Voice of the Customer

For those of you who don’t know, @cindyfsolomon and Adrienne run a weekly Product Management Twitter Talk. We invite notable Product Management professionals to lead and join discussions that hopefully enlighten and delight.

This is a summary of the 7th Product Management Twitter Talk held on 29 March 2011 (Sydney date).

This week’s topic on Voice of the Customer was led by Jose Briones, an entrepreneur, an innovator and a prolific speaker.

Jose guided the group’s discussion with ease kicking off the chat with this question “What do you believe are the most typical failures of voice of the customer efforts?”

  • macmyday: Failure to understand customers,wants and needs.
  • roadmapwarrior: Main failure I’ve seen is *assumptions* about customer’s voice.
  • nickcoster: Not asking the right questions. Ask about questions to find needs and problems, not “do you like this feature?”
  • stacymonarko: Not listening to a representative of your actual customer base & being lead astray by a single customer.
    Only asking the customer for their thoughts when there is no time to make change e.g. during a beta period
  • Brainmates: Most typical failure is thinking that small number of customers represents voice of customer.
  • gander2112: Cheating on the process (too few customers, too abbreviated effort). Asking too many leading questions. Not asking why often enough. Jumping to solutions instead of listening.
    Don’t let a sales person turn it into a sales call. Sometimes you need sales to set it up, but you need to control them in the room.
    Not having a defined discussion guide. know what you want up front.
  • Vivisimo_Inc: Thinking that Voice of the Customer program is the answer to improving customer experience when it’s only a component. Not capturing needs of customer from every touch point & forgetting/ignoring insight already in CRM, ERM, support notes.
  • VFigatelix: Disconnection between how good the company think the idea is vs. how good it really is.
    How to overcome and validate product idea with front line people
  • piplzchoice: Interpreting Voice of the Customer through the filters of organizational orthodoxy.

On to question 2; “Do you use different voice of the customer approaches and if so, what are they?”

  • gander2112: I prefer the in the flesh with a team visit, but use survey, phone calls, direct email. VOC should be multiple rounds, pre-development, during development and pre-launch – as a Product Manager, you should always engage with Voice of the Customer. Best results (and most $$$) is big team, MacQuarrie-esc sessions.
  • pjmasi: Voice of the Customer approach – job shadowing. Always easy to include on an agenda, even a sales trip. I offer demo, they give me job shadow.
  • Macmyday: First need to track health of customer relationships over time. Monitor every customer interaction. Use all opportunities to hear what customers are saying. Projects that affect customer should incorporate insights about the customer. All employees should spend significant amount of time interacting directly
    with customers
  • Vivisimo_Inc: Organisations need software programs to capture and share details at all interaction points across the enterprise.
  • VFigatelix: Including Voice of the Customer validation in every development stage needs to be timely! (B4 development occurs) – Its quite a challenge.

Question 3; “How do you decide when to use each approach?”

  • stacymonarko: Beta programs, user groups, customer interviews, user studies that align with the development
    process (story mapping, surveys, etc)
  • VFigatelix: For massive consumer product, I will use hard data + observation + focus ..If we have the money! Usually money and time define the type of tools we can use. #1 talk and observe (is cheaper) then the rest.
    Observation leads to creativity, new ideas. Talking gives you several points of view.
  • gander2112: More interview for early, more survey/direct for later (near release). Costs a lot to do early rounds though.
    Whenever I am in front of the customer, I am validating and gathering data. It is in my genes.
  • Vivisimo_Inc: Voice of the Customer will change by organisation. E.g fast food restaurant is different to a large software company ? We should align with organisation goals/strategy.
  • Macmyday: Relationship tracking & monitoring interaction is done continuously. Customer Listening Programs happen throughout year.

Question 4; “Do you relate the type of voice of the customer to project portfolio management?

  • Brioneja: I believe that the type of Voice of Customer approach you use predetermines the type of innovation that you will produce. If you are working on incremental innovation vs. disruptive innovation, a different Voce of Customer approach is needed. Thus if your objective is incremental changes, direct questions are needed. For more radical changes more open ended questions are needed. It is important to define the type of project and use the right Voice of Customer approach.
  • gander2112: I think it is relative to the type of project. Iterate existing product, can do quick and dirty. BHAG and new, want more structure.
    NOT doing a Voice of Customere right way will cost MORE cash and opportunity cost in the long term.

Question 5; “How do you select the customers/prospects in your voice of the customer efforts?

  • stacymonarko: Identify current & future target markets. Outline qualities that you think encompass those markets.
  • gander2112: In an established business, you had better know enough key customer information to start
  • VFigatelix: Loyal customers are always good for starters but my favorites are the ones that dislike my product.
    Also if its a new market “good old” buy from the local market researcher helps to build a solid start.

Question 6; “Do you explore customers all along the value chain?

  • gander2112: At all levels. Always ask for contacts at your customers’ customers. Many customers are unaware of their downstream customer needs. Educate them, and you have a customer for life.
  • Vivisimo_Inc: You need to always maintain your core set of customer but then you need to always strive to meet the unmet need of your customer.
  • stacymonarko: Depends on portfolio and how many customer you have and if you are actively marketing to each piece of the customer value chain.
  • VFigatelix: Exploring relationships with vendors and others on value chain helps they are good source of information.

Final question; “How would you summarize the main issues to keep in mind when starting a voice of the customer effort?

  • gander2112: Don’t waste your customer’s time. Make it count to them, and to you. Don’t discount info that conflicts with your beliefs. Use the right vehicle (don’t force the technology/mechanism).
    Don’t take negative feedback personally. It might save you from a disaster!
  • Vivisimo_Inc: Must be a part of you everyday customer interactions and capture every touch point across the organisation.
  • Brainmates: Build a Voice of Customer strategy & process into organisation otherwise it will become
    voice of 1 customer.
  • VFigatelix: Ask Everybody! the ones you like and dislike and value chain too! And be prepared to hear things you dont like and be quick to change your product course.
  • Macmyday: Talk about need and incentives, inform about importance and keep customer informed throughout.

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