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Voice of the Customer; Getting to the Endzone

December 14th, 2012

VOC – Getting to the Endzone

What is the fastest and surest way to success when designing a product or service?  Quite simply – Give customers what they want.  But easier said than done, right?  Which customers?  What do they want?  Which of their needs matter?  How do we answer those questions?

Let’s start by defining some basic terms.  First, user needs are characteristics or qualities that if present in a product or service result in user satisfaction. They close the gap you would have identified when you decided to produce a product or provide a service.  They are things the user wants the product or service to have in order to be satisfied.  But not all users are created equally nor will they value every need the same way.  So how do we capture their needs and stratify their relevance?

Well, while it’s not the topic for this post, to maintain a credible argument we start with segmentation.  For the greatest success, you search for the needs that are most important to the biggest segment that is growing the fastest.

Now every segment has four different types of user needs as best laid out by Kano.  The four categories depend on the way a user responds based upon either the presence or absence of the user need in the product or service.  The needs can be separated into those about which (i) the customer doesn’t care, (ii) the ones about which they care linearly, (iii) those that are must haves but for which you don’t get a lot of notice until missing and finally (iv) the latent needs whose absence isn’t noticed but whose presence delights.

It is these latent needs within the biggest and fastest growing segments for which we search primarily through observation and capturing verbal expressions.  Observation can be powerful and some argue the best method because verbal expression isn’t always understood or completely revealing.  Nonetheless, we inevitably want to speak to customers in some manner.

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So now I get to a very interesting and possibly controversial point.  I recently read a paper by Abbie Griffin and John Hauser of the University of Chicago entitled Voice of the Customer which, if I understood correctly, postulates that between focus groups and one-on-one interviews, the interviews are considerably more effective.  With a small number of interviews, you’d collect nearly the same number of customer needs than with focus groups for the same amount of man hours.   And that by the time you conducted ten individual interviews, you’d collected 90% of the customer needs you’d collect in twice as many hours devoted to focus groups.  So Griffin and Hauser conclude that on a cost and time basis, one-on-one interviews is the way to go versus focus groups to find those latent needs.

So the path to success requires three capabilities.  First, know how to segment to find the sweet spot. Second, understand the nature of needs to find the ones that illicit the strongest positive reactions.  And finally, know the best method to listen to your customers.  Still easier said than done but at least it’s a plan.  If you’d like to discuss, contact me.

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