Giving the customer what they need is the key to marketplace success. However, what businesses believe people want and what they really desire can often come out to be two completely different things. And a product that doesn’t live up to the audience’s expectations will not sell as well as one tailor-made to meet them. Therefore, to achieve their commercial goals companies should listen to the voice of the customer and give the people what they need.
What Is the Voice of the Customer?
Voice of the customer is a type of market research that focuses on the customer’s needs, preferences, and requirements as the foundation of product development. Companies use it to obtain the customer’s point of view on what a product should do to satisfy their demands, and leverage this information into developing solutions that will deliver the best results.
Ideally, the voice of the consumer research should be a group effort involving members of all departments in the company that has to do with product development – designers, engineers, developers, marketers, salesmen, R&D, and so on.
They should take part in selecting a viable sample for the study, help with defining the questions, join in on the conversations personally, and partake in analyzing the results.
Although this may seem an unnecessary complication of the process, having team members involved will help them better understand the customer’s wants and needs, and allow them to implement those into their work on the product. It can be both a humbling and educational experience that will bring the company closer to its audience, build empathy towards the customer, and improve marketing performance, usability, user experience, and, ultimately, sales.
In addition, having everyone on board to tap the source for first-hand information, saves tremendous amounts of time from convincing departments one-by-one when changes should be made in their initial vision of what the product should be.
Why Is Voice of the Customer Important?
First, and above all, conducting a voice of the customer study can save the company time, resources, and money.
Using the voice of the consumer as a guide, companies can develop products that meet and even exceed the market’s expectations. This increases the possibilities of commercial success for new solutions and improves the way the audience perceives the brand.
If they know what the customer’s needs are and understand how the product can be designed to meet them, companies are less likely to build something that the market doesn’t need or want. They can prioritize the functions the customer would focus on and the way the product will be used in practice, and make it work perfectly in sync with the end-user’s requirements.
In addition, by combining their understanding of the customer with their technical and professional knowledge, the product development team can come up with innovative ideas that fulfill needs the customer didn’t even know they have.
Consulting the voice of the consumer is the most logical course of action when launching a new product or improving an existing one to make it sell better.
Voice of the Customer Methodology
Voice of the customer research should be conducted in the initial stages of product development and should be updated regularly later in the process. Thus, the company will know that they are on the right course, and will deliver a solution that answers the market’s requirements.
The objectives of the study are to understand the customer’s acknowledged and perceived needs, group them together in a hierarchical structure, prioritize their importance, and compare them to what the marketplace currently offers.
Identify the Customer Needs
As mentioned, the voice of the consumer research is a lens method where your goal is to determine what the customer needs and understand the product from their perspective since asking people directly what they need can be hard. Especially, since it may not be easy for them to come up with a comprehensive answer or express themselves properly.
The method uses semi-scripted experiential interviews where the researcher talks to the subjects, asking them questions about how they imagine using the product, what they would do in certain situations, etc.
It is very important to allow the customer to use their own words so that you can experience the product from their unique point of view. This way you can better understand the real-life applications of the product and may also receive unexpected creative input.
What matters to the customers may not be the same as what the development team believes it to be, and when you let the customer speak freely, you can obtain valuable customer insights.
- Allow the customer to explain subjects in their own way.
- Focus on their experience of the product and their perspective.
- Ask clarifying questions and probe deeper to fully understand them.
- Don’t try to railroad the interviewee into confirming your own ideas.
- List all spoken and implied needs that come up in the conversation.
If possible, this kind of interview should be held where the customers will actually use the product or in a simulation of a similar environment that will instigate pertinent memories. There, the person can come up with better practical examples and descriptions, and become more involved in the research.
The results of the interviews will be qualitative and, to an extent, may seem chaotic in nature. So the next step is to put them in order.
Determine the Hierarchical Structure of the Needs
Depending on the type of product and the size of the sample, researchers may have a list of hundreds of customer needs. To make them workable, they should be analyzed, sorted, and grouped into a hierarchical structure that includes strategic, tactical, and operational needs.
There are, generally, three ways to approach the task:
- Focus Groups. Since what you care for in the voice of the customer research is the opinion of the people, it’s best to let them prioritize and structure their needs. This can be done by organizing focus groups of target customers who can work on the task together with a moderator.
- Individual Customers. A variation of the first approach is to select a sample of target customers instead. The results are then compared and grouped based on similarity patterns.
