Remember Your Internal Voice

Use the voice of the customer matrix within the organization

by Thomas Spagnolatti

Ever since the development of the Kano theory and model in the 1980s, the focus on the voice of the customer (VOC) has significantly increased. External client needs are now a large force behind process improvements and changes, but internal client needs still don’t receive the attention they deserve. The voice of the internal customer often remains unheeded.

We are so absorbed by daily activities and issues that we forget everyone in the organization is either a customer or supplier to someone else in the organization. As such, we have needs and our colleagues have expectations, which can sometimes lead to frustration.

The right strategy

Many are familiar with the ancient Latin saying, divide et impera, or divide and conquer. In this case, the right strategy is just the opposite. Organizations must work together to define strengths and opportunities.

To find these areas, perform an internal VOC analysis. Typically, improvement activities are limited because they focus on a single customer and supplier relationship or, in the best case, a few customers but only one supplier—typically the area where the improvement project is taking place. However, as noted earlier, everyone in the organization is a customer or supplier.

A tool that can help your organization ensure everyone’s needs are being considered is the VOC matrix (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

The VOC matrix contains all the inputs that every functional area needs to carry out its tasks. These needs can be information, data, documents, products or services. Even if the client defines the needs, a positive discussion within the organization about the details of the requirements can bring an improved awareness for all the involved parties—regarding supplier constraints and the actual VOC.

For example, production must plan its activities to highlight potential bottlenecks. To do so, production must have a complete bill of materials (BOM) from engineering as soon as possible. Before engineering can provide a complete BOM, however, all of its documents must be approved by the final customer.

During the discussion to complete the VOC matrix, however, it turned out that what production truly needs is not the complete BOM, but the list of the components needed to plan its activities. With this revelation, engineering is able to provide a preliminary BOM before receiving approval from the final customer.


The output of the VOC matrix also can be used to perform further analysis. Depending on the required level of detail, the needs listed in the matrix can have associated priorities, targets and metrics.

If required, the difference between the request from the customer and the supplier’s ability to meet the demand can calculate the organization’s process capability.

The rows and the columns of the matrix also can be used to develop a process map, or a value stream map, to highlight the process inputs and outputs related to the various suppliers and customers (See Online Figure 1 on this column’s webpage at www.qualityprogress.com).

Online Figure 1

Considering that everyone—employees and customers—are gears in a complex system, we can say that the customer is right only when he or she provides the right requests. The role of the supplier also is to help the client understand his or her actual needs.

Thomas Spagnolatti is an engineering supervisor at Cameron in Calico, Italy. Spagnolatti has his associate degree in industrial engineering from the Istituto Tecnico Indsutriale Statele "E. Mattei" Sondrio in Italy. An ASQ member, Spagnolatti is an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Black Belt.

Excellent summary of VOC
--Gilles Belanger, 08-04-2016

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