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Learn About Quality

Voice of the Customer

Quality Glossary Definition: Voice of the customer

Engagement with customers and stakeholders is important to understand and explore their needs, which should be central to an organization’s strategy and KPIs. Quality methodologies like quality function deployment (QFD) often begin with an exploration and discovery of customer needs, and a number of tools and approaches exist to help organizations focus their efforts on what your customers think you’re doing right, what they are looking for, what matters most to customers, areas where improvements may be needed or competitors’ offerings preferred, and customer interests and behavioral patterns.

By capturing the voice of the customer (VoC), organizations can customize products and services systematically and improve their experience through targeted strategies to increase customer retention and satisfaction.

Gathering Voice of Customer Data

In order to understand the customer, the first step is to capture the VoC, which can be gathered in a number of ways, including:

  • Online customer surveys or questionnaires
  • Customer interviews
  • Social media
  • Website behavior
  • Online customer reviews
  • Customer complaints
  • Focus groups
  • Feedback forms
  • Sales and technical trip reports
  • Warranty claims
  • User support forums or help lines

Gathered VoC data can be useful for validating what an organization already presumes to know about customer needs as well as prioritizing updates needed to products, service, and internal processes in order to satisfy and delight customer requirements. VoC data is also key to forecasting customer trends to stay ahead of customer needs and gain (or retain) competitive advantage. Historically VoC data was focused on aggregate feedback, which views the customer as a single entity, but forecasting customer trends is most effective when customer insights are considered on an individual basis using customer relationship management (CRM) software. Digital transformation tools like artificial intelligence (AI) can also help by converting large amounts of text-based feedback, for example, into actionable information.

However, per the 2024 IoE Benchmarking Highlights Report’s VoC Category, only one-third (32%) of 2022-2023 respondents completely agreed that they employ big data analytics to make improvements. This means that 67% of respondents perceive that their organizations have room to enhance their capabilities in this regard, including the 13% who disagreed, which indicates a clear shortcoming.

Additionally, per the 2023 IoE Category Study on Voice of Customer and Leadership, only one-third (36%) of 2020-2022 respondents completely agreed that they actively seek customer feedback and input to assess performance against customer needs.

Building a successful VoC program requires an organization-wide commitment to gathering and utilizing customer feedback, as well as establishing strategies that have workgroups focused on “closing the loop” by resolving customer complaints or needs not being met. A culture of continuous improvement and an empowered workforce trained to manage customer expectations and customer-focused technologies is necessary to listen, analyze, and act on VoC data.

Translating 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, but not why they want those features. 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.

Gathered VoC information should therefore be restated into customer needs.

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

Voice of Customer Table

Using a voice of the customer table (VoCT) is one strategy to translate VoC into customer 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 5-10 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.

Example VoCT for Flashlight Company

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 stated needs, identifying product features that will have the greatest impact is the next step. 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.

Gemba Visits

Customer gemba visits are unique to QFD and 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. 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. For example, 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 in a customer segments table.

Example customer segments table for Flashlight Company

Who is the 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

VoC Resources

ASQE Insights on Excellence® Research

ASQE’s Insights on Excellence® published research includes key takeaways for quality professionals and organizational leadership based on a global data set across the eight categories of organizational performance excellence—Operations, Voice of the Customer, Workforce, Leadership, Strategy, Technology, Measurements & Results, Barriers & Disruptors—and the latest optional IoE category: Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) practices. Visit the IoE Research page for the collection of published research focused on real-world insights from global companies on organizational excellence and digital transformation.


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