How to collect Voice of the customer
Updated: Oct 16, 2018
Some of the most common issues when asking for customer feedback are:
Identifying relevant questions and structuring them in a way that leads to valuable outputs.
Engaging customers to provide feedback.
Interpreting the data in a meaningful way and planning next steps.
Collecting customer feedback can prove to be a difficult task regardless if you are working in sales and targeting external customers or, simply trying to understand how your work is perceived by colleagues that benefit from it.
Whether you are running a Lean transformation or you simply want to improve your business by aligning your products and services to market realities, you need to answer four simple questions to properly capture voice of the customer:
Who will I ask?
What will I ask?
How will I ask?
What will I do with the results?
1. Who will I ask?
In Diagnostic phase, the tool to be used to properly identify your customers and the outputs they are using is called SIPOC (Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customers) and can be used for an end to end process transformation that goes along multiple units or for a unit transformation that might include multiple processes managed under the same umbrella.
Regardless how you transform your organisation: process by process, unit by unit, or a combination of the two, you will always encounter two types of customers:
A. External customers who further divide into: consumers, these being your final customers for which your products and services are designed and others that will not be consuming your products but can help with their distribution or with their design.
B. Internal customers. These are employees working in other departments and using the outputs of processes in scope.
2. What will I ask?
During Diagnostic phase you should ask your customers three important questions for every dimension of interest, so that you can significantly improve how outputs are used and improvement ideas are generated:
1. What is your perception of the current situation?
2. What are your expectations? (Keep in mind that often expectations are driven by industry standards or even dictated by your own brand marketing)
3. How important is the assessed dimension?
Depending on the type of output (product or service in scope) there are multiple dimensions that could be assessed while collecting voice of the customer, such as:
Special requests handling;
and so on.
These can be used to cross-reference as follows: would the customer prefer to pay more for better quality or, is the customer willing to wait longer for a service knowing that this comes with a significant discount? Also, we can use a rating approach such as: 1 to 4 or important vs. not important in order to obtain a final prioritisation of the dimensions in scope.
3. How will I ask?
Customer feedback can be obtained by using various tools:
Complains analysis is to be used only for external customers while the other three are applicable for both. Exit surveys or exit interviews are to be used when an external customer decides to renounce a product, or close the relationship with your organisation, in order to find the reasons behind and offer a new deal or prevent other customers from doing the same.
Depending on the number of customers you want to reach some methods might be more suited than others. Online surveys and phone interviews via Call Centre will allow you to collect information from more customers and therefore give you a greater representative sample, while face to face interactions will produce more detailed information per customer but the number of reached customers (and your sample) is limited.
A good approach is to start with a customer workshop or face to face interviews in order to test your initial suppositions and after create a survey that can be rolled out to a larger number of customers.
When going for the paper or online surveys, try to keep in mind the following recommendations:
1. Explain to the customer how filling the survey is in his best interest, not yours, and what are the concrete actions that you will take based on the results.
2. Ask questions with predefined multiple choice answers. This will help with centralising the results in a meaningful way and will ease up the process for the customer and therefore it will be more likely for him, or her, to complete the survey.
3. Let the possibility for customers to fill in free text. This will lead to additional valuable insights.
4. When using a scale avoid odd numbers like 1 to 5 or equivalents such as: very poor, poor, good, very good, excellent. You want that your customers will not be able to give a neutral evaluation but actually choose from being rather satisfied or unsatisfied. So delete the “good” evaluation in the middle or use a 1 to 4 scale.
5. Keep it short. If there are more than 10 questions, most of the customers will value more their time than filling in your survey.
6. Give something in return. Customers are more likely to complete a survey if they will have the possibility to obtain something of value such as: a discounts or being part of a lottery with attractive prizes.
4 . What will I do with the results?
Voice of customer analysis can be seen as a gap analysis between what we are currently offering and what the customer expectations are.
1) We ask about perception related to current “as is” performance in order to analyse the gap between reality and customer perception about reality.
You can ask a customer as he is exiting the store how long he had to wait in line and the answer could be:
“I had to wait at least 10 minutes. This is unacceptable.”
But you measure that customer’s waiting time and you see that he waited in line for no more than 3 minutes. What is the 7 minutes gap between customer perception and reality telling you? And what is more important: reality or customer perception about reality?
2) We ask about expectations in order to analyse the gap between “as is” state and customer’s own desire about how the product or service should be in order to better fit his needs.
"We understand that you are unhappy with the ten minutes waiting time and we promise to solve this in the shortest time possible. Would you be so kind to let us know what would be acceptable from your perspective?"
“Well, I would like to wait no more than 1 minute.”
So, now you have a gap between customer expectation and his perception about reality of 9 minutes which needs to be solved and another gap of 2 minutes between expectation and measured reality. Are improvement ideas going to be different depending on what gap you try to address?
3) We ask about the relative importance of each assessed dimension in order to understand how to reach the highest impact with the resources at hand.
We can ask the customers:
"If you would have to choose between waiting in line for 3 minutes and having lower prices by 10%, what would you prefer?”
Based on the findings collected in diagnostic phase the change team and stakeholders can generate improvement ideas during Kaizen events and use the 1st customer feedback results as baseline in order to track progress once implementation phase has started and improvements are expected to impact the internal and external customers.
There is no carved in stone guideline regarding the frequency with which customer feedback should be repeated. It has to make sense from business point of view and usually a quarterly, half a year or yearly approach is good enough for most businesses to take timely measures.
This article is the 2nd from a series meant to explain to you how Lean methodology works. I hope you enjoyed it and take the time to go through my other articles about Lean and Change management.
Best of luck!