- Company Representatives. If you can’t afford the previous two methods, the task can be performed by a party that includes members from the development, marketing, and engineering team. However, this poses the risk of compromising the results. Company representatives are often biased and obliged to follow the business agenda rather than the customer’s preferences, and they can unintentionally misinterpret the meaning and importance of different needs.
Regardless of the above, the needs of the customer should be preserved in the hierarchy.
However, as mentioned, having the team involved is very important for this type of research. It will be an interesting exercise for your company to have both a group of your employees and a group of customers do the task and then compare the results.
Strategic needs are also known as primary and are the top-level needs of the hierarchy. They are pillar factors that unite all the wants the customers have expressed into groups with a common meaning. Primary needs also set the general direction of the development and marketing of the product. To keep the results-focused, there should be up to 10 of them.
For example, if you are developing a website, some of the strategic needs the customers may point out could be:
- Appealing and professional looking.
- Readable information.
- Easy to find what I need.
- Entertaining, etc.
Each primary need branches into a number of secondary needs that indicate how it can be achieved.
Tactical needs are the secondary needs that define the primary ones and provide the technical means to achieve them. They give the product development and marketing teams information on how they can satisfy the customer’s primary requirements.
To continue the website example, here are what the tactical needs may look like:
Appealing and professional looking:
- bold colors.
- modern-looking images.
- no annoying ads.
- a relatable message, etc.
- enough space between topics.
- less complicated terminology.
- large enough font, etc.
Easy to find what I need:
- easy menu.
- the information is organized into topics.
- the search bar really works, etc.
- more videos.
- interesting content.
- some sort of a game may be, etc.
Operational, or tertiary, needs are additional details and suggestions that will be considered by the development team to differentiate the final product from the competition or to make it more desirable to the audience.
They can also be used by the marketing and promotion teams to build the product brand and better position it in the marketplace.
Prioritize the Customer Needs
Not all needs are equally important to the customer, and prioritizing them and evaluating where they rank will help you in the next stages of product development where a situation may call for a compromise. Companies have to balance the price of the product with its functionality and if they have to choose one feature over the other, knowing what the voice of the customer has to say will make it easier to prioritize.
Although it is tempting to rely solely on the frequency of mention when establishing the importance of needs, this approach should be avoided as it can be misleading. Customers can all state that they would enjoy having a certain feature but this doesn’t mean that they will choose it over another option that is equally as important to them.
A more reliable method is to provide the sample with a measuring scale that allows them to rate the significance of every need.
- Direct-Rating Scale. This is the simplest method. The subject has to state how important any of the given needs is to them on a scale from 1 to 10.
- Constant-Sum Scale. In this method, the customer has to distribute 100 points amongst all the strategic needs based on their importance. Then repeat the procedure with 100 points between every group of tactical needs corresponding to each of the primary ones. The same should be done for every group of operational needs as well.
- Anchored Scale. Here, the participant has to give 10 points to the one strategic need they value the most, and less than 10 points to any of the other ones. The same goes for all the groups of tactical and operational needs.
The three methods have been proven to deliver satisfactory results, and which one you should choose depends on your preferences.
Prioritizing customer needs reduces the decision-making time in product development significantly and can be a roadmap for engineering when making the tough calls about what to add or what to remove from the product.
Study the Customer Perception of Product Performance
Voice of the Consumer studies should also take into account the competition on the marketplace where the product is or will be positioned.
Customers should be asked to elaborate on how they currently satisfy their needs corresponding to the product in development and evaluate other similar products’ performance.
This part of the research calls for quantitative results and can be conducted via surveys, including, but not limited to the following questions:
- What existing products do they currently use to satisfy their needs?
- How well do these products fulfill the task?
- What more can existing products offer to make the customer happy?
- What need can a new product address, to make the customer choose it over one they are currently using?
- If there are no existing similar products, how do customers currently fulfill their needs?
The goal of this part of the study is to assess the customer’s perception of product performance and identify how the new product can deliver maximum satisfaction by addressing needs that others fail to fulfill.
This information, together with the data from the previous stages, can provide a deeper understanding of customer satisfaction and how people value products.
Capturing the voice of the consumer allows companies to develop products that meet and exceed the audience’s expectations.
The customer needs and how important they are in real life can be the foundation of every decision in the product development process. Leveraging this knowledge, all teams involved can prioritize their actions and, ultimately, find the right path to the customer’s heart.