into a product after it comes off the assembly line…it’s too late. Before you even develop a new service or a change to an existing service, spend time understanding the “true” underlying needs and potential market dynamics. This investment will pay off ten-fold. In fact, you might decide it’s not worth pursuing.

Second, many companies approach VoC in a robotic way, where the process is overly formalized for every case. VoC is very flexible and can be scaled based on the size and scope of the opportunity. For example, if you are making a minor change to a product or service, VoC can be completed in a week or two. If you are developing a completely new product or service for an industry where you have no experience, this could take weeks to months to do right.

Finally, many companies go it alone rather than employing an outside expert, introducing all types of biases and assumptions along the way that corrupt the findings. If you are unfamiliar with VoC, I suggest hiring a consultant to help guide you through the process until you develop your own internal capabilities. If you don’t have the budget, assign someone to quickly become an expert on the subject…it’s not rocket science.

The first step of the VoC process is to define the universe of stakeholders related to the opportunity. This is usually an existing customer or a potential customer. That said, the customers might cut across demographic, socioeconomic, psychographic, and geographic lines. I like using a Venn Diagram to help understand the differences and similarities.

Once you’ve defined your stakeholder groups, you should try to explain what you are trying to accomplish in the simplest terms possible. For example, are you trying to generate new demand for an existing product or are you trying to motivate existing customers to try a new product. This objective is going to be the foundation of the research you conduct.

Now that you have your goals outlined, it’s time to develop a working hypothesis that you can test with your research. I follow a simple 3-stage process for hypothesis development. First, define the current situation. How does your target market currently act? What’s the complication preventing them from trying your new product/service? Finally, what are you going to do to resolve their complication and get them to trial your service? In each of the three list the supporting facts and assumptions. You will be poking holes in this hypothesis throughout your research. As assumptions become “true” or “false” you adjust your hypothesis accordingly.

With your working hypothesis in hand you put together a research plan to test it (remember this is an iterative process). You may decide to do this yourself or retain an expert. There are numerous ways to engage your target market (you may use one or all of them), but here are the major ones, with pros and cons for each.

Surveys – This is the most common and usually the cheapest way to gather data. Usually conducted online and sometimes via phone, you are asking a few questions to a lot of people. I like to use surveys at the very beginning of the research to get some broad stroke results to challenge the hypothesis quickly and cheaply. Too many times companies try to answer too many questions in a survey because it’s easy. You really shouldn’t ask more than 10 questions, preferably 5 questions. If the survey takes less than 2 minutes you have a much higher likelihood of getting people to complete them. Customer satisfaction surveys are the most common survey. Often conducted quarterly, it’s a way to ensure you understand how satisfied your customers are with your service compared to expectations. Of all the questions, the one you must include is one that supports the Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS is a way to understand how far your customer will go to support you. The question goes something like this, “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to refer (your company, products, or service) to a friend or colleague? NPS is very simple and valuable, so you should always include that question in your CSAT surveys.

In-depth interviews – IDI’s are perfect to dig in deeper on specific issues and opportunities. It’s basically a list of questions you go thru with an individual. IDI’s are good to conduct when you want to better understand certain information from the surveys that might be unclear. IDI’s are best conducted in-person so you can see the body language of the participant during the questioning. Most IDI’s last no more than one hour in duration.

Intercepts – Sometimes referred to as Street or Store Intercepts, they are the perfect tool for when you want to capture a consumer’s thoughts during the buying decision of your offering. Essentially, you have a researcher “intercept” them while shopping. You often see these researchers in shopping malls with a clipboard and pen. The advantage of intercepts is that you get the feedback from the participant while they are on the buyer’s journey, or “in the act” so to speak.

Focus Groups – A focus group is a demographically diverse group of people assembled to participate in a guided discussion about a particular product/service before it is launched, or to provide ongoing feedback on an existing product or service. A typical focus group consists of 7 to 10 people that are guided through a collaborative discussion by an experienced moderator. They are typically conducted off-site in a conference room with the session being recorded for future use. They can last anywhere from 1 to 3 hours depending on the complexity of the topic. Individuals are usually paid anywhere form $100 to $1,000 to participate. Focus groups can be a highly effective means of getting true insights into the hypothesis. That said, the value of the results depend directly on the experience of the moderator and the quality of the moderator’s guide.

Beta Testing – Although the concept of beta-testing came out of the software industry, it can apply to any product or service. In short, a beta test is the second phase of product testing in which a sampling of the intended audience tries the product out. Beta testing is also sometimes referred to as user acceptance testing (UAT) or end user testing. Find a small group of trusted, leading-edge users that value innovation and let them “kick the tires” on your product offering. This helps your team “work out the kinks” in your offering and provides feedback before you go to market. You might also consider a “soft launch” of your offering before you go wide and deep with your marketing efforts.

Summary

In conclusion, although the Voice of the Customer process can be intimidating, it’s worth investing time to do it right. Although marketing usually owns the process, it’s extremely important to have executive oversight. I highly recommend bringing in an expert to get you going in the right direction. Once you have the foundation, it becomes second nature and VoC becomes engrained in the organization. I also recommend you include some of the outputs as key performance indicators (KPI’s) in the monthly executive dashboards. It’s that important. Time to get your finger on the pulse of your existing and potential markets. Remember, most markets are fast moving. The payoff of implementing VoC best practices are substantial and will ensure you don’t get blindsided by the competition. Do you hear voices?

  • James Adams
  • CEO and Co-Founder
  • Revolution Trucking, LLC
  • james@revolutiontrucking.com
  • (330) 975-4145

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