Voice of the Customer Table (VOCT)

Quality function deployment (QFD) begins with an exploration and discovery of customer needs. A number of tools and approaches exist to help organizations focus their first and best efforts on what matters most to customers and areas where competitors’ offerings may be preferred.

The first step is to capture the voice of the customer (VOC). Common sources can include sales and technical trip reports, warranty claims, user support forums or help lines, and social media.

Among the well-known market research methods available, surveys and focus groups can be useful for validating what an organization already presumes to know about customer needs. Questionnaires can help capture new information an organization knows to exist and specifically seeks. These methods are scripted by the organization and typically address questions about a product or service.

In contrast, customer gemba visits are unique to QFD. A gemba visit involves listening to and observing customers while they are using a product or service to determine what they are doing (or failing to do). During these moments, organizations can uncover information that they did not even know existed and would not know to seek.

How to conduct a gemba visit

  1. Select which customers are most important to visit. List each segment in one row of a customer segments table, as shown in the figure below.
  2. Define the conditions of the visit. You want to be present at the most stressful time for the customer. After all, if your product or service does not help solve your customers’ most urgent needs, why would they purchase it?
  3. Capture what you learn.

Customer segments table – example for a flashlight

Who is customer? What are they doing (or failing to do)? When are they doing it? Where are they doing it? Why are they doing it? How are they doing it? What is the current solution?
Scout Camp out Night Campsite Walk to latrine Walk on unlit path Handheld flashlight
Homeowner See during power failure Night Basement See in dark, check circuit Hold in hand, set on surface Handheld flashlight

How to translate VOC into customer needs

Customers do not always explain their needs completely and accurately. In fact, often they speak about what features they want for a product or service. To be innovative, an organization needs to know why customers want certain features. Understanding customer needs at this level enables an organization to develop new solutions before its competitors can.

Voice of the customer information gathered from market research methods, gemba visits, or other means should therefore be restated into customer needs. Use a customer voice table and follow these steps to translate VOC into needs:

  1. Document each VOC statement and the situation or context in which it was made.
  2. Ask customers to try to restate their input in terms of their needs. Features, especially, should be translated into needs. It is not uncommon to derive as many as five to ten needs from one VOC statement. Unspoken needs will emerge.
  3. Have customers prioritize their needs. For accurate ratio scale priorities that can be properly used in later QFD matrices, the analytic hierarchy process (AHP) should be used.

Defining customer needs

In QFD, information that meets the following criteria can be considered to express a true customer need:

  • Defines the benefit customers receive from
    • their problems solved
    • their opportunities enabled
    • their image enhanced
  • Is positively stated
  • Focuses on a single issue
  • Is independent of specific products or services, features, and technologies

Customer voice table

Situation VOC Restated as
customer need
Scout leaving tent at night Ouch, I stubbed my toe on a tree root! I can see where I am now.
I can see around my feet.
Scout leaving tent at night Which path do I take? I can see where I want
to go.
I can see in the distance.
I can see others approaching me.
Homeowner checking circuits during power failure Flashlight should not roll after I set it down. I can see even if I’m using both my hands.

Once customers have prioritized their needs, the QFD team can work on identifying product features that will have the greatest impact. In this example, if “I can see around my feet” has the highest priority for the flashlight, then it might make sense to add a second bulb that points downward and has a focal length for a five-foot-tall scout.

By Glenn Mazur, executive director, QFD Institute. For more examples, visit http://mazur.net/publishe.htm.

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